New Trump apprenticeship rules are like the fox guarding the henhouse
Funded by union dues, Registered Apprenticeship Programs ensure quality, safe workmanship in the construction industry. A new proposal by the Trump Labor Department would put non-union contractors and industry groups in charge of crafting new non-registered apprenticeship programs with minimal government oversight. | Liuna

New Trump Labor Department apprenticeship rules, opening training for building trades jobs to cut-rate non-union firms and their bosses – while threatening quality training and building standards – are “like the fox guarding the henhouse,” a veteran construction union apprenticeship trainer says.

But workers and unions concerned over the Trump DOL scheme don’t have much time left to object. Deadline for comments is Aug. 26, the Laborers report.  Comments can be filed, via building trades unions, at

At the behest of the corporate class and particularly non-union construction companies, the Trump DOL wants to establish new certification requirements for Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) that put the cut-rate contractors and their lobby in charge of crafting new non-registered apprenticeship programs with minimal government oversight.

The proposed industry-backed rule is a direct attack on union Registered Apprenticeship Programs, which provide rigorous skills and safety training and must meet strict requirements set and enforced by DOL.

“We need to make sure the (Trump) administration does not allow low-quality industry apprenticeship programs, called IRAPs, in the construction industry. IRAPs would open the door to unskilled workers—not only lowering apprenticeship pay but your wages and benefits as well,” the Laborers warn.

Trump’s rule would provide contractors with another means to steer workers away from union membership, telling workers they don’t need to be a union member to receive training.

Right now, the nation’s construction unions run more than 1,600 training programs, all DOL-certified, providing top-tier training and letting thousands of apprentices earn while they learn. That relieves apprentices of massive college student debt and lets them step right into well-paying union construction jobs when they graduate. The jobs include health care coverage and retirement benefits.

By contrast, the non-union contractors whom Trump would put in charge of training new workers offer low pay, no benefits, no pensions, and no job security, either.

John Gaal, retired director of training and workforce development for the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, said of Trump’s scheme: “It’s the fox guarding the henhouse.”

Construction unions are urging workers, including their members, to protest, loudly, by the DOL deadline. Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan warns, however, that the protests must be individual and not mass-produced, as DOL has already said it will disregard those.

“The construction industry already has quality union apprenticeship programs that work,” said John Stiffler, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council. “Registered union apprenticeship programs ensure the workers rebuilding our infrastructure have the highest level of training, keeping our communities and families safe. They work for employers, they work for workers and their families, and they work for our communities.”

“We have standards to ensure safe, quality work. This proposal, like so many from this administration, seeks to put business groups in charge and would erode the very standards that have made these programs so successful,” Stiffler said. “We have to let the Department of Labor know working people won’t stand for this.”

Gaal, who has 36 years’ experience in apprenticeship training, said Trump’s proposal “will destroy a good pathway for a lifetime career for kids not wanting to go to college.”

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), the AFL-CIO umbrella group representing 15 building trades unions, along with individual unions, want workers to oppose the Trump scheme, loudly and clearly, to DOL.

Construction unions and industry partners “invest a combined $1.6 billion annually – without taxpayer dollars – to train thousands of men and women at 1,600 registered training facilities across the nation,” the Laborers’ O’Sullivan explained. “These registered apprenticeships have helped millions of Americans start careers in construction through rigorous training programs that ensure workers are skilled and safe on the job.”

“IRAPs would be redundant in an industry that already built such a successful system to meet workforce needs and help so many workers build a pathway to the middle-class.”

Union-funded Registered Apprenticeship Programs and the workers who benefit from them are directly in the crosshairs of the Trump administration, NABTU and other unions say.

The Trump DOL proposal would drive down standards for the world-class apprenticeship programs that workers and industries depend on and jeopardize good jobs and safety standards in the construction industry, the union coalition stresses.

The unions are also canvassing for support in Congress. In the last session, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a Painter, introduced the Learns Act, to support and encourage high-quality union-sponsored apprenticeships.

It went nowhere in the old GOP-run House. But with Democrats now in control, Pocan is in a prime position to push it: He sits on the House Appropriations subcommittee that actually helps dole out DOL funds – and which can restrict who they go to, as well.

“Our union apprenticeship programs are the gold standard for the construction industry. They should be used as a model for other industries, not undermined, because they provide rigorous education and training, are held accountable and workers are paid middle-class wages for their hard work,” Painters President Ken Rigmaiden tweeted during the union’s current convention in Las Vegas.

More than 175,000 comments have been sent to DOL on Trump’s apprenticeships rule, convention delegates learned. Gaal, of St. Louis, wants even more opposition to Trump’s pro-corporate scheme.

“If we don’t act soon, before Aug. 26, labor will regret the economic outcome for decades to come,” he stressed.

Tim Rowden is the editor of the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune. Mark Gruenberg is the chief of the Peoples World Washington Bureau and the editor of PAI, the union news service.


Tim Rowden
Tim Rowden

Tim Rowden is an award-winning writer and editor with 25 years of progressive experience in daily, weekly and online journalism, media relations, and advocacy journalism, including editor of the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune, and reporter and bureau chief for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.