Emily Stover DeRocco, Department of Labor assistant secretary for employment and training, recently demanded an immediate response to allegations that a 1999 California law has been used to bar open-shop contractors from starting apprenticeship programs. Shortly thereafter, U.S. Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif., praised the department’s action.

In a Feb. 15 letter to Steven Smith, director of the California Department of Industrial Relations, DeRocco indicated that California has failed to respond to the Labor Department’s concerns about California Labor Code section 3075(b), which states that a need must be demonstrated before an apprenticeship program can be established. Critics allege the California Apprenticeship Council (CAC) has used this requirement to block open shops from offering apprenticeship programs in areas where union shop apprentice programs already exist.

“Because of the high priority the NAA [National Apprenticeship Act] places on making apprenticeship opportunities widely available,” DeRocco wrote, “it is essential that we receive a satisfactory response to these concerns, or we will be obligated to initiate de-recognition proceedings against the CAC.”

In a press release Miller issued shortly afterward, he wrote that Gov. Gray Davis and the CAC are trying to prevent nonunion shops from starting programs.

“The California Apprenticeship Council seems to believe that only union-run apprenticeship programs are needed. That’s odd, because less than 18% of construction workers belong to unions in California,” he wrote.

Groups that have expressed concern about California’s actions include the Independent Electrical Contractors, Alexandria, Va., the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, Falls Church, Va., and the Associated Builders and Contractors, Rosslyn, Va.