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By Davon Lomax | January 31, 2017 | NY Slant

The New York City Council held a hearing on Tuesday on Bill 1447, introduced by Councilman Jumaane Williams, that would require state-sanctioned apprenticeship programs for all buildings above a certain height. Passing this bill is not a question of supporting union or non-union labor; it is a question of whether the city should require rigorous training standards for all workers – union and non-union alike. In an industry that has experienced 30 deaths over the past two years, I urge our elected leaders to choose training.

My path in construction began with an apprenticeship program. I spent four years — 6,000 hours of on-the-job training and 576 hours of in-classroom training — in a state-sanctioned apprentice program with IUPAT DC 9. I learned everything from painting to reading blueprints and safety training, all while working and getting paid.

There are non-union contractors that invest in training their workers as well. In fact, according to the state Department of Labor, only 47 percent of building and construction trades program in the city are union-sponsored.

I get frustrated when our elected leaders — especially Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is supposedly supportive of apprenticeship programs — misrepresent them to the public, claiming, “I don’t think requirement works, practically speaking.” There are powerful forces looking to mislead the general public and elected leaders about Intro. 1447. Some organizations even claim that it will lead to loss of jobs for minority workers. As a minority – who rose through the ranks of the Painters Union – I find these “Alternative Facts” (or blatant lies) to be disturbing.

However, I am a political director of a union that believes apprenticeship programs are essential, so I understand if you think my opinion is biased. So if you do not trust me, please read an excerpt from an op-ed written by Steven Spinola, the former president of the Real Estate Board of New York, entitled, “Training Program a Model for Putting People to Work.”

“Since its creation in 2001, it has become a widely renowned program known for creating career opportunities for people throughout all five boroughs, training New York’s diverse workforce, and enabling the members of that workforce to earn fair wages,” Spinola wrote. “In this period of economic growth, Construction Skills’ business model has allowed it to produce consistently positive results, and it has been improving on itself since it began.”

We applaud the many REBNY developers that continue to share Mr. Spinola’s opinion, and invest in contractors that train their workforce because it is safer and results in a better product. Unfortunately, there is a recent rise in the number of developers willing to use contractors that cut corners to increase profits. The same developers continue to spread misinformation about apprenticeship programs.

But, the facts are the facts:

  • Thirty construction related fatalities occurred over the past two years. Ninety percent of them on non-union sites that currently are not required to participate in state monitored apprenticeship programs.
  • Non-union contractors can participate in state-sanctioned apprenticeship programs, just ask the state Department of Labor about all the contractors that already do.
  • Bill 1447 will raise the standard of training for all construction workers – union and non-union alike.

My degree may not hang framed on a wall behind my desk, but I get to see it every day. I get to see it driving around New York City, looking at the Tent of Tomorrow, looking at the colors on the Queensboro Bridge, and looking at the skyline that I helped build. I know the value of apprenticeship programs because I see it. I invite the mayor and any member of the City Council to also experience the value of our rigorous training programs at our training center in Long Island City.

Davon Lomax is the political director of District Council 9, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.