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Federal agency responds to apprenticeship complaint

By Sean Ryan

The U.S. Department of Labor, responding to a complaint about minority participation in Wisconsin construction apprenticeships, said the state is working to improve its programs.

Minority participation rates in construction apprenticeships are increasing, and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has programs to improve the numbers, according to a Jan. 21 letter signed by John Ladd, administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship.

At the end of November, 8 percent of Wisconsin construction apprentices were minorities, according to DWD data. That’s an increase over the 5 percent participation rate in Wisconsin between 1997 and 2003. On Nov. 30, there were 500 minority construction apprentices, compared to 314 in 1997.

The Department of Labor letter came in response to a July letter from Paul Blackman, retired president of Steelworkers Federal Union No. 19806 in Milwaukee.

Blackman complained about minority participation rates in Wisconsin construction and the process for apprentices to file grievances after being fired.

Wisconsin has grievance procedures in place, Ladd responded in the letter to Blackman. The DWD Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards is also working to increase minority participation, according to the letter. Bureau initiatives include creating Web sites and publications telling people how to become apprentices and developing systems to help employers stop apprentices from dropping out of the program.

The DWD apprenticeship bureau is willing to correct deficiencies in the state construction programs, according to Ladd’s letter. The federal agency will continue to monitor Wisconsin’s program, according to the letter.

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