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RI Democrat Receives Major Donations from Assoc. Builders & Contractors, Introduces Anti-Wage Bill

Rep. Nunes

Rep. Nunes

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The Rhode Island House Labor Committee heard two bills this week that endorse wildly different strategies for how the state can promote apprenticeship programs.  The committee heard arguments for and against HB 7623 and HB 7697, the former of which aims to ensure that the state has a ready supply of skilled construction workers in the future while the latter is effectively a roadblock to training.

Given the drastic difference between the bills, committee members voted to hold each bill for further study at the beginning of the meeting.  Committee Chairman K. Joseph Shekarchi told the Providence Journal that he did not consider the bills dead and “encouraged people on each side to talk and try and work out a compromise.”  Given that the dueling bills pit organized labor against non-union contractors, a compromise may be a stretch.  

HB 7623 was sponsored by Rep. John Carnevale (D) and is backed by representatives of the labor community.  If enacted, it would require that state, local and quasi-public agency contracts worth $1 million or more assign at least 15 percent of labor hours to apprentices. George Nee, President of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, supports HB 7623, saying, “This is an opportunity for you to put into legislation a scenario where young people have an opportunity to engage in meaningful work at terrific salaries and benefits to help build this state, to help build the infrastructure of this state.”

HB 7697 was also sponsored by a Democrat. Rep. Jared Nunes.  If enacted it would allow contractors who win bids for projects worth over $10 million to employ apprentices at their own discretion.  In contrast to HB 7623, the bill is places no responsibility on public works contractors to grow the trades through apprenticeship. This is more akin to the approach taken by anit-union lobby The Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC), who have a poor track record of graduating apprenticeships and a much more decorated history of obstruction regarding training. So it comes as no surprise that the ABC is among Nunes’ top campaign donors.  The bill’s basic function is to act as an obstacle for a real apprenticeship bill to be passed and to prevent the largest projects in the state from having a positive impact on the future workforce.

Perhaps the best argument in favor of HB 7623, other than the fact that it is pro-active rather than inactive, is that it comes with no increased cost since apprentices earn less than the prevailing wage. In a sense it is a near-term money-saver with long-term benefit. 

A Senate bill similar to HB 7623 passed in March by a 26-10 margin. The only real difference between that bill and the current one up for discussion is that it designated a mandatory 10 percent of labor hours as opposed to the house version’s 15.  In 2013, an almost identical bill passed the senate only to stall in the house.  


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