Registered Apprenticeship leads to strong employment and good wages for participants. But if this workforce model, and its protections, are not available to all workers in America, it can never reach its full potential and promise. The U.S. Department of Labor is firmly commitment to ensuring that workplaces are safe, diverse and equitable for all employees – including apprentices.
Registered Apprenticeship sponsors and employers are responsible for cultivating safe, welcoming and inclusive workplace environments that are free from discrimination, intimidation and harassment. We recently issued a bulletin in response to recent news reports of apprentices being targeted by egregious instances of racial and sexual harassment. It emphasizes the need for greater accountability and swift and decisive action against those who commit these despicable acts. Harassment, including sexual harassment, is an afront to worker dignity and diminishes workers’ economic security.
Earlier this summer, the Seattle Medium recounted the tribulations endured by James Myer, a Black apprentice in the carpenter trade who found a measuring tool with his name on it hanging from a noose. This incident was a culmination of multiple instances of racial intimidation and harassment where James was referred to as “Black boy” and subjected to racially offensive banter. Similarly, the Des Moines Register reported a sickening episode when a noose was found at the construction site of the Facebook Data Center in Altoona, Iowa. Local law enforcement immediately launched investigations in Seattle and Altoona.
Addressing harassment of women in apprenticeship and non-traditional occupations
Sexual harassment, including sexual violence and sexual assault, is far too prevalent, particularly for women employees and apprentices working in industries such as construction and trucking where they are underrepresented.
Earlier this year, we joined the Transportation Department to promote safety and to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment in the trucking industry as part of a 90-day Tucking Apprenticeship Challenge.
To support the Trucking Challenge, our Women’s Bureau highlighted the structural challenges faced by women in the trucking industry. During a conversation with Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon, 20-year professional trucker Brita Nowak shared keen insights, and those same sentiments have been echoed by other woman truckers and detailed in other coverage, including this chilling report on sexual assault in trucking from April 2022.
So, how do we work collaboratively to champion values that categorically prevent and reject harassment, discrimination and violence against women and people of color who are apprentices? Taking immediate action to address actions like those in Seattle or Altoona is critical. What’s also clear is the need for dialogue and action among Registered Apprenticeship sponsors, partners, employers and other stakeholders to jointly establish best practices to prevent and respond to instances of discrimination, intimidation and harassment of apprentices.
This is not a matter that can be approached lightly or infrequently.
Cultivating a safe, inclusive environment for all apprentices
Registered Apprenticeship sponsors are statutorily and regulatorily bound to develop and implement procedures to ensure that apprentices are not discriminated against or harassed because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, genetic information, or disability.
Our recent bulletin goes further and suggests the following concrete examples that program sponsors and other stakeholders can adopt to prevent and immediately combat unacceptable conduct:
- Designate an individual or office within the employing organization to handle harassment complaints and effectively address harassment risks.
- Mandate the immediate referral of incidents of workplace harassment that involve assault or other crimes to law enforcement agencies.
- Establish substantive partnerships among employers, trade associations and other apprenticeship stakeholders to create a “unified front” of zero tolerance against harassment, intimidation and discrimination of any kind.
- Capitalize on the creation of partnerships by offering incentives and rewards to apprentices and other individuals who report incidents of discrimination, intimidation, and harassment against apprentices.
- Utilize the various technical assistance tools made available through the Office of Apprenticeship or State Apprenticeship Agency staff that includes anti-harassment and non-discrimination resources. (https://www.apprenticeship.gov/eeo)
- Contact the National Innovation Hub for DEIA in Registered Apprenticeship, a TA Center for Excellence operated by Jobs for the Future. The form to request technical assistance can be completed here.
We must confront these degrading and discriminatory acts of hatred and violence in an immediate, targeted and systematic manner. The sponsors, employers, workforce partners and other stakeholders within the National Apprenticeship System must work in concert to send a strong message that actions to promote hatred, division or fear have no place in apprenticeship.
Brent Parton is the acting Assistant Secretary for DOL’s Employment and Training Administration.