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Union Apprenticeship Ordinance in St. Louis Will Guarantee Skill, Safety, Diversity for Future Workers

With numerous construction projects on the horizon in St. Louis County, plans to spend millions rebuilding the court and library systems are being laid. Fortunately, the County Council has passed a new ordinance mandating union apprentice programs for bids over $25,000. The news is good for young construction workers in the area.

The ordinance was not implemented without opposition, however. Detractors claim it will unfairly discriminate against certain contractors. A representative for Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican, read a letter on his behalf:

The awarding of public works contracts should be based on quality and price,” Jones wrote. “We should not subject contractors to an additional requirement that they meet arbitrary standards meant solely to benefit politically powerful unions.”

He added,

“I am firmly opposed to the proposal requiring contractors on jobs over $25,000 to operate a Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship program,” Jones wrote. “This will block the lion’s share of contractors — including many local minority- and female-owned contracting companies — from competing for these jobs, virtually guaranteeing they go to only union-affiliated contractors.

Tim Jones has been an outspoken critic of unions since his rise to House leadership and an endorser of “Right-to-Work” legislation for Missouri.

Discrimination is a common frame from anti-worker actors such as Jones. It is just as easy to view this ordinance as lifting contractors up to the standards the county would like to see for its future workers and contractors; standards of skill, safety, and diversity that free enterprise and big business interests alone have not displayed sufficient interest in upholding.

In defense of the ordinance, County Council chairman and business agent for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 Mike O’Mara described in detail the benefits that will result from the ordinance:

“The Hazelwood School District has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years on construction and they have similar language in their bidding requirements. And they met the goals of minority participation and so will the county,” said O’Mara

O’Mara said the ordinance has numerous safety elements, including a drug-testing requirement and Occupational Safety and Health Administration training.

“Union apprentice programs in and of themselves enhance safety,” O’Mara said. County Executive Charlie A. Dooley addressed minority contractors in attendance, saying, “As an African-American, I want to make something clear: To think that the county would discriminate against any member of the community is simply untrue.”

In order to ensure discrimination does not take place, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay issued an executive order mandating expanded workforce requirements for developers who obtain tax breaks.  These new requirements will come into effect on any project over $1,000,000 and include:

• “Twenty-five percent of labor hours are to be performed by minorities.”
• “Five percent of labor hours are to be performed by women.”
• “Twenty percent of labor hours are to be performed by city residents, although those hours can also be counted toward the first two goals.”
• “Fifteen percent of all hours are to be performed by apprentices enrolled in an approved training program, although those hours can be counted toward the first two goals.”

The County Council vote fell along party lines, 5-2, with the council’s Republican members, Colleen Wasinger, of Town and Country, and Greg Quinn, of Ballwin, voting against it.


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