Western Electrical Contractors Association, Inc.

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Opinion: Richard Markuson

Friday, February 08, 2019

Apprenticeship Growth 

The State Legislature --- at the behest of the State Building and Construction Trades Council --- passed AB 235 last year as an urgency measure. In the 16 days preceding the adjournment of the two-year session, Assemblymember Patrick O' Donnell's bill --- which originally added a minimum fund balance in the Public School System Stabilization Account (PSSSA) to the conditions that must be met for the cap on school district reserves to be triggered --- turned into a bill that dramatically altered the way new and innovative apprenticeship programs are approved by the State.
This massive re-altering of apprenticeship had a single after-hours hearing in the Assembly Labor Committee, which is chaired by now-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. There was a plethora of union support for the bill, and support from a few organizations such as the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, who seek to curry favor with the building trades.
The measure was co-sponsored by the Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Apprenticeship Standards, but it was evident the State Building and Construction Trades Council (SBCTC) was in the lead. According to SBCTC, AB 235 "would authorize a bilateral method for the approval of apprenticeship programs by maintaining and reinforcing the existing process for the construction trades and firefighters programs, and establish a separate path for new and emerging industries interested in apprenticeship". AB 235 "provides the necessary flexibility to DAS to approve and support the development of new programs without interfering or disrupting the backbone of the apprenticeship system, which are the building and construction trades' programs." The only problem is, SBCTC didn't bother to ask their apprenticeship programs (or the firefighters) for their input --- and now AB 235 is driving the Joint Apprentice and Training Committees (JATC's) nuts.
The problem --- from the JATC's perspective --- is that new programs which are not identified as building trades are approved by the Chief of Apprenticeship after only a 30-day notice, in which the program's new proposed standards are posted on DAS's website. If no one complains, the Chief proceeds to approve and notifies the CAC at their next quarterly meeting.
To "protect" existing building trades programs, the chief cannot approve a new apprenticeship program that includes a substantial number of work processes covered by a program in the building and construction trades or firefighters, or approve the amendment of apprenticeship standards to include those work processes, unless either of the following applies:
(1) The program is in the building and construction trades or a firefighter program and subject to the rules and regulations of the California Apprenticeship Council (CAC) (in other words - subject to the "needs test") or;
(2) The CAC has granted consent to the approval of the program or the amendment to the apprenticeship standards. If no party files an objection with the chief to the approval of the proposed program or amendment alleging overlap of work processes under this subdivision, the chief shall not be required to seek the consent of the CAC prior to approving the program or amendment.
So, the big question is, "how many work processes constitute "substantial?" To the JATC's, one work process would constitute as being substantial if the complaints heard at a more than three-hour discussion at this week's CAC meeting is indicative. One program sponsored by West Hills Community College District proposed to add 10 new occupations to their instructional program in: Quality Assurance Technician, Pest Control Advisor, Irrigation Design Specialist, Farm Equipment Mechanic, Industrial Maintenance Mechanic, Industrial Welder, Industrial Electrical Technician, Plant Production Supervisor, Ag Business Sales Professional, and Human Resources Generalist. The Iron Workers objected to the Industrial Welder program even though it has a different O-Net code than any iron worker trade. Additionally, an apprentice in this program would not be approved for dispatch to a Public Works job because, in the view of many of the CAC members, the role of the CAC is to protect existing programs --- not to help facilitate the development of new and innovative apprenticeship opportunities.
Governor Newsom has stated he would like to see apprenticeships grow to over a half million from its current 80,000, but as long as he continues to pack the CAC with union officials, I doubt this will happen. Unions --- in the final analysis --- are out to protect their control, not to develop the economy.