Norwich City Council decides to hold off on apprenticeship ordinance

Norwich - After hearing complaints from several local contractors, the City Council on Monday tabled a controversial proposed ordinance that would have mandated all firms bidding on city projects valued at more than $5 million to have a "bona fide" apprenticeship program.

Mayor Deberey Hinchey had championed the proposed ordinance as a vehicle for promoting job training for local residents seeking to learn viable trades on a career path.

During a public hearing Monday, several contractors said the ordinance was too restrictive and would steer major bid contracts to large, unionized corporations. Several representatives of local carpenters' and other unions supported it and said it would provide trade training to local residents.

All apprentices also would have to be registered with the state, with documentation provided to the city, and the apprentices would have to be employees rather than independent contractors. The bid firm also would have to show that it has "graduated apprentices to journey person status for at least three of the past five years."

Jason Bugbee, co-owner of Nutmeg Companies Inc. of Norwich, said his commercial construction company has 50 apprentices in six different programs. But Bugbee said the restrictions in the ordinance would be so onerous that they would make the company ineligible to bid on large city contracts. He said he would "cross the city of Norwich off our bid list."

George Mattern of Mattern Construction of Sprague said his firm has done about 25 jobs in Norwich over the years, employing an estimated 100 employees from Norwich.

"This ordinance discriminates against companies without formal internship programs," Mattern said.

Following the hearing, aldermen expressed concern that the ordinance could hurt local contractors and could drive up the prices of bidding for city contracts, putting more of a burden on taxpayers.

Alderman Mark Bettencourt said he supports job training programs and is not opposed to union shops. Alderman William Nash agreed and said the council could seek input from local contractors - including those who spoke against it Monday - to "redraft" it to be acceptable.

"I'm very concerned about our local contractors' ability to bid on contracts," Bettencourt said.

Hinchey said she was disappointed that the ordinance did not pass. She revised it once already, removing a provision that required companies to provide medical insurance to apprentices. She believes workers on city projects should have health insurance.

"I feel badly that I wasn't able to accomplish that," Hinchey said of the proposed ordinance. "There seemed to be some agreement that if we wrote the ordinance differently, it could be acceptable."

c.bessette@theday.com

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