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State House lowers electrical apprentice oversight ratio

Date Posted: January 29 2016

LANSING - A long-time standard ratio for training in the state's electrical industry - one journeyman supervising one apprentice - is teed up to be the latest rule abolished by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

On Jan. 13 the Michigan House voted 58-49 to allow a new, looser ratio of one journeyman electrician to three apprentices on construction projects. The bill was adopted over the vociferous objections of the IBEW and its contractor partners at the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). The entire slate of Democrat lawmakers voted no on the bill, and they were joined by three Republican House members, but the GOP support wasn't enough. The law moves to the state Senate for consideration.

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Amanda Price (R- Park Twp.). She said her sponsorship of the bill was "inspired" by her "discussion with a constituent and business owner," regarding the Electrical Administrative Act’s requirement that master electricians are limited to one apprentice. She said the change would create more jobs in the state and open more pathways for people to enter the trade.

“The need for skilled tradespeople, such as electricians, is growing in the state of Michigan,” said Price. “With that kind of demand and the requirement that apprentices train for five years to get the 8,000 hours of training, we need to adjust regulations to be more in line with other states. This legislation allows us to keep both safety and training regulations high.”

The primary argument by the IBEW and NECA against the new proposed rule: it would lower safety standards.

If House Bill 4813 becomes law, said Mike Crawford, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, "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.

Todd Tennis, an IBEW lobbyist for Capitol Services Inc., said an argument he heard from the bill's supporters referred to an electrical contractor who said lowering the apprenticeship ratio would somehow save him enough money to allow him to hire nine more people. "Fascinating," Tennis said. "Are you hiring based on need, or to save money? Because if you have the need and the money now to do hiring, wouldn't you just hire three journeymen? And what do you do in three or four years, when those extra apprentices make journeymen wages? Lay them off because they're making too much?"

Tennis and Crawford urged building trades union members and their families to contact their state senator and urge them to oppose House Bill 4813 because it would create a less-safe jobsite for all workers. It's telling, Tennis said, that the bill was referred to the Senate's Competitiveness Committee, rather than Workforce Development Committee or even the Regulatory Reform Committee. "This is the kind of thing you see from the ABC's (Associated Builders and Contractors, who support the bill) philosophy for their entire existence," Tennis said. "Why do it the right way when you can do it on the cheap and make more money?"