Training programs administered by the federal government have long needed a major overhaul. The original Workforce Investment Act (WIA) was signed into law by President Clinton in 1998 and was due for reauthorization in 2003. For those keeping score at home, it has been a full decade since Congress updated federal workforce training programs. On Wednesday, a Senate Panel quickly approved language to reauthorize this critical piece of legislation. Upon closer examination, we think there are significant flaws in this bill that need to be addressed before it is passed into law.
Here at WF_C, we support a national workforce development system that is more streamlined and focused on industry training needs. The House version of WIA reauthorization (The SKILLS Act) accomplishes these goals while eliminating the many roadblocks to job-seekers that exist in this broken system. We believe that flexible training programs are essential to meeting this demand with a safe, skilled and sustainable construction workforce.
However, we are concerned that the Senate’s plan for the Workforce Investment Act (S. 1356) preserves discriminatory language that denies equal access to job training funds. In just one example, the current Green Jobs language only allows access to these training grants by firms associated with a labor union. As a result, contractors with employees who chose not to be associated with union training providers are barred from accessing federal training dollars funded by their own taxes. This is grossly unfair to the 86 percent of employees in the construction industry who chose not to be affiliated with a labor organization, undermines skill development and kills competition in green construction. This outcome is contrary to the very intent of WIA.
The inclusion of a business majority on state and local workforce boards is a positive step; however,the legislation also requires a minimum of 20% participation by from labor organizations. The intent of Workforce Investment Boards are designed to mesh training programs with job opportunities in the local economy, so representation from organized labor should exist where appropriate. Over-representation by labor organizations on Boards may misdirect limited training resources. Given that unions represent less than 7% of the private sector workforce nationwide and substantially less than that in certain markets, the 20% requirement looks like a political gift to give organized labor a disproportionate level of clout. It comes as no surprise that the bill is supported by the AFL-CIO.