ABC Members Engaged and the Merit Shop Triumphed
The 2023 Washington State 105-day Legislative Session was chalk full of bills that impacted ABC members. ABC focused on advocating for equal opportunity for merit shop contractors, testifying against legislation that would negatively impact ABC members’ bottom line, and lobbying in support of bills that would improve the construction industry.
SB 5320 Concerning journey level electrician certifications of competency.
Throughout the legislative session, ABC engaged in extensive negotiations regarding SB 5320, a crucial piece of legislation that we believe will greatly benefit Washington's electrician workforce. This bill addresses and corrects technical issues in the 2018 session law SB 6126, which mandated that aspiring commercial journeyman electricians must undergo an approved apprenticeship program. Notably, this requirement marked a significant change as it established apprenticeship as the sole pathway in this industry, and complications emerged, especially due to challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
SB 5320, a result of our negotiations, aims to resolve these issues effectively. One key provision of the bill is the easing of the transition period for electrical trainees who, as of July 1, 2023, have accrued 3,000 hours toward their journeyman certification. These trainees will be allowed to continue their training until July 1, 2026, without being forced into an apprenticeship program. This exemption acknowledges the difficulties faced by contractors and their employees in accessing apprenticeship programs before the mandated implementation date.
Additionally, SB 5320 establishes alternative pathways for individuals, such as veterans and out-of-state workers, facilitating their entry into the electrician profession.
While the passage of SB 5320 is a positive development for Washington's electrician workforce, it is important to note that more work lies ahead. The industry still requires substantial efforts due to the government's imposition of a single route to becoming a commercial journeyman electrician.
Legislation ABC opposed that failed:
HB 1067 – Prevailing wage at high hazard facilities.
This legislation attempted to expand mandated prevailing wage rates to state’s refineries, which are private companies. Wages at the refineries are already well above the state’s average and there is no evidence to indicate wages are below standard. ABC opposes this legislation because we are concerned that this legislation would expand prevailing wages to other industries and be required on private projects.
HB 1099 – Requiring certain wages in public works contracts to be at least the prevailing wage in effect when the work is performed.
ABC opposed this legislation as it would have required contracts for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance, or repair of any public work must stipulate that the hourly minimum wage rate for laborers, workers, and mechanics must be adjusted to provide that the wage is not less than the latest prevailing wage rate in effect at the time the work is performed. The bill introduces uncertainty, particularly since prevailing wage rates are determined through collective bargaining agreements. Also, the bill would have led to costly change orders for public entities, disrupt the construction bidding process, and inflate project estimates due to unpredictable expenses.
SB 5110 – Adding penalties for certain prohibited practices in chapter 49.44 RCW.
This bill would have allowed employees, applicants, or prospective applicants to file a civil action for violations of chapter 49.44 RCW where no specific criminal or civil penalty is specified. In such cases, the court can grant injunctive or equitable relief, actual damages, and a penalty ranging from $500 to $1,000 to the prevailing party. Additionally, the prevailing party is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs.
ABC opposed the bill because it applied a private cause of action to an entire code chapter, outsourcing discussions on enforcement mechanisms. ABC argued that the Legislature should individually assess each instance within the chapter for enforcement mechanisms, rather than adopting a catchall approach. Additionally, the bill only allowed prevailing employees and applicants to receive attorneys' fees, creating an imbalance where employers would always lose even if they win, contrary to the principle that any prevailing party should be able to request attorneys' fees.
SB 5417 – Protecting the rights of workers to refrain from attending meetings or listening to their employer’s speech on political or religious matters.
This legislation would have prohibited an employer from disciplining or discharging an employee for refusal to attend an employer-sponsored meeting, listen to speech, or view communications, when the primary purpose of which is to communicate the employer's opinion concerning religious or political matters.
ABC was concerned that the proposed legislation might infringe on existing discrimination laws and employers' right to free speech. The Legislature should be careful here as the bill could prevent political action committees from talking freely with their employees.
Legislation that passed:
HB 1013 – Establishing regional apprenticeship programs
This legislation directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the educational service to establish the Regional Apprenticeship Preparation Pilot Program (Program). The stated purpose of the Program is to identify common best practices and processes for establishing regional apprenticeship preparation programs that support postsecondary success for students and strengthen engagement in schools and school districts.
ABC supports apprenticeship programs that teach students valuable skills and help to balance opportunities. The bill establishes programs in Eastern and Western Washington and stakeholders look forward to the insights and learning that will result from the Program.
HB 1050 – Expanding apprenticeship utilization requirements.
The bill mandates that public works contracts exceeding $2 million, awarded by municipalities, must allocate at least 15% of labor hours to apprentices. It also gradually reduces the contract thresholds for apprenticeship utilization requirements until July 1, 2028. Additionally, the Department of Labor and Industries is tasked with studying and reporting on outcomes related to apprenticeship utilization, access to apprentices, and involvement of small, women, minority, and veteran-owned businesses in public works projects.
ABC opposed HB 1050 and argued that while apprenticeship programs are valuable for workforce development, the bill hinders open shop contractors from bidding on public works projects. ABC criticized the requirement for increased apprenticeship utilization, highlighting inefficiencies in the approval process for apprenticeship programs. ABC warned the Legislature that this mandate, without more approved programs, will limit the labor market and raise construction costs.
SB 5217 – Concerning the state’s ability to regulate certain industries and risk classes to prevent musculoskeletal injuries and disorders.
This legislation repeals the prohibition on the Department of Labor and Industries from making rules related to ergonomics or musculoskeletal disorders. It imposes limitations on new rule adoption, allowing rules only for industries with musculoskeletal injuries at a rate significantly higher than the state average. The Department is required to identify relevant industries, review specific claims data, and consider certain factors during rulemaking.
ABC and the greater business community testified in opposition to this bill, highlighting concerns about the complexity and costliness of rulemaking processes. Instead, the bill’s opposition advocated for investments in technical assistance and performance monitoring for employers. ABC emphasized the financial strain on businesses, especially small farms, and questioned the necessity of the bill, pointing out that the Department already possesses the authority to regulate workplace hazards under existing regulations.