Tampa seeks to require apprenticeships on large city projects

The City Council advances an ordinance to require apprentices be part of city projects over $ 1 million.
Tampa City Council member Luis Viera, at a June council meeting at the Tampa Convention Center.
Tampa City Council member Luis Viera, at a June council meeting at the Tampa Convention Center. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Dec. 4, 2020|Updated Dec. 4, 2020

TAMPA — Forging a pathway to the middle class for residents is why Tampa City Council members said Thursday they supported advancing a proposal to require apprentices on big city projects.

Their decision came over the objection of contractors, who suggested they may attempt to overturn Tampa’s efforts in court like they have tried to do with a similar measure in St. Petersburg.

As council members described an impasse after a year of negotiations, they scheduled a first reading of the proposed ordinance for Jan. 14.

Council member Luis Viera has been active in those talks, saying at Thursday’s council meeting he’s hopeful that a solution can be found while indicating that the time for talking is nearing an end.

“This is, in fact, a compromise,” Viera said, describing the ordinance as allowing some wiggle room on the requirement that 12 percent of labor hours be performed by apprentices on projects costing more than $1 million. The percentage is lower than St. Petersburg’s 15 percent requirement and allows the mayor to bypass the requirement under certain circumstances.

And Viera spoke at length about the need to provide an entry into good-paying, essential construction jobs that would give young people who aren’t college bound a chance to live a middle class life.

“This is an ordinance that is pro-social justice,” he said.

His colleagues agreed, although John Dingfelder and Orlando Gudes said they would like to see less wiggle room and more teeth before final approval next year.

The “Good Faith” language in the proposal, which lets companies skirt the requirement if they make a concerted but unsuccessful effort to locate apprentices, is too big of a loophole, Gudes said. And Dingfelder favored tightening the mayor’s prerogative to waive the requirements.

Steve Cona III, president/CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast, said the 470 firms in his organization already provide more than 500 apprenticeships.

But mandating a required amount is burdensome and reflects government overreach, Cona and other ABC officials said.

And provisions allowing the city to terminate a contract and bar the contractor from competing for future contracts was wrongheaded, Cona said.

“It’s bad policy to make it punitive,” he said.

His group sued St. Petersburg last year saying that city’s ordinance violated state law and discriminated against current workers. The Sunshine City’s ordinance also requires 15 percent of labor hours be reserved for “disadvantaged workers” who have had trouble finding work, didn’t finish high school or live in some of the city’s struggling southern neighborhoods. That legal action is still tied up in court.

Viera noted that Tampa’s ordinance doesn’t include the disadvantaged workers provisions.

Council Chairman Guido Maniscalco said the city should proceed, echoing Viera’s appeals to create good blue-collar jobs.

“There’s always the threat of the attorney, but we have to ask ourselves: Is this the right thing?” Maniscalco said.

Mayor Jane Castor has said she supports the idea and her administration was involved in the talks, although council members took it farther than what was proposed by Deputy City Attorney Andrea Zelman.

Zelman said the city’s $2.9 billion infrastructure program begun last year shouldn’t be included initially because it was harder to find apprentices in water, sewer and related underground projects. Concentrating on above-ground construction would be a good first step, she said, adding it could always be broadened in the future.

But council members voted to include below-ground work into the ordinance, which will receive a first reading next month. Castor will be able to propose a timetable for including that work.