(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – A Nevada group that offers training to non-union construction workers has sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford alleging an improper pro-union bias by some members of the State Apprenticeship Council.
The allegation comes following the failure of the Nevada Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC) to win approval of an apprentice weatherization program for its non-union construction workers. The same council approved a union-backed program in December 2009.
The ABC initially sought approval of the program in May under Senate Bill 152 sponsored by Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the 2009 session. The program was tabled until August after the ABC had provided all the information sought by the apprenticeship council.
In the letter, ABC President Clara Andriola said the program was virtually identical to the program approved by the council for the Laborers Union with the only changes being those sought by the council itself.
Despite this, the council voted 3-1 on Aug. 13 to reject the program citing a “lack of need.”
Voting to reject the program were employee representatives Daniel Rose and Greg Smith and employer representative Dana Wiggins.
Horsford and others were clear in testimony on SB152 that the programs were to be available to all.
Former state Sen. Warren Hardy, the lobbyist for the ABC, said the organization has not received any response yet on the concerns.
But when members of the Legislature ask why the weatherization program isn’t moving along as rapidly as they would like, the ABC will mention the action of the council, he said.
Hardy called the ability to get an apprentice program “absolutely critical.”
By rejecting the ABC’s program, 85 percent of the construction industry that is not unionized cannot participate, he said. The agency can and will continue to provide weatherization training through its nonprofit collaborative, but there is a belief that the Legislature will require an apprenticeship program in 2011.
“In the short term it’s not the end of the world,” Hardy said. “(But) if you pull the rug out from 85 percent of the industry, you can’t successfully put the construction industry back to work.”
Andriola said in the letter the reason the union training programs have not met with much demand is because weatherization of residential properties is a task that “has traditionally been performed by the non-union sector of the industry.”
The federal government has also said that councils may not apply a “needs based” test when deciding whether to approve a program, she said.
The letter, which was also sent to the members of the Legislative Commission and the Interim Finance Committee, also suggests that SB152 be amended, “in an effort to eliminate the potential for the political gamesmanship that has been so obviously displayed by certain members of the State Apprentice Council in seeking to ‘pull up the ladder’ and insure that such ‘green training’ programs are only available through union programs.”
Horsford was not available Wednesday to comment on the letter.
A representative of the Nevada State Apprenticeship Council could not comment because the decision is being appealed to the Nevada Labor Commissioner. Las Vegas Laborers Union Local 872 could not be reached for comment either.
Andriola said the ABC will appeal the decision to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship as well.
She noted that the ABC supported the Laborers Union program in December, but that union officials testified against its program at the May 13 meeting.
Andriola called the testimony inflammatory and inaccurate “by an organization that is openly hostile to our intentions . . .”
SB152 provided for the use of incentives contained in the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to provide job training, the promotion of energy efficiency and the promotion of the use of renewable energy in Nevada.
It received unanimous support in the Senate but 10 no votes from Assembly Republicans. Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, one of the no votes, said there were two concerns: whether the training would be available to non-union workers and if enough of the money would go to actual weatherization and not just training.
In testimony on the bill in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee in 2009, Andriola expressed concern the weatherization program might allow for only union-affiliated groups to participate.
In response, Horsford said his experience suggested there was no way the U.S. Department of Labor could pass programs that only allowed participation from labor entities. Horsford said it was the intent, based on the wording of the bill, that all apprenticeship organizations, labor or non-labor, were included, according to minutes from the hearing.
The weatherization program in Nevada has been hugely successful, according to Gov. Jim Gibbons, who recently announced the U.S. Department of Energy has selected Nevada to receive nearly $7 million ARRA funds to continue the Nevada Housing Division’s Weatherization Assistance Program.
Nevada has been one of the country’s weatherization leaders under ARRA and is continuing to weatherize thousands of homes for Nevada’s low-income families, he said. Through July, Nevada had weatherized a total of 5,351 homes.
Horsford has been critical of the state Housing Division’s ability to move forward more quickly with the weatherization program, which also involved grants from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to non-profit entities to train workers in how to perform the weatherization work.
In turn Gibbons has criticized Horsford in July, saying the majority leader has a conflict on the implementation of SB152 because he is chief executive officer of the Culinary Training Academy, an organization with a vested interest in ensuring the funds identified in Senate Bill 152 go only to union-based collaboratives.
“Despite this conflict, Sen. Horsford continues to regularly participate in hearings and meetings regarding the implementation of S.B. 152,” Gibbons said.
Horsford said in response in July that Gibbons’ claim that he has a conflict regarding the Housing Division and the weatherization program is wrong.
Horsford said the Culinary Training Academy is an agency that helps prepare people to acquire the skills needed for employment in the hospitality industry, and has never had a role in the weatherization program. Horsford is also a volunteer member of the board of Nevada Partners, but said the organization has no direct role regarding the weatherization program either.
“The governor is wrong, and his allegation is unfounded,” he said.