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Construction Labor Unions ‘Score A Major Regulatory Victory:’ U.S. Labor Department ‘Sides With’ Construction Unions On Apprenticeship Rule

Published Friday, March 13, 2020
by Tom Ichniowski/Engineering News-Record
Construction Labor Unions ‘Score A Major Regulatory Victory:’ U.S. Labor Department ‘Sides With’ Construction Unions On Apprenticeship Rule

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Construction Labor Unions have scored a major regulatory victory as the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL) long-awaited final rule on Apprenticeships retains the construction industry’s exclusion from new “industry-recognized” training and education programs for those seeking to enter its workforce.

That exclusion had divided the construction industry, with the Unionized Building Trades and some specialty-contractor groups supporting it and two of the largest contractor associations opposing it.

The USDOL said the overall aim of its new rule, announced on Tuesday (March 10th), is to expand the use of Apprenticeships in industries where such training programs aren’t greatly used  (You can view the text of the regulation here).

To achieve that goal, the regulation calls for allowing companies, industry groups, educational institutions, Unions and other entities to set up and operate Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs).

U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a statement: “This new rule offers employers, community colleges and others a flexible, innovative way to quickly expand Apprenticeships in tele-communications, health care, cyber-security and other sectors where Apprenticeships currently are not widely available.”

The USDOL said the new rule would take effect this week.

For construction, the key issue related to the regulation was whether USDOL would keep the industry’s current exemption from a central provision of the rule. 

That provision is the establishment of IRAPs, which would take on responsibilities for much of the Apprenticeship standard-setting that the USDOL and state agencies now handle.

The rule also would let companies, industry groups and other organizations to apply to the USDOL to become Standards Recognition Entities (SREs), which would determine the standards for the IRAPs’ training and curricula in specific industries or business sectors.

SREs would be subject to USDOL oversight - that would be a significant change from the current Registered Apprenticeship System, in which the USDOL or state agencies register and validate Apprentices and Apprenticeship Programs.

The USDOL published a proposed rule last June and was inundated by more than 327,000 comments on that proposal.

The USDOL said the total was the largest its Employment and Training Administration had ever received for a proposed regulation.

It added that a majority of the comments were related to "form letter campaigns."

Building Trades Unions strongly supported keeping the exemption and also wanted to make it permanent.  Sean McGarvey, the President of North America's Building Trades Unions, said last Summer that nearly 325,000 of the comments supported the Unions' position.

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