New Lake County rule: Good for business and workers, or unfair advantage for unions?

  • Paul Frank, Lake County Board member

    Paul Frank, Lake County Board member

  • Dick Barr, Lake County Board member

    Dick Barr, Lake County Board member

  • Ann Maine, Lake County Board member

    Ann Maine, Lake County Board member

 
 
Updated 11/13/2019 4:13 PM

Companies seeking contracts for construction projects and other jobs with Lake County must participate in registered apprenticeship and training programs under a new bidding rule.

A divided county board approved the policy Tuesday. The 14-6 vote closely followed party lines, although two Republicans joined the board's Democratic majority to support it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Proponents said the new rule, effective immediately, will boost local employment.

"Lake County believes in the value of apprenticeships," said board member Paul Frank, a Highland Park Democrat who leads the board's financial and administrative committee. "(It's) a good policy for Lake County."

But critics said the change gives unionized businesses an unfair advantage over other firms chasing contracts for projects such as building construction, sewer installation or repair and landscaping. The policy will prevent smaller contractors that don't offer apprenticeships from getting those county jobs, critics said -- including some that already have worked with Lake County.

The new policy tells nonunionized Lake County businesses "we want your tax dollars, but we don't want your business," said board member Dick Barr, a Round Lake Beach Republican.

"This is not free market," Barr said. "This is direct, government control of business."

Under the new rule, companies seeking contracts for public works projects must participate in active apprenticeship and training programs registered with the U.S. Labor Department's office of apprenticeship for each of the trades needed for the particular job.

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Federally funded construction projects are exempt from the policy if the cash would be jeopardized. Lake County transportation division projects may be exempt, too.

The requirement applies to contractors and subcontractors.

In an email to the Daily Herald, Frank called the new rule "a policy statement that Lake County values workforce training opportunities."

"And we want to encourage contractors who work with us to support that," Frank said.

Emphasizing a preference to work with contractors that support apprenticeships helps train and develop the workforce, Frank said.

"Workers need these opportunities," he said.

During Tuesday's debate, proponents noted DuPage County has a similar policy in place.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But that didn't fly with board member Ann Maine, a Lincolnshire Republican. Adopting a policy simply because other counties have done so isn't a good enough reason to act, she said.

The new policy was supported by all 12 Democrats on the board as well Republicans Steve Carlson of the Gurnee area and Judy Martini of Fox Lake.

"Training workers is not a partisan issue," Frank said.

The six Republicans who voted against the measure were Barr, Maine, Michael Danforth of Fox River Grove, Linda Pedersen of Antioch, Mike Rummel of Lake Forest and Craig Taylor of Lake Zurich.

Zion Republican Brent Paxton was absent for the vote.

Before casting his "no" vote, Barr said he supports union workers and nonunion workers, as well as apprenticeship programs. The mandatory nature of the policy earned his scorn, however.

Barr also noted that most Lake County public works contracts already go to companies participating in apprenticeship programs.

"This is running up the score (for unions)," he said.

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