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Tampa’s apprenticeship program gets initial nod. Will Florida lawmakers preempt it?

Council members advanced a proposal to require apprentices be included on large city projects.
Tampa City Council member Luis Viera speaks in favor of his proposal to require apprentices on large city projects at Thursday's City Council meeting.
Tampa City Council member Luis Viera speaks in favor of his proposal to require apprentices on large city projects at Thursday's City Council meeting. [ Charlie Frago ]
Published Feb. 18
Updated Feb. 18

TAMPA — The Tampa City Council unanimously advanced Thursday a proposal to create well-paying blue collars jobs on large city projects.

Tampa’s move towards requiring apprentices on city projects of more than $1 million might not survive long. A state bill by a Republican Pinellas lawmaker would effectively nullify it.

Council member Luis Viera said his effort would provide a pathway to the middle class for city residents. He delayed the initial vote for months to try to create middle ground with builders.

As an incentive, the proposal has been changed to allow builders to get 1 percent of their “retainage” — or money held back by the city until a project’s completion — back earlier.

Tampa’s ordinance would require 12 percent of labor hours on a project to be performed by apprentices. That’s lower than a similar ordinance in St. Petersburg.

Related: Tampa seeks to require apprenticeships on large city projects

“This is an ordinance that does not bite off more than it can chew,” Viera said. “We want to do it right...one piece at a time.”

Steve Cona III, president/CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast, disagreed, saying the measure was an “unworkable mandate” that privileges apprentices over other workers. He said similar efforts in Broward County and St. Petersburg had limited competitive bids on city contracts.

Several residents and union members spoke in favor of the ordinance during public comment, saying it would create middle-class jobs for people who weren’t finding those opportunities in the service industry and other sectors.

Council member John Dingfelder praised Viera’s efforts, especially a provision that would widen the program to include work on wastewater and water projects. Tampa will spend nearly $3 billion over the next 20 years fixing its sewage and water pipes.

State Rep. Nick DiCeglie’s House Bill 53 was approved by a committee Thursday. If approved by the Legislature, it would erase Tampa’s plan and a similar one in Hillsborough County. The state intervention in the latest example of Tampa’s home rule powers being trimmed by Tallahassee.

The proposal will return to City Council for a final reading on March 18. Council member Orlando Gudes wasn’t present for Thursday’s vote because of a death in the family.