UA, Calif. PHCC Clash on Open Shop Apprentice Program

BY ROBERT P. MADER of CONTRACTORs staff SACRAMENTO, CALIF. The California Pipe Trades Council and the California Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors are in a row over California PHCCs open-shop apprenticeship program. Californias United Association affiliate is appealing approval of PHCCs apprenticeship program statewide. The California Apprenticeship Council, to whom the pipe trades have appealed,

BY ROBERT P. MADER of CONTRACTOR’s staff

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The California Pipe Trades Council and the California Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors are in a row over California PHCC’s open-shop apprenticeship program. California’s United Association affiliate is appealing approval of PHCC’s apprenticeship program statewide.

The California Apprenticeship Council, to whom the pipe trades have appealed, was supposed to make a decision about the PHCC program at the end of April. A three-member panel, however, reported to the council that it did not have enough information to recommend a course of action.

In the days preceding the council’s meeting, the pipe trades sent out a scathing press release that charges Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with illegally approving the PHCC program in order to enrich his campaign contributors. The unions object to the PHCC Plumbers Unilateral Apprentice Committee getting state funds that pay for part of the training program.

The pipe trades allege that PHCC doesn’t train its apprentices, and the press release describes the PHCC program with adjectives such as “shoddy,” “substandard” and “rogue.”

“Our program has been in existence since 1994, but with its expansion statewide, the unions all complained,” said Steve Lehtonen, California PHCC’s executive manager. “It’s a competitive thing rather than anything else. They don’t want us to train all across the state.”

Jack Davis, an attorney for the Pipe Trades Council, said that the three-person panel will hold another meeting at the end of May and the full Apprenticeship Council will make a decision at either a specially called meeting or at the regular CAC meeting at the end of July.

The press release also says that Schwarzenegger is backing the PHCC program.

“They say Schwarzenegger has been helping us, he has not helped at all,” Lehtonen said. “We’re still dealing with the same guy, John Rea, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, who is the guy who had been lead counsel of the department under [former Gov.] Gray Davis, and he had been a stumbling block. In fact, we were upset that when Schwarzenegger came into office, he promoted the guy.”

PHCC - National Association has been in existence since the pre-union days in 1883 and has both union and nonunion members. One of its enhanced service groups is the Union Affiliated Contractors. The California association started its apprenticeship program to give its nonunion members access to a recognized apprenticeship program.

The Pipe Trades Council and nonunion contractors have been battling over apprentice programs for more than 15 years. An old California law said there could not be “parallel” apprenticeship programs. The Republican administration of former Gov. Pete Wilson in the early 1990s began approving open-shop programs, which survived court challenges, effectively killing the “parallel program” rule.

After the union-friendly Davis administration took office, the union-dominated Apprenticeship Council tried to institute a “needs” test — did a locale “need” both apprenticeship programs? The U.S. Department of Labor stepped in and told the Apprenticeship Council that the test constituted the illegal “parallel program” scheme, just using different words.

Now the unions avoid citing the needs test and just try to make the PHCC program look shoddy, Lehtonen said.

The Apprenticeship Council violated state law, Lehtonen said, when it did not reach a decision on the PHCC program April 28 at the meeting. The law said the council has to decide after two meetings and that was the second meeting.

California PHCC appears unlikely to base its appeal on that legal breach. Lehtonen seems more inclined to let events play out.

The Apprenticeship Council may not even retain the legal right to approve apprenticeship programs in the first place. A federal administrative law judge ruled April 22 in favor of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services, which decertified the California Apprenticeship Council, taking away the state’s right to certify apprentices.

The judge stated in his ruling that the California “needs test” is an “unacceptable” state law that limits apprenticeship opportunity rather than safeguards the welfare of apprentices. He added that the state law does not adequately account for all needs of those seeking apprenticeship training and clearly limits the opportunities in California.

Now that the Labor Department has decertified California, Lehtonen said he is uncertain what the upshot of the judge’s ruling will be.

Labor attorney Davis said the ALJ’s decision would have no impact. While it means that the federal government would not recognized the Apprenticeship Council, the CAC will still have power to regulate apprenticeship programs within the state and have jurisdiction over state prevailing wage jobs, Davis said.