Construction industry representatives Wednesday pounded on a state bill that would add to upcoming federal certification requirements for crane operators.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, would require a state license for crane operators working on public works projects with prevailing wages. The operators would need one of the following to qualify for a license: 1,000 hours of experience after certified apprenticeship training; 5,000 hours of experience in five years of work; or 7,500 hours of experience in their career if they already are certified.
The main criticism of the bill is that it is unnecessary. The industry expects the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in July to set crane safety rules and certification requirements, said John Mielke, vice president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Inc.
The OSHA rules would require certification, but not licensing, for crane operators working on all projects. Under the OSHA regulations, operators could be certified through the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators.
Parisi’s bill would add the licensing requirement. It also would let operators pick up certification through the national commission or the International Union of Operating Engineers Certification Program.
Mielke said ABC would support Parisi’s bill if it mirrored OSHA’s new rules.
“But this goes beyond that,” Mielke said.
Representatives from the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin and multiple construction companies joined ABC on Wednesday in criticizing the bill. Ryan Harrison, a branch manager for Milwaukee-based Dawes Rigging & Crane Rental Inc., said most companies are preparing for the new OSHA regulations and have sent their operators through a certification program.
But Parisi’s bill would require training and experience hours on top of the certification.
There’s a good reason for that, said Terry McGowan, business manager for IUOE Local 139.
“There are some people that didn’t have hours on a crane, but were still able to pass written tests to get certification,” he said. “If people are going to get our stamp of approval, they need to be able to show they can do the work. We’re not just trying to pass a feel-good law here.”
McGowan said Wisconsin needs to take the lead on the issue instead of waiting for federal regulations.
“We don’t need the federal government to tell us what’s safe in Wisconsin,” he said. “This is about being able to regulate your industry on a state level.”
According to the bill, a crane and heavy equipment council would be created to collaborate with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce on licensing. The council would include two members representing local labor organizations, two members of labor organizations that have members operating cranes and heavy equipment, and one member representing a transportation builders association.
“I would like to see more of a balance, like a four-to-four split,” Harrison said of the proposed council’s union-oriented membership.
McGowan said the bill is not fully developed, and labor groups will meet next week with the bill’s opponents, including ABC and AGC, to discuss amendments that could drum up more support. He said he is willing to discuss the makeup of the council and certification requirements, but wants to make sure experience hours are still required.
“How many people want to see another crane accident in this state?” he said. “This is all about making sure the workers are safe. I find it ironic it’s taken Wisconsin this long to recognize the issue of crane safety.”