The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 04, 2013

Construction licensing for all trades under siege with proposed reforms

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – The sweeping reforms to state government that have taken place over the past two years have mainly been economic. For the state’s licensed trades workers, now things are getting personal.

On Sept. 19, Senate Bill 358 – the “Electrical Administrative Act – cleared the Committee of Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing and was referred to the Senate’s Committee of the Whole. The bill would allow unlicensed people to perform electrical work in certain instances. Those instances include “minor repair work,” whose scope is undefined, as well as electrical work performed by homeowners on their own single-family dwellings.

More of a concern to the IBEW, the National Electrical Contractors Association and all licensed electricians, the bill would also allow unlicensed people to perform installation, alteration, renovation and repair of electric wiring in a business, plant, factory or mining operation as long as a licensed master electrician designated by the owner is employed on the project.

Also exempted from existing licensing would be “independent power producers,” meaning a person, other than an electric utility, which generates and sells electricity primarily at wholesale. The proposed new rule says that there must be compliance with all codes, application for permits and the filing of some additional paperwork with the state.

“If this passes, it would allow unlicensed workers to perform most kind of electrical work – a plant or commercial building could be completely wired by just about anybody,” said Todd Tennis of Capitol Services, a lobbyist with the IBEW. “You can just see Wal Mart having their janitorial staff wiring a new circuit. This is a real issue for the IBEW, and really for all the building trades who are governed by licensing. Because if this passes, we go on a slippery slope, we’re going to be told we won’t need plumbing licenses or other licenses.”

In fact, other trades are already on that slippery slope. According to a Sept. 23 Senate Fiscal Agency analysis of the bill, SB 358 also exempts “certain work that is performed by either a mechanical contractor who has a limited contractors license or a licensed plumbing contractor. The bill would extend this exception to work by an employee of either of these licensees.”

One other note by the Senate Fiscal Agency: “the bill would have no fiscal impact on state or local government.”

Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, legislative director for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, said add the elevator constructors to the mix – state Republicans are looking at removing state licensing requirements for elevator licenses for residential group homes and light commercial structures.

“This is serious business,” Gleason said. “They are looking at the whole area of construction industry licensing, in many areas just doing away with it completely. This is a concern not only for the people who will work in those buildings, but the construction workers who are there alongside unlicensed workers. Who wants to plug in high-voltage welding and not be 100 percent sure that the circuit is grounded and safe?’

Senate Bill 358 was introduced by state Sen. Arlan Meekhoff (R-West Olive).

The Michigan Manufacturers Association said it is working with Meekhof “on legislation that would address the unnecessary requirement that manufacturers hiring licensed electricians become licensed themselves as electrical contractors.”

The MMA continued, “While the requirements of the state’s Electrical Administrative Act are intended for application in the construction industry, because manufacturers are not specifically exempt, they must comply. In addition to the requirement that manufacturers hiring licensed electricians secure their own contractor’s license, the Electrical Administrative Act requires manufacturers who hire apprentices to adopt a U.S. Department of Labor program, register that program with the state, and apply an onerous one to one ratio of licensed journeymen to registered apprentices.

“MMA 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.”

Given state Republicans’ tendency to adopt whatever rules business requests, getting Senate Bill 358 overturned isn’t going to be easy. But it’s worth the effort.

Action is needed now for our members to contact their legislators, particularly if their rep is a Republican. If you don’t know who your state senator or representative is, contact your local city or county clerk’s office and get their phone number. Or go to and click on “Our Issues.” There is a link for an easy way to find and contact your state Senator or state Representative.