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Construction apprenticeships win exemption from new US Department of Labor IRAP rule

Cement Masons apprentices

Apprentices worked on a training exercise at the Cement Masons Local 633 training center in New Brighton last December.

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, March 27, 2020

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Construction unions are welcoming the U.S. Department of Labor’s final rule creating Industry Registered Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP), which exempts the construction unions’ long-established apprentice programs.

The Department of Labor released the final IRAP rule March 10, celebrating its “industry-led, market-driven  approach… [which] will give employers and other stakeholders additional flexibility necessary to expand the apprenticeship model into new industries and to address the diverse workforce needs of different industries and occupations.”

Last year, construction unions mobilized members and allies nationwide to advocate for preserving their successful union apprenticeship programs — generating nearly 325,000 comments during the Labor Department’s rule-making process.

Unions argued that the new IRAP model would undermine the high standards established by union Registered Apprentice programs.

With the release of the final IRAP rule exempting construction, “we appreciate the Department of Labor’s support of the construction industry’s Registered Apprenticeship model,” said Jessica Looman, executive director of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council. “Registered Apprenticeship means that we will have the safest roads and bridges, schools, and utilities because we have the best-trained workers with the highest level of skill.”

“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,” commented  Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions. “We appreciate the time spent by all — especially our rank and file members — who petitioned their government during the public comment period. Together with our industry partners, we will continue to invest in high-quality training standards that promote the well-being of apprentices and meet the demands of the industry.”

Nationwide, McGarvey noted, “the Building Trades unions, working together with contractors, spend more than $1 billion per year funding a nationwide network of nearly 1,600 teaching centers. The industry understands the benefits of a skilled workforce and is willing to pay to teach its workers.”

In Minnesota, the Minnesota Building Trades Council reported, there are more than 50 construction Registered Apprenticeship programs with more than 10,000 Registered Apprentices training to be the state’s future plumbers, electricians, iron workers, crane operators, laborers, carpenters and other highly-skilled trade workers.

The final IRAP rule exempting construction “is a tremendous win for the Building Trades,” said Jason George, business manager for Operating Engineers Local 49.

George thanked everyone who sent in comments during the rule-making process, including nearly 1,000 Local 49 members. “You made the difference,” he said. “I also want to thank Republican and Democratic elected officials, including all Minnesota leaders from both parties and the entire [Minnesota] Congressional delegation for sending in a letter supporting our position.”



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