St. Pete council approves mandatory apprentice program for city projects

Published May 7, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council unanimously approved a mandatory apprenticeship program that would require contractors to hire apprentices for city projects that cost more than $2 million.

When city projects like the pier or the new police headquarters get built, at least 10 percent of the labor hours will be performed by workers at the beginning of a trade career.

The new program will replace a voluntary scheme that didn't work. And the council lowered the threshold from $10 million to $2 million to net more public works projects.

Mayor Rick Kriseman added that he wanted financial incentives to kick in for employers only if they hire enough apprentices to work 20 percent of labor hours.

"It seems to me if they're going to get an incentive they should be doing more than they're required to do," the mayor said.

Training skilled trade workers is crucial, said council member Karl Nurse.

"All blue-collar skilled jobs have too many people with gray hair in it," he said. "We need to bring young people in to get trained. We made a mistake in America where we said you go to college or you're poor."

Some council members worried that requiring employers to hire apprentices might scare away bidders. City Administrator Gary Cornwell said it could raise the costs of projects.

Council chairman Charlie Gerdes said creating opportunities for working-class St. Petersburg residents made employer angst and higher construction costs worth it. I'm good with that," Gerdes said.

The council also initially considered a second ordinance that would create similar requirements for hard-to-hire workers like ex-criminal offenders.

Aside from the pier and new police headquarters, expanding the Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant would also be among the projects large enough for the mandatory hiring ordinance to apply.