Leaders gather at new Central Courthouse to defend Registered Apprenticeship program

August 14, 2019

Standing in the shadows of the nearly-completed Multnomah County Central Courthouse in Waterfront Park, leaders gathered with dozens of local tradespeople on Tuesday to protest a Trump Administration rule threatening to undermine the Registered Apprenticeship program. 

Widely regarded as the “gold standard” of workforce programs, Registered Apprenticeship creates a pipeline of skilled workers in the American trades. The program guarantees workers on-the-job training, classroom instruction, and a paycheck that increases with experience.

“Registered union apprenticeship programs are the closest thing to a guaranteed pathway into the middle class,’’ said Congressman Earl Blumenauer, (D-Ore.) “Any attempt to undermine these highly successful programs must be resoundingly defeated. 

“If the Trump Administration tries to apply a Trump University model to construction industry apprenticeships, we will see an erosion of worker protections, wages, and safety standards. We must defend the billions of dollars of private investment that unions put into their own training programs and honor the quality work being done by the men and women in the building trades.” 

Blumenauer spoke to reporters at the new Central Courthouse construction site, where more than 28 percent of the workforce hours have been completed by apprentices. The Multnomah County project is the most diverse construction site in the state, union representatives told reporters, because of the County’s goal of creating opportunities for women and people of color entering the trades.

Jessica Vega Pederson defended the Registered Apprenticeship program at the Aug. 13 press conference in Waterfront Park.

Speaking alongside Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Commissioner of Labor and Industries Val Hoyle, Oregon Building Trades Council Executive Secretary Robert Camarillo, and Oregon Tradeswomen Executive Director Kelly Kupcak, Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson demanded that the administration reverse course. 

“We are trying to create a thriving, valued, skilled workforce,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said. “We’re doing better here in Oregon and we demand the administration does better. It needs to reverse course and actually do something positive for working class Americans, by upholding high standards in our apprenticeship programs, and uplifting American workers.”

Apprenticeship Program at Risk

In June 2017, President Trump issued an executive order which led the Department of Labor to establish industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs). The programs give private organizations discretion in determining the standards that guide apprentices’ work.

That system, critics say, could create risks by opening the door to low-quality programs and undermining the success of the 80-year-old Registered Apprenticeship program. Labor leaders are calling for accountability. 

“Anything less than the time-tested Registered Apprenticeship model, especially an untested program with low quality standards and little to no oversight, is not acceptable,” Camarillo said. 

In response to the proposed change, the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and other trades unions across the country have begun rallying support to permanently exempt the construction industry. 

Minna Long, a Portland area apprentice who belongs to Ironworkers Local 29, is a mother of two young boys. She says Registered Apprenticeship has done more than just teach her skills to pursue a career in ironworking. It’s also given her a family-wage income, benefits, and a direct path to employment. 

Minna Long is an apprentice belonging to Ironworkers Local 29.

“Even though the job is dangerous and scary and it makes me nervous every day, I never feel unsafe on the job and I can go home to my children every day in one piece,” she said. “That’s something that my trade offers and that union construction offers and that my apprenticeship offers.” 

The public has until Aug. 26 to submit formal comments on the proposed rule to the Department of Labor. Leaders urge anyone impacted by the proposed rule change to participate in the public comment period. 

“In Oregon, we’re standing strong in protecting our apprenticeship standards. You don’t get higher quality work by lowering your standards,” Commissioner Hoyle said. 

Read the rule, or submit a formal comment on the Federal Register.