OPINION: Union apprenticeships bring value to future


What is a career path with no student debt, a decent paid job with full benefits and community reinvestment? It is a union trade apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship is an age-old tradition. A young person entering the trade is taught the necessary skills without incurring debt. It is an earning while learning formula that enriches our community.

At Laborers Local 362, our current package is $61.80 per hour. That’s $33.87 hourly on the paycheck and $27.93 in benefits. This benefit package includes $13.99 toward a pension, $8.50 for family health insurance and $4 hourly into an annuity fund, plus some additional industry funds.

Every working laborer, including apprentices, contributes 80 cents hourly into the training fund. This is a Labor-management fund, matched by the employer. Thanks to this investment, the apprentice does not pay tuition or buy books. Instead, over the three-year training program, our fund invests over $7,000 in that apprentice.

Now a $ 61-an-hour package might sound expensive. What does the construction user, whether a private developer or government entity, get in return? The community receives well-trained, efficient and safe work.

Our local governments must pay Illinois area construction prevailing wages on their projects. This ensures a level playing field for all bidders, so one company cannot undercut another by cutting wages and benefits. Our local governments passed Responsible Bidder Ordinances for their own projects, requiring that bidders participate in federally approved apprenticeship programs. These ordinances need stricter enforcement.

A 2022 Illinois Economic Policy Institute report found that, “Responsible bidder ordinances deliver accountability and transparency for taxpayers, promote apprenticeship programs that produce skilled craftworkers for local businesses, and increase work for contractors who pay family-supporting wages and benefits.”

Developers seeking taxpayer subsidies should pay prevailing wages, thus ensuring subsidized projects hire local and do not undercut area wages with out-of-town contractors and out-of-town workers.

Any time our local governments subsidize developers, we taxpayers should reap the highest rewards. Requiring prevailing wages and hiring local means construction workers can pay their own way, buying homes, groceries, vehicles and also paying taxes to support local government.

Requiring contractors on subsidized projects to participate in federally sanctioned apprenticeships is a long-term community investment. It is training a new generation in a skilled trade. Those Labor-management training programs ensure we have a ready supply of qualified, safe and well-trained people. Plus, it opens doors for non-college-bound youth to earn a decent wage and save for the future.

As our local governments consider taxpayer subsidies to developers, let’s ensure full value is received back. That means ensuring workers are properly paid and apprenticeship programs bring stability and opportunities to our young people.

(Ron Paul is the business manager for Laborers Local 362 in Bloomington, Ill. This column originally appeared in the Bloomington Pantograph on June 2.)

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