Don’t Turn on Capitol TV
I made that mistake, and the House is debating H5582, which would mandate the number of apprentices who can be supervised by journeymen in trades. Majority Leader Gordon Fox just gave an impassioned speech about good workmanship, living wages, people of color, etc. In short, it’s a lot of rhetoric by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.
The simple economic fact is that the proposed ratios are ludicrous wastes of opportunity that will protect large, union contractors and prevent small entrepreneurs from advancing. Reviewing the legislation, it wouldn’t be outlandish to suggest that special interests are attempting to adjust the market because Rhode Island’s commercial market is drying up.
Every crew working on a residential job would require one journeyman or master for every apprentice.* You don’t need to have experience with construction sites to understand that bricklaying is the sort of work that allows an experienced guy to supervise several workers of varying experience somewhere below the level of journeyman. (Often such workers have enough experience to become journeymen but fall short by some other criterion.)
Carpenters. Laborers. Painters. Glaziers. All would be one to one on residential projects, under this bill. That’s crazy, and it is very suggestive of ulterior motives that there’s no difference from trade to trade.
Rep. Trillo and my representative, Jay Edwards, who actually works in construction, are trying to explain how a jobsite works to the rest. Deaf ears, I’d say.
This is why the state is in its current condition and getting worse every time this legislative body meets.
* There’s been some talk on the floor that the residential ratios only apply to projects with four or more units, but that appears to only apply to certain trades, including (for example) sheet metal and pipefitters, but none of those that I list above.
Edwards made the point that it’s difficult to get apprentices, anyway, hypothesizing the reason as a desire to go to college. Part of that desire, I’d propose as somebody who entered the trades after receiving a college degree and working in offices for a couple of years, results from the lack of clear and quick opportunity in trades.
A number of years ago, I explained how Rhode Island’s approach to licensing results in fewer tradesmen than our neighboring states — specifically in terms of the hurdles one would have to clear upon identifying a particular trade as a market opportunity:
Starting everybody green, and assuming everybody passes the tests immediately, after 12 years, Rhode Island’s system will have turned one master plumber into four masters and four journeymen, able to take eight apprentices. The Massachusetts system? Double in every category. Not only will twice the customers receive service, but twice the unemployed people can step onto the career path. Moreover, the gap ripples outward into the economy in innumerable forms — from the cost of home renovations to the rates of pay for less-skilled jobs.
If the trades were such that smart people could hop in, learn the profession at a self-direct pace, and quickly turn the job into a profitable career, more would make the attempt. With labor laws and union influence as they are, the choices are skewed. As a young adult graduating from high school, would you rather work full time in crawl spaces and bathrooms for five years while taking night courses in order to become a master plumber or party for four years and do enough classwork to get a degree that opens a door into an air conditioned office in which you’d begin learning an actual occupation only generally related to your education?
The legislation passed by a healthy but not overwhelming majority. The governor should veto this particular bill. The voters should upend the legislature.