In victory for unions, Trump administration leaves construction out of new apprenticeship rule

Matthew Price (R), an apprenticeship instructor with the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, led a crew of union apprentices in a community services project at the St. Paul Municipal Airport. (file photo)

Loud and clear, union tradespeople and their supporters delivered a message to the Trump administration last year: Don’t lower the bar when it comes to training, safety and labor standards in the construction industry.  

The administration listened. 

The U.S. Department of Labor last month issued its framework for expansion of a new apprenticeship model – Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) – in several sectors of the economy. Following the recommendation of North America’s Building Trades Unions, the new rule does not expand the model to construction. 

As the administration weighed new apprenticeship rules last year, Building Trades unions mobilized a historic public response. Some 325,000 people submitted public comments opposing expansion of IRAPs in construction – more public comments than the DOL has ever received about a rule, according to NABTU. 

“We are pleased that their voices were heard and that the final rule recognizes the protections for, and success of, registered apprenticeship in the construction industry,” NABTU President Sean McGarvey said.  

“We thank those in the administration who supported the construction industry’s high-road training standards that empower workers to reach and remain in the middle class. We appreciate the time spent by all – especially our rank and file members – who petitioned their government during the public comment period.” 

Allowing IRAPs in the construction industry, unions argued, would have created a shortcut around the rigorous standards of registered apprenticeship, in which programs must register with a governing agency.  

The governing agency regulates how long apprentices must spend learning on the job site and in the classroom, setting standards that ensure apprentices get supervision, mentorship, safety training and, not least of all, fair pay.  

Under the IRAP system, private organizations can write their own standards for apprenticeship. That may fit the needs of other industries, unions say, but it would undermine high standards already in place for apprenticeship programs in construction. 

“Building Trades unions’ apprenticeship programs are the most successful model of skilled job training in the nation, and this ruling recognizes the unique role they play in the economy, preserving high standards for the entire construction industry,” International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Lonnie Stephenson said. 

Locally and nationally, construction apprenticeships make up the overwhelming majority of registered programs. Most are sponsored by unions, which, in partnership with their employers, invest $1.6 billion annually of private funds into apprenticeship training. 

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