State Representative Steven Mentzer (R- Lancaster) is sponsoring House Bill 1952, a proposal to amend the Apprenticeship and Training Act. Under current law, there must be four experienced workers to one apprentice or trainee. This bill would change the ratio to provide for only one skilled worker to oversee one apprentice or trainee. It has 22 co-sponsors, nearly half of whom sit on the Labor and Industry committee, and was introduced in April 2016.
The House Labor and Industry Committee held a meeting on HB 1952 this week.
Representative Mentzer said that he introduced the bill with the expectation that it would increase the number of tradesmen in Pennsylvania, citing a shortage of trained workers.
Representative Dan McNeill (D-Lehigh) asked if anyone on the committee had experience with apprentice programs to justify the change, which was met with silence. He then expressed his opposition to the bill based on his years of experience in the construction industry. He said safety is the most important consideration and mentioned letters of opposition from many different labor organizations who have the expertise to speak to this issue.
Many Republicans on the committee commented that labor unions are opposed to this concept, but their collective bargaining agreements often provide for a one-to-one ratio. Chairman John Galloway (D-Bucks) asked for just one example of a collective bargaining agreement with a one-to-one ratio, but none of the supporters were able to provide that information.
Representative Brandon Neuman (D-Washington) moved to table the bill until the Committee held a hearing on the bill due to the lack of information and expertise the Committee has on the issue. The vote failed along party lines with one Republican, Tom Murt (R-Montgomery) voting with the Democrats. He spoke in favor of the motion, saying that the purpose of training programs is to “bring someone along” to learn, and that untrained apprentices cannot be on a job site with only one skilled worker and be expected to progress.
Opponents of the bill charge that, in practice, this bill would create training opportunities at the expense of experienced, skilled workers. They say it is not true workforce development, and does nothing to improve efficiency or safety in the workplace; it is about cutting wages for skilled workers.
In effect, according to opponents, it creates a mechanism for employers to determine how to employ the least expensive worker and creates an inventory from which business owners can choose the cheapest worker possible, in lieu of employing existing higher paid, experienced skilled labor.
The bill passed the Committee along party lines by a vote of 15-10 with Representative Murt voting with the Democrats.
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