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Changes to ironworkers bill fail to sway opponents

By Paul Snyder

State lawmakers Monday introduced an amendment to a bill requiring licensure of ironworkers in Wisconsin, but the changes are not enough to win over the bill’s opponents.

“In my first read of it, it looks like they tried to meet concerns of some of the other labor unions,” said Mark Reihl, executive director of the Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters. “But the changes don’t go far enough for us.”

Critics of the original bill argued it was a thinly veiled jurisdictional grab that would forbid workers who had been performing ironwork jobs for years from doing so.

For instance, the bill defines ironwork to include raising, placing and tying girders, columns and other structural steel members; securing post tensioning cables on buildings and bridges; installing ornamental ironwork such as curtain walls; and rigging and raising wind turbines. Reihl said all that work is handled to varying degrees by carpenters.

The amendment leaves that definition intact, but offers new exceptions to licensure requirements, including individuals who perform ironwork on land surrounding a single-family or duplex residence, assemble or repair public utility facilities and are employed exclusively to operate a crane, forklift or hoist other than a platform lift for other workers.

Brad Boycks, government affairs director for the Wisconsin Builders Association, said the change on single-family homes and duplexes was one his group had sought, but it’s not enough to gain WBA’s support for the bill.

“I would say we’re neutral,” he said. “We’re certainly grateful for that change, but we had also hoped to extend that exception to small multifamily units.”

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Inc. remains opposed, said ABC Vice President John Mielke.

The bill’s primary author, Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, was unavailable before deadline to comment on the amendment. The bill is scheduled Tuesday for an executive session in the Assembly Committee on Labor.

State Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, said Monday that he had not seen the amendment, but if the carpenters were not on board, he likely would not be either.

“I’m not a big fan of regulation,” he said. “My thoughts originally were that this wasn’t a good deal and was unnecessary.”

The bill’s supporters argue licensure increases on-site safety. If enacted, the bill would create two classes of ironworkers: master and journeyman. Both categories could be grandfathered into licensure.

Master ironworkers would have to provide evidence of having worked 15,000 hours in the 15 years before applying for the license, and journeymen would have to provide evidence of 8,000 hours of work in the eight years before applying, as well as proof of completing an apprenticeship program.

State Rep. Nick Milroy, D-Superior, said Wisconsin needs a system for licensing ironworkers to improve safety in the field.

But he said failing to get industrywide support could harm the bill’s chances for passage.

“I would be open to further amendments,” Milroy said. “If it makes it out of committee, we’ll discuss it in caucus before it goes to the floor, and people can make the decision whether or not they support it then.”

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