Electrical contractors in Western Australia are shocked by new law that they say favors big contractors and unions Washington

(The Center Square) – Legislation was passed this session and signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee aimed at increasing the number of electricians in Washington state. However, some small electrical contractors see the new law as hurting their business.

Senate Bill 5320 would require applicants for a flight-level electrician certification to have completed an approved apprenticeship program to take the required exam to be a flight-level electrician. As part of the apprenticeship, the applicant must have worked in the electrical construction trade for at least 8,000 hours, of which 4,000 hours must be in electrical installations in supervised industrial or commercial facilities.

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Rebeca Saldaña, a Democrat from Seattle.

Chris Scherer, master electrician at North Wave Electric LLC in Bellingham, has been in the trade since 1994. He said the apprenticeship program requirements that are part of Senate Bill 5320 are some of the biggest changes he’s seen coming out of the Legislature on Launch.

Since the law went into effect July 1, a small electrical contractor can only hire a new apprentice to work trade jobs through an approved apprenticeship program.

An individual contractor can have their own program if they have sufficient funds and if their business size can accommodate the program. Shearer said the operation supports major contractors and the International Union of Electrical Workers who are able to train hundreds of people.

Scherer went on to explain that all of the small contractors in the state who are not part of the major unions are unable to start their own programs, meaning their only option is to sign up for the few existing, approved apprenticeship programs in the state.

One of the major non-union apprenticeship programs is available through the Washington Construction Industry Training Council, which has six locations across the state: Bellevue, Marysville, Pasco, Puyallup, Spokane, and Vancouver.

Small electrical contractors will need to sign on as a training agent, while the Construction Industry Training Council of Washington serves as sponsor. The council sends apprentices to training agents when they are needed, but contractors have no say in who is sent on the job.

“They only send whoever they feel is right — you don’t even know if (interns) are in your area,” Scherer told Center Square in a phone call.

Tim Rockwell is the owner of Rockwell Electric Inc., a small electrical contracting company also based in Bellingham. Rockwell said trying to start his own apprenticeship program was very difficult. To do so, he had to obtain a recommendation for approval of the apprenticeship program through the state Department of Labor and Industries, followed by another recommended approval from the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

The Washington State Apprenticeship Board can then provide provisional approval after one year. Before a council meeting, a proposed apprenticeship program may be objected to by another apprenticeship program operating within the same district.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union objected to Rockwell’s proposed apprenticeship program.

His schedule was to appear at a council hearing on June 20. The day before the hearing, the union backed down, sending a settlement agreement instead of holding a hearing, according to Rockwell.

“I spent $30,000 on attorney fees just preparing for this hearing,” Rockwell said.

There are approximately 2,992 electrical contractors in Washington that do commercial electrical work. According to Rockwell, 87% of these contractors are small businesses. He believes new apprenticeship standards for contractors make it nearly impossible for small businesses to find a balance between commercial and residential work, citing the new law’s requirement that 4,000 hours be devoted to commercial electrical installations under the supervision of a journey-level master electrician. Or electrician at flight level.

“How are you supposed to maintain 50% or more of the interns’ business?” Rockwell asked. “In five to 10 years, it will be very difficult for a coffee shop to find someone to install an outlet for them, because this is a business.”

Saldaña had not responded to The Center Square’s request for comment at the time of publication.

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