Report: Minority, women apprentices looked over for state construction, highway projects

Written by admin   // November 4, 2010   // 0 Comments

by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.

Despite an executive order requiring minority and women apprentices on state construction projects, many are still unable to find apprenticeships, according to a report on their status in the construction trade apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships allow workers to earn a paycheck while learning valuable skills in trades such as carpentry, electrical, masonry and plumbing.

The report was done by the state Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) and was the result of testimony provided by state Rep. Barbara Toles roughly two years ago before the Assembly Committee on Workforce Development.

Toles’ testimony called attention to the lack of minorities in the apprenticeship program. The audit of the program was the first in 17 years.

The Committee of Workforce Development, which Toles chairs, will hold an informational hearing on the Audit Bureau’s apprenticeship report Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 10 a.m. at the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board offices, 2338 N. 27th St. The hearing is open to the public.

The report and hearing come on the heels of a study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Economic Development that revealed more than half of Milwaukee’s Black men are out of work.

As reported in the October 27 edition of the Community Journal, while the so-called “Great Recession” has caused unemployment to rise among all groups of working age people in the four-county Milwaukee area, the jobless rate for African American males in 2009 was the highest ever recorded at 53.3 percent.

That percentage is nearly two-and-a-half times the rate of joblessness for white Milwaukee area males (22.3 percent) between the ages of 16 and 64.

The Audit Bureau report focused on the Department of Workforce Development’s (DWD’s) Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards, which employs 16 staff statewide to regulate apprenticeships for various skilled trades, including 22 construction trades.

Though the number of minorities participating in apprenticeships increased from 431 in fiscal year 1999-2000 to 568 in FY 2008-09 (with the number of women in the program decreasing—228 to 136—during the same time period) many minorities and women have been unable to find employment as apprentices, even though local trade committees have determined them to be eligible.

Over a 10-year period, the total number of construction trades apprentices decreased by 16.5 percent, likely in part as a result of the recent recession.

The report revealed there were 11,744 apprenticeships statewide in fiscal year 2008-09—the most recent year for which data is available. The bureau spent $2.0 million—primarily in federal funds—for its regulatory efforts.

However, according to the audit report, in fiscal year 2008-09, there were only 6,818 apprentices in the construction trades, but only 568 were racial or ethnic (African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American) and 136 were women.

Aside from having relatively few minorities and women in the apprenticeships, the report found inconsistent enforcement of Executive Order 108, which requires apprentices to be employed on certain state construction and highway projects.

Non-compliance with the Order has increased each year from 2006 through 2009 and was found in a total of 223 contracts and subcontracts by the Department of Administration (DOA) and 91 administered by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

If DWD determines a firm has not complied with EO 108, DOA and DOT may terminate the applicable contract, withhold contract payments, or make a firm ineligible for future contracts.

But, according to State Auditor Janice Mueller, the DOA only took action against one firm for noncompliance with the order from 2006 through 2009. The DOT has never taken action, in part because DWD has not been timely in determining noncompliance and took an average of 305 days to make a determination.

Also, in five instances, firms that DWD had previously determined to be noncompliant subsequently worked as subcontractors on projects subject to the Order.

Mueller said while DWD approves local trade committee’s affirmative action plans, which are required to detail efforts to increase participation, it has allowed committees to develop plans that do not describe specific activities.

In addition Mueller, in a letter to the co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee about the LAB report, says the DWD has not always reviewed committees’ affirmative action efforts consistently or in a timely manner.

According to the audit report, DWD’s most recent compliance reviews indicated that no local trade committees had met their minority and female participation goals, but that 59 had made good-faith efforts to do so.

DWD is required to either initiate legal action or deregister a committee that is not operating in accordance with its plan, which revokes the committee’s authority to sponsor apprentices.

But DWD has not deregistered any noncompliant committee, in part because it is reluctant to harm apprentices as a result of doing so.

On apprentice complaints and appeals, the report revealed the DWD recently implemented procedures requiring complaints to be filed within 60 days, which conflicts with administrative rules, which stipulates that apprentices have 180 days to file discrimination complaints with the department.

Ironically, no discrimination complaints were filed in 2008 or 2009.

In 2008 and 2009, the DWD’s Apprenticeship Bureau decided 14 appeals, including five filed by minorities and one by a woman. Resolution time averaged 152.6 days, or approximately five months.

Neither statues nor administrative rules specify time limits for deciding appeals. But in May of this year, DWD modified its policies to specify that appeals should be resolved within 21 days.

One of the 14 appeals, as well as a second appeal that has not yet been resolved, involved allegations of discrimination that apprentices made after they had appealed their contracts’ proposed cancellation. The Audit Bureau found that DWD does not handle such complaints consistently.

The Bureau made a series of five recommendations to the DWD, which must report what it will do to rectify its practices and shortcomings found the LAB to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by December 1 of this year. Among the recommendations:

• What the cost would be of centrally tracking and reporting, by race and gender, the number of individuals who apply for apprenticeships and the number who are determined to be eligible for them.

• DWD must make an effort to strengthen oversight of local trade committees by requiring each committee, at least every five years, to submit an affirmative action plan that contains specific activities; by sanctioning committees that are found to be noncompliant with their plans; and by standardizing how it handles allegations of discrimination that arise during appeals.

• DWD introduce proposals that would improve compliance with Executive Order 108.

The Audit Bureau also recommends DWD modify its procedures to specify that apprentices are allowed 180 days to file discrimination complaints, as required by administrative rules.

Responding to the Audit report, DWD Secretary Roberta Gassman said progress has been made towards the goal of expanding opportunities for minorities and women. She cited the impact of the recession nationally as slowing that progress significantly.

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