An ironworker running for state Assembly wants to revive a licensing bill for his trade even if industry reps consider the proposal little more than a power grab.
“We can’t afford to have buildings falling down in this state,” said Thad Kubisiak, a member of Ironworkers Local 383 who is running as an independent in the state’s 72nd Assembly District. “This is about safety. Plumbers and electricians are licensed. Why aren’t ironworkers?”
State Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, introduced in the last session a bill that would require licenses for ironworkers in the state. Trade groups such as the Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters criticized the bill, which failed to make it to the Senate or Assembly floors for a vote.
The Carpenters and other trade groups argued the bill was a veiled attempt to expand the work that ironworkers do by eating into jobs carpenters have performed for years. The bill defined ironwork as 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.
Carpenters do all of that work, to one extent or another, said Mark Reihl, executive director of the Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters.
Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, is the incumbent Kubisiak will try to unseat. Schneider said he did not review the last ironworkers bill and would have to see a new one before taking a stance.
“Anything that promotes worker safety is important,” he said. “But I have some reluctance to licensing everybody if it becomes an issue of keeping other people from being employed.
“Thad is an ironworker and has a personal interest in it. I don’t. My concern would be if this is safety or a fence-me-out issue.”
The bill was a jurisdictional grab, and a future version likely would be too, Kubisiak said. He said the carpenters are the ones taking work from the ironworkers, and it’s time to re-establish the jobs for each trade.
Reihl said if unions and companies need to define boundaries, they should leave the state out of it.
“It’s not the job of the Legislature to sort out jurisdiction,” he said. “That should be determined by the contractors and the trades.”
Management wants the flexibility to choose who should work on projects, said Jim Boullion, government affairs director for the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin.
“The more regulation you put in, it makes it harder to manage a job site,” he said. “Each trade would like to be licensed, but if there are four carpenters on site trained to tie something off and that’s what you need done, they should be able to do it. Why should you have to get a licensed ironworker?”
Colin Teska, business manager for Ironworkers Local 8 in Milwaukee, said the union would support another draft of the bill in the next session. He said if carpenters or other trades want to do the work, they can apply for the license.
“To me, it’s not jurisdictional; it’s just about safety,” he said. “We’re not trying to keep anyone from working. We’re just saying, ‘Get a license.'”
Without a clear danger, it’s hard to argue the bill is necessary, Boullion said.
“Unless there’s an urgent safety issue,” he said, “I don’t think there will ever be support from the management side.”
Kubisiak said change should not be rooted in tragedy. The key to making sure his colleagues understand safety issues, he said, is making sure they understand what ironworkers do.
“It would definitely benefit our cause if buildings were falling down, but of course I wouldn’t want that to happen,” he said. “We just don’t have that many numbers relating to safety.”