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Niagara Considers Apprenticeship Requirement for County Projects

A proposed law would require successful bidders for county construction work valued at $1 million or more to meet the standards of a New York State Apprenticeship program in an effort to retain trade students.

A newly proposed Niagara County, N.Y., law would encourage trade students to stay in the county through a new public works bidding policy. Successful bidders for county construction work valued at $1 million or more would have to meet the standards of a New York State Apprenticeship program through the state Department of Labor. The proposed law is the subject of a public hearing ahead of the county legislature's Dec. 12 business meeting.

According to co-sponsors Irene Meyers and Mark Grozio, the legislation aims to highlight trades to young people in Niagara County. Certifications for trades are available at Niagara County Community College, they observed.

"Pipe-fitters, electricians, plumbers, we're in deficit of those," Meyers said. "So we want to encourage the trades, make sure there are good jobs here."

According to County Attorney Claude Joerg, state law allows municipalities to require that builders have apprenticeship agreements with construction contractors. As the proposed law was reviewed by the legislature's administration committee late last month, Joerg provided a bit of historical context, sharing passages from letters to Gov. George Pataki, who signed the state law in 2001. The passages that he read aloud would highlight the "gravity" of the decision the county is poised to make on the matter, he said.

"We urge you not to sign the above referenced bill into law because they will effectively terminate my minority business participation of public bid projects," Joerg read from one letter. "Minority contractors are going to be powerless to participate in public works projects as the new mandate from the New York State Department of Labor on the proof of apprenticeship plans will create another barrier."

Meyers ended up suggesting, and Grozio agreed, that some additional requirements in their proposal be stricken, specifically requirements that contractors provide proof of an "approved health and hospital insurance plan (and) and approved pension plan" for employees, so that the law would not put smaller businesses at a bigger disadvantage when bidding for county work.

With that change, the sole requirement of all bidders for big county public works jobs would be participation in an apprenticeship program.

(c)2023 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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