LANSING – Michigan lawmakers have taken another step toward significantly reducing licensing regulations for electricians, and reducing overall jobsite and public safety.
The state Senate on Oct. 17 adopted SB 358, an amendment to the Electrical Administrative Act of 1956. It would allow workers in mining or manufacturing operations, as well as independent power producers, to perform electrical work without holding an electrical license.
“This is a very bad bill,” said Mike Crawford, executive director of the National Electrical Contractors Association, Michigan Chapter. “We’re concerned first and foremost with safety. When you have untrained and unqualified people working around thousands of volts and amps, people are going to get hurt and killed very quickly.”
The bill moves those industries away from worker electrical licensing, but it does require the presence of a master electrician on such projects – at some point. Incredibly, under the bill the master electrician doesn’t even have to be present while the electrical work is being performed.
The bill states non-licensed personnel can perform the work, and requires that the “person” (employer?) “employs or engages a licensed master electrician whom the person designates as responsible” for electrical work “at the property, business location, plant, factory or facility.” The bill then says that the the master electrician is responsible for code compliance, obtaining permits, recording the applicable hours worked by any apprentices on the job, and to file paperwork with the state indicating compliance with state laws.
“Not only is the licensing requirement gone, but nothing in the bill requires the master electrician to be on site when the work is done,” said Todd Tennis of Capitol Services, an IBEW lobbyist. ‘Of course those things are a huge safety problem, and that’s our main concern. We already have owners cutting corners when it comes to safety, and this is just another path to more injuries and death.”
The bill passed the Senate, 21-17, with the entire Senate Democratic caucus voting no. Republicans joining Dems in voting against Senate Bill 358 included Sens. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), Mike Green (R-Mayville), Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek) and Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Hts.) “To me that vote says this is not a partisan issue,” Crawford said.
“The question we get all the time, is ‘why are they doing this,’ ” Tennis said. “Business will say electrical licensing is unnecessary, it’s just plugging things in. It’s crap, but Republicans are more prone to listen to them than they would a bunch of money-grubbing union thugs. I’ll tell you, the nonunion don’t like this bill either, and it’s going to end up being a matter of life or death.”
Electrocutions are invariably among the top two or three causes of death and injury for construction workers.
One of the groups pushing the bill is the Michigan Manufacturers Association. The MMA said it “is advocating for legislative changes to the Electrical Administrative Act that would remove the unnecessary burden and cost placed on manufacturers and get the apprenticeship program requirements into a more reasonable and meaningful structure.”
Crawford said many manufacturers “see the value in using NECA contractors, and licensed IBEW workers, but some say ‘let’s get it done as cheaply as possible. Well, that’s a recipe for disaster. You have to look beyond the economics and see the value of workers working safely and being able to go home to their family at the end of the day.”
The bill now moves to the state House Regulatory Reforms Committee. If and when it gets to the full state House of Representatives, assuming all 50 Dems vote against it, seven Republican votes will need to be peeled off in order to kill the bill.
The bill also takes licensing requirments away from other crafts. A license would no longer be required for “an employee of a licensed mechanical contractor or plumbing contractor who performed work on control wiring circuits and electrical component parts in existing mechanical systems,” according to a bill analysis by the Senate Fiscal Agency.
Tennis said “a lot of House Republicans are going to have real concerns about a bill like this,” adding that building trades workers who are in districts with a Republican representative need to make their voices heard to kill Senate Bill 358.
If you don’t know who your state representative is, contact your local city or county clerk’s office and get their phone number. Or go to www.michiganbuildingtrades.org and click on “Our Issues.” There is a link for an easy way to find and contact your state Senator or state Representative.
“I’ve been in this (lobbying) business more than 20 years,” Tennis said. “And one thing I’ve learned is that the other (Republican) side never stops. This time they want to exempt licensing from industrial. Next time it will be commercial. Then schools. They use their think-tanks and their publications and their sole purpose is to cut corners. Cut safety regulations, cut wages. It never stops.”