Al Bond: Post-Dispatch, County Council Ignored Apprenticeship’s Value

By on November 6, 2018

Editor’s Note: After the St. Louis County Council passed legislation which eliminated the apprenticeship requirement for M/WBE contractors on County contracts, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote an editorial applauding the move.

“Although unions have made progress bringing women and minorities into their ranks and helping create job opportunities for them, that’s a far cry from establishing broader contracting procedures that placed smaller companies owned by women and minorities on an equal footing with those owned by white males,” the Post-Dispatch editorialized. 

The Post-Disptach declined to publish an op-ed piece on the issues submitted by Carpenters leader Al Bond. We publish his op-ed  article here in the spirit of the Forum’s role as a platform for “inclusive engagement and unbiased communication.” 

by Al Bond, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council 

As the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Carpenters Union, which represents more than 22,000 members, I was extremely disappointed to read the Post-Dispatch’s editorial on Oct. 3 applauding the St. Louis County Council’s decision to eliminate the requirement that contractors on county jobs participate in a U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Program.  I was even more disappointed by the County Council’s actions on October 23, 2018 in overriding the County Executive’s veto.

Registered apprenticeship programs are widely recognized in the construction industry by both union and nonunion contractors as the best way to develop a qualified workforce. The skilled and stable workforce produced by these programs strengthens our local economy. I’m proud to stand with County Executive Steve Stenger because he recognizes this fact and was right to veto the bill.

For workers, participating in and graduating from a registered apprenticeship program means they receive the highest quality skills training, making them in-demand employees in a job market hungry for those skills. Together with our signatory contractors, we invest more than $11 million annually in training. Furthermore, our partners in the building trades also contribute millions of dollars each year to training. This training provides stable living wages, long-term career opportunities and proven pathways to upward mobility.

There are a number of programs in place to ensure that we diversify our workforce. One of the largest and most collaborative of those initiatives is the Building Union Diversity (BUD) program, which serves as career exploration for women and minority candidates with 9 participating trade organizations. To date, 142 men and women have successfully completed the 5-week pre-apprenticeship program. Nearly 90 percent of those graduates were placed into full-time work with participating contractors.

The Carpenters recognized long ago the importance of revolutionizing our approach to ensure anyone who wants a career in construction has the opportunity to be successful. That’s why we are as committed to contractors as we are to our workforce.

More than a decade ago, the Carpenters led the way, with the help of area labor organizations and contractors, to establish the Regional Union Construction Center (RUCC). RUCC is a nonprofit small business incubator specifically designed to help minority- and women-owned construction companies succeed. An advisory board serves each participating business and meets monthly to provide financial support and business skills development. To date, more than a dozen businesses have benefited directly from RUCC’s services, and hundreds more have received free consultation.

Independent of the services provided at RUCC, the Carpenters have also invested more than $12 million in minority contractors through low-interest loans, gap financing and letters of credit.

Most contractors and workers understand the value of registered apprenticeship programs. Contractors that don’t participate in a registered apprenticeship program cannot guarantee that St. Louis County will receive quality construction and infrastructure, nor can they provide the same career opportunities and stable wages for their employees.

As a St. Louis County taxpayer, I expect the workforce on county jobs to be highly trained, productive and safe. Under Chairman Sam Page’s leadership, the Council has become a circus, and their reckless behavior harms all workers.

Rather than playing politics, the County Council should reinstate the requirement to demonstrate its commitment to creating a skilled workforce.

Our doors are always open. We’re willing and able to assist any contractor who wants to succeed in the construction industry by producing highly skilled, productive and safe workers.

Al Bond has served as the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council since 2015. 


About Tom Finan