The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Senate OKs bill expanding electrical apprentice ratio

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING - The state Legislature made more progress on its path to weakening professional licensing in Michigan, with a March 23 vote of the Senate to raise the ratio of journeymen-to-apprentice ratios on construction sites.

The current electrical industry ratio is one journeyman to one apprentice. But the state Senate voted 22-15 to raise the ratio, one journeyman-to three apprentices. The entire Democratic caucus in the Senate voted no on weakening the ratio, and only four Republican senators joined them: Mike Kowall (R-White Lake), Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights) and Dale Zorn (R-Ida). The state House had approved the measure 58-49 in January, with the GOP majority similarly driving the measure.

The legislation now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature, "where I hope the governor will realize that passage of this bill means we're headed for less safe jobsites," said Todd Tennis, a Capitol Services lobbyist for the IBEW. "We're looking at having three times as many inexperienced people working with electricity."

Proponents of House Bill 4813, including bill sponsor State Rep. Amanda Price (R- Park Twp.), say the change would create more jobs and provide more opportunities for people to enter the skilled trades. "This legislation allows us to keep both safety and training regulations high," she said.

Opponents, among them the IBEW and their employer partners at the National Electrical Contractors Association- Michigan Chapter, say the bill will lead to less training for apprentices and less safe jobsites.

If House Bill 4813 becomes law, said Mike Crawford, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of NECA, "workers will be put into unsupervised environments, which could not only be dangerous, but fatal." Crawford said the current 1-1 journeyman electrician-to-apprentice standard was born out of a spike of electrical apprentice fatalities in the late 1980s. 

"IBEW-NECA worked to establish the apprenticeship ratio, and took steps forward to protect apprentices. We're concerned that this House bill will return us to those days in the 1980s," Crawford said.

Tennis said IBEW/NECA hopes the governor is at least open to a compromise where the journeyman-apprentice ratio would be lowered to one-to-two, instead of one-to-three.

"I fear that when we move this bill forward today," said state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor, on the Senate floor, "we will see an increase in the number of losses of both property and people's health and life as a result of this decision. One to three is too much -- it is just far too fast, and I really do worry, colleagues, what the impact of this public policy is going to be on job sites around this state."

Passage of this bill in the Senate came less than a week after a public hearing was held on three bills in front of the Michigan House of Representatives' Committee on Workforce Talent and Development. The bill's proponents said passage would eliminate unnecessary licensing rules regarding residential water heater installation and low voltage electrical installations.

Detractors, including representatives from building trades unions and their contractors, said the language in the legislation is so loose that unlicensed plumbers could legally re-pipe an entire building, and unlicensed electricians could be employed in high-voltage environments.

Tennis said on the electrical side of that legislation, IBEW/NECA are working with the GOP chairman of the Committee on Workforce Talent and Development, Rep. Dan. Lauwers, in an effort to limit unlicensed workers from having "carte blanche" in working with higher voltage electrical work. "We think they're going to pass those bills, but we want them to do as little damage as possible," Tennis said.