The Ulster County Legislature will vote on an amended construction apprenticeship law at its November session, a statute that would seeks to strengthen graduation requirements.
The proposed local law, sponsored by Minority Leader Kenneth Ronk (R-Shawangunk) and co-sponsored by Laura Petit (D-Esopus) would expand on its current legislation establishing apprenticeship training requirements for some bridge construction contracts in excess of $350,000. Under the proposed changes, an apprenticeship program must have a graduation rate of at least 30 percent over the last five years as determined by the New York State Department of Labor, and must also provide documentation verifying a minimum of three trade-specific graduates per calendar year for the same period.
The changes would tighten requirements that were already stricter than those provided by New York State, which allows counties to go further with their own apprenticeship rules.
At a public hearing held during the session held on Tuesday, October 18, five of the eight speakers asked legislators to vote against the proposed law as being unfair to smaller companies and minorities, while those in favor of the legislation said it would help ensure a workforce prepared for the present and future of construction.
Val Dwyer, president of Kingston-based Arold Construction, said the “unique and specific” rules in the proposed law would freeze out many qualified firms, driving up construction costs.
“The only thing that this proposed law will accomplish is that it will box out certain companies from being eligible to bid on local projects,” Dwyer said. “Apprenticeship graduation rates in no way correlate with the quality of a finished product or the safety record of a contractor or anything else for that matter.”
Dwyer said Arold’s apprenticeship program under current county and state laws has been good enough for projects across New York, including work on the recently completed Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge construction.
“And to think that we were qualified enough to work on that, but we wouldn’t be qualified enough to work on a local project here,” Dwyer said. “Seems kind of crazy.”
Joe Hogan, vice-president of building services with Associated General Contractors New York State said if passed, Ulster County’s new apprenticeship requirements would be among the strictest in the state.
“I guess I want to ask a few questions just for you to ponder,” Hogan said. “Have you studied the impact that this would have on competition and therefore price to the taxpayers of the county? Have you analyzed the impact this will have on minority business and women owned business? Have you analyzed the impact this will have on minority participation on projects?”
Hogan added that by passing the law, Ulster County would not be able to waive the rules as an informality and could be forced by competitive bidding laws to reject otherwise appealing bids.
Penny Hazer, president and founder of the Merit Apprenticeship Alliance, also opposed the proposed law because of its likely impact on smaller businesses.
“If a program is a three or a four-year program, a small sponsor will not be able to graduate somebody every year unless they have three people enrolled in that program every year,” Hazer said. “Plus they won’t be able to meet the ratio requirement, which would be a violation of labor law. So the expansion of your graduation requirements really does preclude working with small individual sponsored employers or small multi-employer programs.”
Charles LaMendola, superintendent for Schultz Construction, agreed that the proposed law would unfairly harm smaller businesses.
“(The law) would indiscriminately burden small and or disadvantaged businesses who do not have the means to support large apprentice programs,” he said. “It would also negatively impact the competitive bidding by unfairly disqualifying bidders, thus driving up the cost of construction to taxpayers. It would also set forth poor and unconsidered precedent and performance qualifications.”
And in favor…
But some speakers favored the change, including Richard Whitney, a graduate of the Laborers’ Local 17 apprenticeship program and New Paltz resident “for nearly all my life.”
“I know that if there had not been an apprentice program that I would not be standing in front of you today,” Whitney said. “I want to take a moment to applaud Ulster County and you, everyone in general for trying to set the standard as high as possible…I don’t think it’s the county’s job to follow and lower their standards. I think it’s to raise it, to raise everybody else up and to give a chance to people like me.”
Dean Tambouri, also with Local 17, said their program in Newburgh has graduated 180 apprentices since 1995 with a 400-hour classroom requirement that’s 100 hours longer than the state law. He added that there are “up to 20 minorities” currently in the Local 17 program.
“We do all our training in our facilities,” Tambouri said. “We know that we’re looking to bring more youth people into the program. We know we’re going to need more people to do some of the infrastructure that’s proposed.”
Mike Ham, a representative of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, said apprenticeship programs should be held to a higher standard. He added that an opening for 10 apprenticeships garnered over a hundred applications, and with the competition so fierce, the cream will rise to the top.
“If you don’t graduate people in a program, you’ve got to ask yourself, do you really have a program?” Ham said. “The construction force is going to have a hole here coming up very, very soon. And without people being graduated and apprentices coming out to replace us, we’re going to have nothing. Right now, we have an obligation to all our contractors to supply them with safe, skilled, and efficient members.”
The Legislature will vote on Proposed Local Law No. 10 of 2022 at its meeting on November 15.