At a time when union and nonunion shops are battling over whose apprenticeship programs are better, an administrative law judge on April 22, 2005, upheld the decertification of the California Apprenticeship Council, effectively stripping its right to certify apprentices. The approval process will now be handled at the federal level.

In May 2002, the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employment and Labor Services (OATELS) initiated derecognition proceedings against the California Department of Industrial Relations (CDIR); in April 2003, similar proceedings were started with the California Apprenticeship Council (CAC) (Case Nos. 2002-CCP-00001, 2003-CCP-00001).

At issue was possible violation of the federal apprenticeship law, the National Apprenticeship Act of 1937; in 1999, the state legislature amended the California Labor Code provisions regarding apprenticeships in the state and inserted a “needs test” provision. Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif., and 18 members of the California congressional delegation requested the DOL to investigate reports of alleged bias against nonunion programs at the CAC and the California Department of Apprenticeship Standards.

OATELS argued that the needs test gave apprenticeship standards in the state “an exceptionally narrow application in the construction trade” because apprenticeship registration was limited to “one existing approved program for each craft or trade in a geographic area.” This would deprive apprentices of other programs that might better fit their needs.

CDIR and CAC responded that the needs test promotes quality apprenticeship programs and that “approving programs where there is no 'training need' does not promote apprenticeship opportunity.” There would be too many skilled workers within a trade and/or geographic area and not enough jobs to accommodate them.

“The 'needs test' may arguably improve a graduating apprentice's chances of obtaining post-graduation employment in a specific trade and within a particular geographic area, because it - in theory - is designed to match the number of apprentices being trained to the needs of the employers willing to hire skilled laborers,” Chief Administrative Law Judge John M. Vittone wrote in his opinion. “However, the NAA was designed to safeguard the welfare of all those seeking apprenticeship training, without consideration of how many other individuals desire training at the time and without any mention of the needs of the employers.

“On its face, the 'needs test' limits the expansion of apprenticeship opportunities in a given trade and geographic area, and thus is inapposite to the purpose of the Act to serve the interests of the apprentices. … Protecting the already existing programs within a geographic area from competition is not a goal of the Act or implementing regulations.”

The opinion was forwarded for review by the DOL's Administrative Review Board.