Labor Department’s proposed rule would provide little oversight, enforcement of apprenticeship programs
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that Washington is leading a coalition of thirteen attorneys general in a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor concerning a proposed rule that fails to protect individuals entering apprenticeship programs. The attorneys general assert that the proposed rule would weaken the certification process for these programs and incentivize groups to approve the largest number of programs possible, regardless of their quality.
The attorneys general write that the proposed rule fails to provide necessary protections for individuals in potentially low-quality programs. Under the proposed rule, apprenticeships would have no specific minimum requirements for instructor credentials, skills or on-the-job training hours or employment rates. Furthermore, the federal government would have little oversight and almost no enforcement of apprenticeship programs that fail to meet industry standards.
“The Trump Administration continues to put industry interests over the wellbeing of workers,” said Ferguson. “This rule incentivizes low-quality apprenticeship programs and gives individuals almost no recourse for relief if they become stuck in a predatory program. The federal government should withdraw this rule immediately.”
The attorneys general argue that a rule this broad would create issues similar to what they have seen in the for-profit college industry. Ferguson and other states have filed many lawsuits against predatory for-profit colleges that flourished under loose regulations and lax oversight. Students have lost millions to some for-profit colleges’ unfair and deceptive tactics.
Apprenticeship programs provide individuals with in-depth skill training and on-the-job experience. The proposed rule would create a separate certification system from existing apprenticeship programs without adequate protections for apprentices who would take part in these programs.
For example, the proposed rule creates a less stringent certification process for apprenticeship programs. The attorneys general write that the requirements for a program to become certified are too vague. There are no minimum requirements for the hours apprentices must receive in skills or on-the-job training. The instructors who teach an apprenticeship also should meet certain standards, but the rule does not require any. Finally, the proposed rule gives no standards for what employment rates or other outcomes a program must have to stay certified.
The proposed rule provides no meaningful oversight for apprenticeship programs or enforcement for programs that fail to meet even the broad standards set out in the rule. If apprentices feel their program is not meeting industry standards or giving them enough training to compete in the industry, the proposed rule would provide no way for apprentices to register complaints about a program directly with the federal government.
The only means for apprentices to seek relief from a potentially low-quality or predatory program are by registering complaints about the entities that approved the program ― called Standard Recognition Entities (SRE).
The Labor Department’s proposed rule includes broad language for who can become a Standard Recognition Entity, and more importantly, includes no substantial requirements regarding potential conflicts of interest, meaning that groups that offer apprenticeship programs could become SREs. This could result in the group that creates a program having total control over the approval and oversight of that very same program. The attorneys general argue that this creates financial incentives for the SREs to recognize as many programs as possible, particularly those operated or owned by officers within the SRE, without regard for the quality.
With little to no oversight of programs after they have been approved, apprentices could be trapped in low-quality programs, forced to forfeit their educational investment and try to find a more legitimate program, or leave the industry all together.
In the letter, the attorneys general write, “The balance of power between industry and workers is tilted far to the side of industry, and we fear that the Proposed Rule is simply one more opportunity for unscrupulous businesses to prey on individuals seeking the training and work experience that apprenticeships can provide. We urge the Department not to proceed with the Proposed Rule.”
Washington is leading the attorneys general on the letter. Joining Ferguson are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org