(The Center Square) — Legislation passed this session and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee aimed to increase the number of electricians in Washington state. Some small electrical contractors, however, say the new law is hurting their business.
Senate Bill 5320 requires applicants for a travel level electrician certificate to have completed an approved apprenticeship program to pass the examination required to become a travel level electrician. As part of the apprenticeship, the candidate must have worked in the trade of electrical construction for at least 8,000 hours, of which 4,000 hours in electrical installations in industrial or commercial installations under supervision.
The bill was sponsored by State Senator Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle.
Chris Scherer, master electrician at North Wave Electric LLC in Bellingham, has worked in the trade since 1994. He said the apprenticeship program requirements that are part of Senate Bill 5320 are among the most significant changes that he has ever seen come out of the Legislative Assembly.
Since the law came into force Effective July 1, a small electrical contractor may only hire a new intern to perform commercial work under an approved apprenticeship program.
An individual entrepreneur can have their own program if they have enough funds and the size of their business can accommodate the program. Scherer said the process supports major contractors and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Unions, which are able to train hundreds of people.
Scherer went on to explain that not all small contractors in the state who are not part of the big unions are able to start their own programs, which means their only option is to enroll in the few apprenticeship programs. existing and approved in the State.
One of the leading non-union apprenticeship programs is available through the Washington Construction Industry Training Councilwhich has six locations across the state: Bellevue, Marysville, Pasco, Puyallup, Spokane and Vancouver.
Small electrical contractors will need to register as a training agent, while the Washington Construction Industry Training Council acts as a sponsor. The council sends apprentices to trainers as needed, but the contractors have no say in who gets sent to the site.
“They just send the ones they think are the right ones – you don’t even know if (the apprentices) are in your area,” Scherer said in Center Square during a phone call.
Tim Rockwell is the owner of Rockwell Electric Inc, a small electrical contractor also based in Bellingham. Rockwell said trying to start his own apprenticeship program was extremely difficult. To do so, he had to receive a recommendation for approval of the apprenticeship program from the state Department of Labor and Industries, followed by another recommendation for approval from the Washington State Council for community and technical colleges.
The Washington State Apprenticeship Training Board could then provide tentative approval after one year. Prior to a board meeting, the proposed apprenticeship program may be challenged by another apprenticeship program operating in the same region.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union opposed the apprenticeship program proposed by Rockwell.
His program was due for a council hearing on June 20. The day before the hearing, the union retreated, sending a settlement agreement rather than going through a hearing, according to Rockwell.
“I spent $30,000 in attorney fees just to prepare for this hearing,” Rockwell said.
There are approximately 2,992 electrical contractors in Washington who perform commercial electrical work. According to Rockwell, 87% of these entrepreneurs are small businesses. He says new apprenticeship standards for contractors make it nearly impossible for small businesses to balance commercial and residential work, citing the new law’s requirement that 4,000 hours be spent on commercial electrical installations. under the supervision of a travel-level master electrician. or travel level electrician.
“How are you supposed to maintain 50% or more commercial work for their apprentices? asked Rockwell. “In five to ten years it will be very difficult for a coffee shop to find someone to set up a point of sale for them, because it is a commercial job.”
Saldaña did not respond to The Center Square’s request for comment at the time of publication.