On December 4, 2019, as Alaskans were getting ready for the holidays, Alaska Department of Labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter sent out a notice proposing major changes to Alaska’s labor regulations. No stakeholders that I spoke with, both union and non-union, were contacted prior to or given any notice of these proposed changes. Public comment on the proposed changes ended on January 13th.
The proposed changes are complex. The ones that would have the biggest impact are:
- Removes apprenticeship requirement. Changes how people become journeymen by removing all training requirements. Allows for people to become journeymen after 12,000 hours (it’s 8,000 now in an apprenticeship program) but the kind of work in the 12,000 hours is not defined.
- Changes the number of journeymen that oversee apprentices. Currently 1-1 ratio. Change would make it 1-2 in new trainee program.
- A new student certificate that would have a 10-1 student to journeymen supervision and allow students to perform actual work.
Here is a copy of all of the proposed changes:
Senator Click Bishop (R – Fairbanks) and Representative Zack Fields (D – Anchorage) both sent letters to Ledbetter raising concerns about the proposed changes. Bishop’s letter included five senators in the Senate Majority. Fields’ letter included 14 representatives from both the House Majority and Minority and three senators in the Senate Minority.
Here is a copy of both letters:
Bishop’s letter specifically addressed the new proposed student trainee certificate. It includes:
We members of the Alaska State Senate have concerns about the creation of a new student trainee certificate of fitness program that was part of a December 4, 2019, proposal by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development to change regulations in Title 8 of the Alaska Administrative Code relating to the uniform plumbing code, the safety code for elevators and escalators, the boiler and pressure vessel code, and API pressure relief testing valve standards.
Fields’ letter addressed the proposed changes to the apprenticeship program. It includes:
We are writing to express our strong opposition to changes in plumbing and electrical regulations that would eliminate apprenticeship utilization and double the ratio of apprentices to journeyworkers. These regulations would significantly expand the risk of on-the-job deaths and serious injuries while undermining the primary workforce development system for the industry.
Bishop’s letter seemed to have the desired effect. In Ledbetter’s response to Fields, she stated that they have, for now, decided not to move forward with the new training certificate. This would allow training programs like AVTEC and Job Corps to use student labor, which is unpaid, to perform work for companies who engage with them. The letter included:
The department has decided not to move forward with the proposed regulations to establish a student trainee certificate of fitness at this time. This aspect of the proposal would have allowed state, federal, or school district educational programs to include hands-on work subject to the electrical or plumbing code under the competent supervision of a journeyman instructor. The department intends to get additional input from training providers and incorporate public discussions related to this aspect of the proposal at an upcoming meeting of the Alaska Workforce Investment Board.
The tone of Ledbetter’s letter to Fields is pretty loose. She uses phrases like “Your letter purports” and “Perhaps the greatest falsehood in your letter.” You can read the entire letter here:
Ledbetter also responded to Bishop’s letter. However, I have not been able to obtain that letter. Sources report the tone of her letter to Bishop was much different than the one to Fields. Senator Bishop told me he plans to meet with Commissioner Ledbetter next week to discuss the proposed changes.
Lawmakers are not the only ones pushing back against these proposed changes. The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), who are often at odds with labor unions, are also against the proposed changes. Amber Cartier, their Director of Apprenticeship, gave the following comment:
While we have no reason to believe the Department seeks to undermine workforce development or create an unsafe environment the regulations as written could lead to such outcomes. While we applaud Governor Dunleavy’s recent efforts to communicate with Alaskans we are disappointed that the Department isn’t following suit. ABC of Alaska strongly urges the Department to withdraw the regulations package, engage with us and other stakeholders to identify and explain the problems they are trying to solve and work with us to develop solutions to those problems. By engaging Alaskan stakeholders ABC believes we can protect employee safety, minimize the ability of unscrupulous actors to game the system and create more robust workforce development opportunities.
Deborah Kelly, the Statewide Apprenticeship Director for the Alaska Joint Electrical Apprenticeship & Training Trust, provided the following comment:
The department’s push for these changes doesn’t make sense. They didn’t talk to any stakeholders – not to union or nonunion apprenticeship programs, not to contractors’ associations, or to any other industry group from what I can tell. They didn’t receive a single comment in favor of the changes, and there was a huge response against. And they don’t seem to understand the impact of their sweeping proposal. They keep saying it will provide additional pathways, but it just turns trainee licenses into a joke – no training, just a $200 payment to the department for the privilege of working.
As one lawmaker told me, “When the unions and ABC are on the same page, you know something is wrong.”
Public comment was totally against the proposed changes. According to the Department, 377 comments came in. 375 were against the changes to the apprenticeship program. Two dealt with other proposed changes. The amount of public comments submitted was much higher than previous public comments the Department of Labor has received in the past. You can see all the public comment documents here:
I attempted to get a comment from Commissioner Ledbetter on January 9 after an AGDC board meeting. She would not give me any comment or answer any of my questions. Now that public comment is over, it is up to Ledbetter to decide if she wants to approve the changes. If she does, it would go to Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer (R – Alaska) for final approval.