Is Good News Finally Coming For Independent-Minded Construction Trainees?

Until he was arrested and indicted this summer, Brooklyn carpenters union boss Salvatore Tagiliaferro benefited greatly from federal and state government policies that often make it extraordinarily difficult, in practice, to get training in the building trades without first joining a union and forking over dues to Big Labor. (Tagliaferro photo previously published in the New York Daily News.)

For decades, biased federal and state laws and regulations have made it very difficult for non-union construction firms and their partners to establish registered programs to train building-trades workers.

Consequently, independent-minded job seekers who are interested in acquiring the skills and experience they need to pursue building-trades careers have frequently found they have no real choice but to turn to a discriminatory Big Labor training program. Such programs are frequently directly and/or indirectly subsidized by federal taxpayers.

Union bosses who run apprenticeship programs routinely force applicants to join and pay dues to the union as a condition of being accepted.  (They do this although, under the federal Anti-Kickback Act of 1986, it is arguably illegal for union bosses to collect forced or even voluntary dues from apprentices until after they have completed their training.)

For example, a web site run by Sacramento, Calif.-based Local 118 of the Ironworkers Union tells would-be apprentices in its “frequently asked questions” section:

There is no application fee [for the apprenticeship program], however you will be required to pay an initiation fee of $100 when you join the union.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), just 14% of construction workers across the nation today choose to belong to a union. Given that six out of seven hardhats aren’t union members, it’s outrageous that federal policymakers continue to ensure Big Labor has a vise grip over apprenticeships, and the huge flow of federal money tied to them, in the construction industry.

The government-created, artificial scarcity of apprenticeship opportunities has over the years again and again been exploited by unscrupulous union officials. Alleged cases in point  are Salvatore Tagliaferro and John Defalco, who both until recently headed New York City-based subsidiaries of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBCJA).  This summer, Tagliaferro and Defalco were “arrested and indicted in Manhattan federal court on various charges related to their roles in a scheme to solicit and receive cash bribes in return for admission to the union for aspiring members.”  The defendants “allegedly generated tens of thousands of dollars for themselves in this manner.”

The best solution would be for Beltway politicians to stop using the power of the federal government to limit the supply of apprenticeship opportunities that are available. This could be accomplished through repeal of the National Apprenticeship Act (NAA), a law adopted by a lopsidedly pro-Big Labor monopoly Congress over 80 years ago that actually prohibits DOL from granting registration to new apprenticeship programs without first giving construction union chiefs a chance to object!

But President Trump took a significant step to mitigate the enormous harm caused by the NAA two years ago, when he issued Executive Order 13801, instructing DOL to create guidelines for industry-recognized apprenticeships.  E.O. 13801 potentially opened up a new avenue for young employees who want to work in the construction industry to get the training they need without having to join or pay dues to an unwanted union.

Unfortunately, in implementing E.O. 13801, Alexander Acosta, Trump’s first labor secretary, championed the exclusion of builders from eligibility, at least initially, and perhaps permanently.  Acosta’s exclusion clearly benefited building-trades union bosses at the expense of would-be trainees as well as small contractors, taxpayers, and millions of other Americans.

Now that the comment period on Acosta’s proposed rule is over, his successor, Acting Labor Sec. Patrick Pizzella, is expected soon to issue a final rule.  He has an opportunity to clear away the roadblock his predecessor set up for union-free construction apprenticeships.

After the Acosta-crafted apprenticeship proposal was issued, National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix spoke with several high-ranking DOL officials to convey to them how disappointed Right to Work supporters were with the proposed rule and the importance of correcting it before issuance of the final rule.

Right to Work leaders are cautiously optimistic Pizzella will take advantage of this opportunity to reduce federal policy’s bias in favor of monopolistic unionism in construction, despite the Big Labor caterwauling that is sure to follow.  DOL’s final rule implementing E.O. 13801 is expected to be unveiled some time within the next few weeks.