Contractors should take note of regulatory changes governing employer obligations on public works construction. The state agency which regulates apprenticeship training in California, the California Apprenticeship Council or “CAC,” adopted rules fundamentally changing how apprentices are selected and trained on public works in California. The rules were stayed pending various court challenges. However, the stay has now expired, triggering the immediate implementation of the new rules.
Under the new rules, the approved standards for each apprentice program dictate the work apprentices can do. As such, contractors must become familiar with these written training standards and must ensure they can show that their apprentices do work within those standards. To date, the written standards are not readily available on any public website. Accordingly, contractors will need to contact each apprenticeship program from which they secure apprentices and ask for a copy. The standards should be studied carefully as they will contain a list of the specific tasks or “work processes” which an apprentice can be assigned.
In addition to regulating the work to which an apprentice can be assigned, the regulations could possibly extend to the initial selection of apprentices. While traditionally contractors requested apprentices from the same craft or trade as their on-site journeyworkers, the new regulations could be interpreted to mean that contactors can no longer rely on the craft or trade, and must instead focus exclusively on the work processes. Under this interpretation, contractors with Laborer journeymen could be required to hire pipefitter apprentices if the journeyworkers do tasks that are included in the Pipefitter written standards and not in the Laborers’ standards.
The trial court which reviewed the issue stated that contractors will not have to hire apprentices from a different craft or trade than the craft or trade of onsite journeyworkers. However, the trial courts may not have the last word. The CAC has indicated that its new regulations are expansive enough to force contractors to employ apprentices registered to a different craft or trade than the onsite journeyworkers. Until there is more guidance from the courts, this issue will remain unresolved, creating the potential for litigation.
For now, public works contractors should at the very least examine the written standards of the apprenticeship programs from which they obtain apprentices and ensure their work assignments are consistent with those standards. They should also consult with labor counsel regarding compliance with
the new regulations.