Van Hollen, Democrats Oppose Labor Department Proposal to Create Duplicative, Lower-Quality Unregistered Apprenticeships
U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined a group of his Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Acting Secretary Patrick Pizzella opposing the Labor Department’s recent proposal to undermine the highly effective and widely supported registered apprenticeship program. The proposed rule would create duplicative, unnecessary, and lower-quality “industry-recognized apprenticeship programs” (IRAPs), that would not provide the same crucial benefits and protections as long-established registered apprenticeships. The Department has also proposed the establishment of new “standard recognition entities” to oversee the IRAPs, allowing these programs to potentially evade accountability, even to apprentices themselves.
“Rather than invest federal taxpayer dollars in a duplicative, less rigorous, and unproven model of workforce training with little to no accountability, the Department and the Trump Administration should work with Congress and stakeholders to strengthen and modernize the registered apprenticeship system to build more pathways for workers to enter middle class jobs,” wrote the Senators.
The Senators also questioned whether the proposed rule is truly consistent with National Apprenticeship Act, which entrusted the Labor Department to “safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of apprentices.” In February, Senator Van Hollen and his colleagues pressed the Department of Labor for answers on the proposed rule and raised questions about whether the Department was using funds appropriated by Congress for registered apprenticeships for IRAPs.
In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Senators Murray (D-WA), Baldwin (D-WI), Bennet (D-CO), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Coons (D-DE), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Harris (D-CA), Hassan (D-NH), Heinrich (D-NM), Hirono (D-HI), Kaine (D-VA), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Manchin (D-WV), Markey (D-MA), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Murphy (D-CT), Peters (D-MI), Reed (D-RI), Rosen (D-NV), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (D-HI), Schumer (D-NY), Shaheen (D-NH), Smith (D-MN), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Udall (D-NM), Warner (D-VA), Warren (D-MA), Whitehouse (D-RI), and Wyden (D-OR).
Full text of the letter is below and the PDF is HERE.
August 26, 2019
Dear Acting Secretary Pizzella:
We write in strong opposition to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“Department” or DOL) proposed rule to create Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs or “Industry Programs”), and to request a 60-day extension of the public comment period for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The NPRM would undermine important standards around wages, training structure and quality, and equal opportunity employment, would create uncertainty for the regulated community by establishing a confusing, unnecessary, and duplicative program, and disregards congressional intent to “safeguard the welfare of apprentices.”
In enacting the National Apprenticeship Act of 1937, Congress authorized and directed the Secretary of Labor to formulate and promote labor standards to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of apprentices. The Department’s regulations implementing the Act establish such standards and prescribe policies and procedures for the registration of acceptable apprenticeship programs with the Department. Under the Department’s longstanding regulations, apprenticeship programs seeking the Department’s approval, support, and financial assistance must commit to providing apprentices with a number of crucial protections and benefits.
The Department’s proposal, however, would not guarantee most of these benefits to apprentices who participate in IRAPs instead of registered apprenticeships. This NPRM would enable so-called Industry Programs to circumvent the quality assurance standards and protections of the registered apprenticeship system. Instead, the Department proposes to authorize new, nongovernmental Standards Recognition Entities (SREs) to establish, recognize, and monitor the quality of IRAPs—with minimal accountability to the federal government, states, or apprentices themselves. We are especially concerned that the Department’s purported hallmarks of quality for IRAPs do not include some of the most crucial standards required of registered apprenticeship programs. In particular, this proposal would not require IRAPs to guarantee: minimum hours or specific requirements for on-the-job training and classroom-based instruction, nationally recognized stackable and portable credentials of value, workplace safety and equal opportunity protections beyond those already required by law, or guaranteed wage progression.
It is not clear how the Department’s proposal to upend registered apprenticeship is consistent with Congressional intent. The National Apprenticeship Act empowers the Department to “bring together employers and labor for the formulation of programs of apprenticeships”—that is not what the Department proposes. Rather, this rule would create a parallel system that outsources the Secretary’s statutory role in overseeing the Nation’s registered apprenticeship programs to unaccountable, nongovernmental entities.
The Department’s proposal is yet one more attempt to undermine the Nation’s registered apprenticeship system, which has existed for 80 years and enjoys broad support from Congress, workers, and industry alike. The Department undercuts the standards that have been the hallmark of registered apprenticeships by allowing IRAPs to bypass the Department’s longstanding approval and quality assurance process, removing the crucial role of state governments in maintaining the integrity of programs operating within their states, substantially weakening protections and guarantees for workers, and causing confusion for businesses and industries. This is particularly troubling coming on the heels of the Department’s repeated attempts to divert the annual discretionary appropriation to support the development of IRAPs, despite the Department having acknowledged on record that it must be spent exclusively on the registered apprenticeships in accordance with the law.
The Department asserts its proposed “industry-led, market-driven approach provides the flexibility necessary to scale the apprenticeship model where it is needed most and helps address America’s skills gap.” However, the Department has presented no evidence showing IRAPS will be effective, let alone superior, to registered apprenticeship programs. On the contrary, existing apprenticeship programs have one of the highest rates of return on investment for employers of any workforce advancement programs. Rather than invest federal taxpayer dollars in a duplicative, less rigorous, and unproven model of workforce training with little to no accountability, the Department and the Trump Administration should work with Congress and stakeholders to strengthen and modernize the registered apprenticeship system to build more pathways for workers to enter middle class jobs.
We oppose the Department’s efforts to water down the quality of apprenticeship programs by removing worker protections, lowering the quality of credentials and training, and providing federal funds to unaccountable organizations to provide unproven training. We urge the Department to reconsider its proposal. We also request a 60-day extension of the public comment period for the NPRM to allow Congress, stakeholders, and the public adequate time to respond to these potential changes, as well as a Departmental briefing on the proposal as soon as possible.
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