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St. Louis County Council removes apprenticeship requirement for certain contracts

St. Louis County Council members meet on Oct. 2, 2018.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Council members meet on Oct. 2, 2018.

St. Louis County may no longer require contractors bidding for work to have apprenticeship programs — a longstanding priority for labor unions.

The County Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night for Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger’s legislation that makes a host of changes to the county’s procurement regulations. One of the big changes is that it no longer would require bidders for certain contracts to either participate or maintain apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeship programs train workers to participate in certain trades — and are often associated with labor unions.

“This bill is not in any way, shape or form saying that apprenticeship programs are bad. They’re good. They turn out wonderful workers,” said Wasinger, R-Huntleigh. “But they’re not the only way to train a worker. And that is the issue that was making it a barrier to entry — that others that didn’t have an apprenticeship program could not even bid on county work.”

Critics of the requirements contend it makes it harder for women- and minority-owned businesses to compete for county work. That was one of the reasons why St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt supported the council’s move.

“You have smaller contractors who can compete and who can do the work,” Pruitt said. “But they don’t have an opportunity to do it, because they’re being told that they’re not affiliated with an apprenticeship program.”

But backers of the apprenticeship requirement contend it leads to county work being done more efficiently and safely. And Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, said that trade unions have been striving to add more women and minorities within their ranks.

“Apprenticeship programs — union and nonunion — have done tremendous efforts in enhancing the opportunities for minorities and women to get into the trades and stay in the trades,” Dolan said. “I don’t know if that’s overlooked or just misunderstood, but it’s one of the best pathways for minorities and women to get into a good-paying career.”

Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Blackjack, disagreed with Dolan that unions have become more diverse — but ended up voting against Wasinger’s bill.

“I do not feel that the unions have done a good job with being inclusive and with engaging minorities. I’m just not sure that cutting out the apprenticeship program is going to help,” Gray said.

The legislation now goes to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s desk. A spokesman for Stenger says he’s reviewing the bill.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.