Union Dons Retain Vise Grip Over Apprentices

Union bosses like Lonnie Stephenson clearly swayed US Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to protect their apprenticeship fiefdom. Credit: www.ibew.org

New Labor Department Head Can Green-Light Union-Free Training

Shortly before resigning as U.S. labor secretary this summer amid rising fury over his handling in 2008, while serving as a U.S. attorney in Miami, of a plea deal with alleged serial child sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein, Alexander Acosta plainly made a sweetheart deal with top construction union bosses.

Under the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed expansion of apprentice programs, released just a couple of days after Mr. Acosta had announced his resignation, no construction training programs will be approved, at least initially, and perhaps ever. Currently, programs in the building trades account for more than half of all apprentices registered by the DOL.

Not surprisingly, top union bosses were delighted by the exclusion.

‘No Registration May Be Granted Without Giving … Unions a Chance to Object’

They know all too well that current federal and state laws and regulations typically make it very difficult for non-union construction firms and their partners to establish registered programs to train building-trades workers.

Consequently, independent builders

must often go hat-in-hand to discriminatory Big Labor training and hiring halls to find apprentices who can participate in their projects.

A key reason why is a New Deal-era law approved by ideologically blinkered politicians who actually believed they could fight the Great Depression by reducing the number of union-free construction apprenticeships.

Under the National Apprenticeship Act of 1937 (NAA), the U.S. labor secretary has wide discretion to allow or stop the registration of apprenticeship programs.

However, as Dr. Charles Baird, an emeritus professor of economics at California State University, East Bay, who specializes in labor policy, has pointed out, “to this day no registration may be granted without giving construction unions a chance to object.”

President Donald Trump took a significant step to mitigate the enormous harm the eight-decade-old NAA continues to cause in June 2017, when he issued Executive Order 13801, instructing the 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, former Sec. Acosta, clearly acting at the behest of building-trades union bosses, championed the exclusion of builders from eligibility.

“According to the U.S. Labor Department,” noted National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix, “just 14% of construction workers across the nation choose to belong to a union.

“Given that six out of seven construction workers aren’t union members, it’s crazy 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 industry. It’s outrageous.

“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 objective could be accomplished through complete repeal of the NAA.

“But President Trump’s E.O.13801 could at least make it possible for certified industry groups, schools and nonprofits to set up many more viable union-free apprenticeship programs without having to clear DOL bureaucrats’ hurdles.

“And fortunately, it’s not too late for Patrick Pizzella, appointed by Mr. Trump as acting labor secretary after Alexander Acosta resigned, to modify the proposed rule in order to authorize industry-recognized apprenticeship programs in the construction sector.”

New Acting Labor Secretary Has a Promising Track Record

By the time this Newsletter edition went to press, Mr. Mix had already spoken with several high-ranking DOL officials to convey to them how disappointed Right to Work supporters were with the Acosta-crafted apprenticeship proposal and the importance of correcting it before issuance of the final rule.

Since the nomination of Eugene Scalia, the President’s choice for permanent labor secretary, is not expected to reach the Senate floor until late this year, the apprenticeship rule may well be finalized before he takes office.

“Based on his record of opposition to Big Labor special privileges, we are hopeful Mr. Pizzella will clear away the roadblock his predecessor set up for union-free construction apprenticeships,” said Mr. Mix.