The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Tell the DOL: Hands off building trades apprenticeships

By The Building Tradesman

The final push is on to get union members to help block any changes that would weaken the nation's building trades apprenticeship standards.

The U.S. Department of Labor  has set an Aug. 26 deadline to accept comments on newly proposed regulations related to IRAPs - Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs.

Unlike the current registered apprenticeship model recognized by the DOL, "the IRAPs put the fox in charge of the henhouse," says a statement from North America's Building Trades Unions. "The new IRAP system will give private organizations, such as employers and trade associations, free rein to create new watered-down standards and certify sub-par apprenticeship programs."

The weaker training and labor standards in construction registered apprenticeship programs could "set off a race to the bottom throughout our industry," the building trades union umbrella group says.

Here's the background: In April 2018, the "Taskforce on Apprenticeship in the United States" recommended to the DOL the implemention of IRAPs. Intended to broaden the availability of apprenticeships and reduce regulations, the proposed programs would not be subject to the U.S. Department of Labor or to a state apprenticeship agency’s approval or regulations.

On June 25, and the DOL issued a "Notice of Proposed Rule Making" (NPRM) setting forth its position with respect to IRAPs and proposed regulations related to their creation. Building trades apprenticeships are "initially" exempted from the proposed new rules. 

"However," the United Association of Pipe Trades warns, "the DOL invites public comment on this position and whether it should change in the final regulations or whether any exemption for IRAPs in the construction industry should be eliminated at some fixed date in the future."

That change could be prompted by anticipated heavy business lobbying aimed at the Trump Administration - and many nonunion construction firms and associations are expected to push the DOL to reduce the construction training standards. 

All of the building trades unions are urging their members and family to contact the U.S. Department of Labor, via a user-friendly web-based form, to make their voice heard on how important it is to maintain existing apprenticeship standards.

“Based on our 100 years of experience running the world’s most successful job training model, we know what works to meet specific demands of employers and an entire industry, while also providing workers with pathways to the middle class," said North America's Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey. "Our $1.6 billion annual investment, funded jointly with our industry partners without any tax dollars, trains hundreds of thousands of men and women at 1,600 registered training facilities located in every state and almost every Congressional district. As the proposed rule recognizes, any new parallel system of apprenticeship must not undercut this significant investment and the high standards petrochemical, nuclear, refining, pharmaceutical and power industries demand."

Building trades workers and family are urged to go to their international union's website and fill out a user-friendly form to tell the DOL to keep their hands off of construction apprenticeships. All of the following unions have links to fill out the form on their homepage.

Bricklayers and Allied Trades:
Cement Masons and Plasterers:
Elevator Constructors:
Electrical Workers:
Heat and Frost Insulators:
Iron Workers:
Painters and Allied Trades:
Pipe Trades:
Sheet Metal Workers: 
Friends and family of building trades workers are also urged to submit comments. Go to

Many building trades union leaders, among the first groups to be invited to the White House a few days after President Trump took office, have occasionally praised the president and certainly muted their criticism of him, compared to union leaders in other sectors of the economy.

But the potential for the Trump Administration's Labor Department to pull the rug from under century-old building trades apprenticeship standards with "Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs" (IRAPs) is no small deal in framing the future of that relationship.

"If the administration winds up breaking from past commitments by including construction in the proposed rule," says Bloomberg Law, "the building trade unions are preparing to abandon their support of Trump. They will mount a public campaign attacking the administration for undermining union-protected wage and safety standards," the group said, citing a building union lobbyist.

And from the Aug. 16 Politico: Construction unions, "one of the nation’s largest labor groups embraced Donald Trump at the start of his presidency, in hopes he would create construction jobs and retreat from proposals that might reduce workers’ wages. But now the two sides are on the brink of war, endangering a key bloc of Trump’s support in Midwestern swing states in 2020."

A former Trump administration official with knowledge of the discussions said about the talk of implementing IRAPs: “it’s an existential threat to the Building Trades."