Journeyman-to-Apprentice Bill to Get Vote Thursday

A state Senate panel plans to vote this week on a bill that would set the ratio of journeymen needed to oversee apprentices coming into construction strictly at one-to-one for all trades.

Current journeymen-to-apprentice ratios vary from trade to trade. For carpenters, for instance, the mandated ratio is already one-to-one when there is only one apprentice in a given class. But for every apprentice who joins after that, three more journeymen must be added.

Proponents of setting the ratios at one-to-one argue the change will eliminate an artificial barrier to recruitment and thus help combat the industry’s persistent labor shortage. Some contractors have complained that it is hard to find enough journeymen to meet the current requirements, especially as many older workers retire from the trades.

At a public hearing last week, several industry groups expressed reservations about the proposal. A lawyer representing Local 139 of the International Union of Operating Engineers – the biggest construction union in the state – warned that the bill seemed to give the state license to override collective-bargaining agreements reached between labor and management groups. Such authority, he warned, could run afoul of federal labor law.

If Bill 411 became law, state officials would not have to cede all their control over journeyman-to-apprentice ratios. Although losing their power to require more than one journeyman for each apprentice, they would still be able to increase the number of apprentices who could work under a single journeyman.

Should Senate Bill 411 receive a favorable recommendation on Thursday, it would next go to the full state Legislature.