California State Pipe Trades Council
"As California's consumer watchdog, we applaud the California State Pipe Trades Council for its record of pro-consumer advocacy." - Richard Holober, Executive Director, Consumer Federation of Cailfornia


The Press-Enterprise

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Training fails state, union says
APPRENTICESHIPS: An agency will vote on whether to certify a trade group's program

By JACK KATZANEK / The Press-Enterprise Oversight

The California Apprenticeship Council, a state board that governs apprenticeship programs, has 17 members, most whom were appointed by former Gov. Davis.

Union leaders oppose an apprenticeship program backed by Gov. Schwarzenegger they say does not train new plumbing and heating contractors to state standards.

A state agency will decide Thursday whether to certify an apprenticeship program run by the Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors of California.

This certification issue is the latest in a history of disputes about who can operate the programs that produce new skilled tradesmen. But union leaders say the trade group's program turns out substandard apprentices.

The California State Pipe Trade Council also said the trade group wants to be able to certify its own apprentices so contractors can save money on labor costs.

The union says nonunion contractors use more lower-paid apprentices and fewer experienced employees, giving them an advantage in bidding for jobs.

Steve Lehtonen, executive vice president of the contractors group, said its apprenticeship programs meet state standards, and he said the question of gaining an edge by using more apprentices in the field is not an issue because union and nonunion companies usually don't compete for the same types of jobs.

Jack Davis, an attorney for the union, said Schwarzenegger asked for the trade group's training program to be certified as a favor for builders and developers.

"This is strictly economic," Davis said by phone. "His main motivation is to use cheaper labor on public works projects."

Davis said he would tell the state council the governor is attempting to have approved a training program that receives taxpayer funding but does not meet the existing standards. These workers would then be thrust into work situations with little supervision because apprentices would probably outnumber experienced workers.

Rick Rice, Schwarzenegger's undersecretary of labor, said there was no political agenda by the governor.

"The programs are supposed to be approved because they're valid and would add to tomorrow's pool of trained craftsmen," Rice said by phone.

Lehtonen said by phone he expects to lose Thursday's vote because of the council's political makeup, but he vouched for his group's apprenticeships.

"I think the union's programs are excellent," Lehtonen said. "But the finding of fact is that we meet the standards as they currently exist in California. The only argument is that we compete in the same marketplace."