A group of lawmakers want the Department of Labor to drop a proposed regulatory change they believe undermines current workforce development for plumbers and electricians.

The department would no longer require an 8,000-hour apprenticeship toward a journeyman certificate of fitness.

Rather, an individual can alternately pursue the same certification outside the federally registered apprenticeship program but would need 12,000 hours.

The department says it wants to create "a pathway outside of registered apprenticeship to legally obtain experience necessary for a journeyman electrical or plumbing certificate of fitness.”

Eighteen lawmakers on Monday signed a letter sent to Labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter opposing the proposal.

The letter, which featured signatures of Democrats, Republicans and Independents, called the proposal a “nebulous 'trainee' standard.”

Deputy Labor Commissioner Cathy Munoz said the change restores a standard that was eliminated in 2006.

“What we're saying now is that going forward we propose to keep the federally required apprenticeship in place but to allow an additional pathway for Alaskans who are not able, for whatever reason, to participate in an apprenticeship program through the electrician or the plumbing union,” she said.

House Rep. Zack Fields, who worked three years for the Department of Labor under former Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas, said the proposed regulation undercuts the system currently in place.

Fields said the regulation fixes something that is not broken.

“What’s so crazy about is that this is a system that is privately funded training by the industry. It’s nationally recognized. It has national oversight through the federal Department of Labor office of apprenticeship. Why would we mess it up," said Fields, who co-chairs the House State Affairs Committee. 

The public comment for the proposal expired Monday evening. Munoz said there are about 200 comments to review before a final decision gets handed down.

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