Walter: Apprentice program for contractors lacks support

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter. (Credit: File)
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter. (Credit: File)

A proposal to require commercial construction companies on jobs of more than 100,000 square feet to have an apprentice program as a condition of getting a building permit from the town doesn’t have majority support from the Town Board, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

The Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, a carpenters’ union, has urged the board to adopt such a requirement at two recent Town Board meetings.

“It’s a very simple rule,” said Council representative Ed Enders of Baiting Hollow at the March 18 Town Board meeting. “In order to obtain a building permit to renovate or build a commercial building over 100,000 square feet, any general contractor, subcontractor, or contractor on that job must demonstrate participation in a New York State-approved apprentice program appropriate for type and scope of work to be performed.”

Mr. Enders said that with an apprentice program, “the work that will be performed will be performed to our highest safety standard.”

He said the towns of Brookhaven, Huntington and Oyster Bay have such a requirement in place.

An apprentice program “trains the next generation of workers,” he said. “Not everybody who graduates from Riverhead High School goes on to four-year college. It’s probably less than 50 percent, and the rest have to go someplace. Being in a building trade is a good place to be. You can earn a living, support your family and stay int he town.”

The NRCC has an apprentice program at its headquarters in Hauppauge, according to Mr. Enders.

Board members at the time gave no indication of support or opposition following Mr. Enders’ speech.

Then at the April 15 meeting, another NECC rep, Tom Ferris of Jamesport, asked what the board’s reaction to the program was.

“I don’t think there’s majority support for that,” Mr. Walter said. “We’ve talked, I think there’s a happy middle ground but the unions don’t necessarily agree with me on that happy middle ground so I don’t think the support is there.”

Mr. Walter said he would support something that opens the apprentice program to union and non-union workers.

He said he’s spoken with the Associated Builders and Contractors, a non-union trade association based in Hauppauge, which does not support the mandated apprentice program and Mr. Walter would like to have a meeting involving both ABC and the NRRC in the same room.

“ABC recognizes and supports the need to ensure a highly trained, skilled and safe construction workforce, but we feel the apprenticeship mandates being advanced by the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters misses the mark,” said Michael Todisco, ABC’s Regional Vice President, in an email to the News-Review. “Mandating apprenticeship does nothing to ensure quality, safety or jobs, but it does work to their goal which is to preclude the over 70% of the construction workforce which chooses not to belong to a union. Some non-union contractors have their own state regulated apprentice programs, but an overwhelming number of companies rely on time-honored traditions of training their own employees to be well-rounded construction workers,”

Mr. Todisco said the cost and requirements of an apprentice program are beyond the reach of most contractors.

In subsequent interviews with Town Board members, the board is actually split, with two opposed, two in favor and one undecided.

Councilman John Dunleavy said he disagrees with Mr. Walter, and supports a requirement for an apprentice program on jobs of more than 100,000 square feet.

“They need to train our young people,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “All our young people cannot go to college. We need electricians, we need plumbers … we need these people.”

He said a 100,000 square foot building is the size of Stop and Shop, and most projects in town aren’t that big.

“I don’t support it,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said in an interview. “I don’t think anybody should have a lock on any contract, union or non-union. I’m for an open bid process.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she waiting to see the language in the proposal before taking a position, but she feels that it would potentially give a monopoly to unions with apprentice programs by requiring that as a condition of getting a building permit.

Councilman Jim Wooten said he doesn’t have a problem with requiring an apprentice program on projects over 100,000 square feet.

The town in 2006 had a proposal to require general contractors, contractors and subcontractors on public works projects of more than 100,000 to have apprenticeship programs in order to get a building permit.

The board held a public hearing on that proposal, but it met with some opposition and was never adopted.

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