State Rep. Toles fears action will encourage discrimination in construction industry
In what can best be described as a stealth move that only came to light this week, Gov. Scott Walker recently suspended an executive order requiring minority and women apprentices on state construction projects.
On March 9, amidst the rancor of controversy and protests over his efforts to deny state unions collective bargaining and a proposed state budget that many observers have described as “draconian” because it severely cuts state aid for a number of quality-of-life programs,
Walker quietly signed Executive Order No. 18, which suspended Executive Order No. 108 requiring employers awarded state construction contracts to participate in Wisconsin’s apprenticeship program.
Many minority workforce advocates claimed the apprenticeship program was the only path to employment in the construction trades for minorities and women.
“Again, with a single stroke of his pen, Governor Walker has set our state back decades by eliminating the only ‘tool’ we have to provide training and support to those starting out in the construction trades,” said Milwaukee State Rep. Barbara Toles upon learning of the governor’s action.
Toles said news of Walker’s action first came to light on the Department of Workforce Development’s website, notifying contractors they “are no longer subject to the apprentice utilization requirements” and “in all cases, no further compliance investigations or determinations, including those that are pending, will be made by the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards.”
“This is a victory for Walker’s campaign supporters and a crushing defeat for the thousands of minorities and women who have long been excluded from the family-sustaining jobs found in the construction trades,” Toles said in a statement.
Walker’s decision is particularly shocking in light of a recent audit of the State’s Apprenticeship Program conducted by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB).
Released in September 2010, the LAB’s report, “An Evaluation: Minorities and Women in Construction Trade Apprenticeship,” found that: “Many eligible minorities and women are unable to find apprenticeships; the Department of Workforce Development was not doing enough to require contractors to hire apprentices on state projects; and that more needed to be done to remedy the significant under-representation of minorities and women in both the apprenticeship program, and correspondingly, in the construction trades themselves.”
Toles, who once chaired the Committee of Workforce Development, said the suspension of Executive Order No. 108 does the opposite.
“It leaves those seeking apprenticeships statewide with little hope of obtaining the training needed to secure employment in the construction trades,” Toles stated, adding the suspension further delays the development of a skilled workforce that will be essential to Wisconsin’s economic recovery.
The Milwaukee assemblywoman noted Walker’s disregard for these injustices would be inexplicable if not for a recent quote in the Daily Reporter by a lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin (ABCWI).
On January 4 of this year, one day after the governor’s inauguration, John Mielke, vice president of ABCWI, said “the first thing I’d like the governor to do is rescind Executive Order 108.”
“A lobbyist speaks and two months later his wish is granted. This is, unfortunately, indicative of the new brand of responsive government ushered in by the Walker Administration.
Toles said if construction contractors feel the rules put in place to prevent discrimination are too onerous, they should find a model that does not depend on being awarded state contracts.
“Women and minorities make up more than 50% of the citizens of this state, and at the very least deserve an equal opportunity to the jobs that are paid for with their tax dollars.
“It is a sad day when the Governor of Wisconsin thinks that the price of discouraging discrimination among employers seeking government contracts is something we cannot afford.
“The Wisconsin I know and love can always afford to do what is right, and it is my hope that with greater attention to this important issue, Executive Order No. 108 will be reinstated, and move us a step closer towards our common goal of putting all Wisconsinites to work.