As City of Tampa staff prepare to give the public an update on its apprenticeship program for a major city project, local leaders and union members are wondering why there isn’t more information available on the issue.
Tomorrow, city staff will bring city council up to speed on its City Center at Hanna Avenue project, which raised a lot of questions last year when a $108 million contract was given to DPR Construction without a public bid, which is required by state law.
Staff will discuss the project’s apprenticeship program, which is supposed to give new construction workers training as the project is built. Upon the initiation of the project, union representatives spoke out against the hiring of DPR, which at the time did not have an apprenticeship program in place.
Apprenticeships on new projects are required by city law, but last year city legal claimed that the ordinance didn’t apply to the DPR project. However, the city added that DPR had agreed to comply with an apprenticeship program.
There’s nothing uploaded in SIRE, which is a city-operated online portal where documents related to city council meetings are supposed to be provided ahead of time for review.
Jim Junecko, a business agent for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 487, told CL that local unions have also been kept in the dark about how DPR is conducting its apprenticeship program. Junecko and other union members mainly want to make sure that whatever program is being used adheres to standards that will protect the safety of workers and the public.
“We want to make sure that they're being held to the highest of apprenticeship standards, not to the weakest standards, or the easiest way out of the program,” Junecko said.
He added that the real intention of the city apprenticeship law is to make sure bonafide apprentices are produced from the program. This requires students to be enrolled in a State of Florida registered apprenticeship program, and receive 2,000 on the job training hours and 144 academic hours.
“These are dangerous jobs, people’s lives are on the line,” Junecko said.
After this story was published, the city communications team answered some questions from CL's inquiry about details related to apprenticeships.
A representative of the city said that they didn't have a copy of the apprenticeship contract to provide, but said that DPR's program is state registered. Steel, plumbing, electric and general carpentry are all recognized for apprenticeship as part of the project. By Nov. 30 of last year, 26 apprentices had participated in the program, with nearly 8,000 work hours completed both on-site and in classroom, the city said, and no waivers or exceptions to the apprenticeship training have been used.
Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak said that she got a verbal update from city staff ahead of the meeting tomorrow, but it lacked some details and she has not received any documentation about the apprenticeship program for Hanna Avenue.
“Using unionized apprenticeship programs is preferred and should be a priority, because they are incredibly solid programs and absolutely produce the types of workers that we need in the city,” Hurtak said.
She added that she wished she had more information going into the conversation tomorrow.
“Nothing was put in our document preparation for this agenda item by city staff, so I'm basically going in as blind as the public,” Hurtak said.
Councilman Luis Viera, who pushed to create the city apprenticeship ordinance, pointed out that the wording of the city law doesn’t necessarily require union involvement in apprenticeships. Instead, the apprenticeship program simply has to be certified by the State of Florida.
“I think that the way that Hanna Avenue started, maybe gives people, to quote Elvis Presley, ‘suspicious minds’ on this subject, but, we appear to be moving forward on it,” he said. “We fully expect that all contractors in the city abide with full fidelity to the letter of the apprentice law.”
Viera said it’s a remarkable law that stresses workforce development in the city’s contracting process, and investing in young workers who want to improve themselves and their skills. He said it’s the city’s job to make sure that the apprenticeship program sticks closely to the law.
“That's what's going to be talked about tomorrow,” he said.
Cheryl Schroeder, Executive Director of the West Central Florida Federation of Labor, said that union representatives will be at the meeting tomorrow and are looking forward to answers.
“We are planning on being there to find out what is really going on,” Schroeder told CL. “We’re wondering why these questions are still coming up when this project is well on its way to being completed.”
UPDATE: Updated at 4:00 p.m. on 02/01/2022 with input from the city.