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Originally published Monday, March 11, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: Washington ferry system should scrap apprentice requirement

State lawmakers should keep the build-in-Washington provision for state ferries but scrap the requirement that apprentices do some of the work.

Seattle Times Editorial

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No prevailing wage requirement on ship construction. The apprenticeship program has... MORE
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WASHINGTON State Ferries has been paying too much for some of its new boats. A performance audit by the state auditor issued Jan. 3 calls for reforms for the state to control costs, a goal being pursued by State Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, in the Transportation Committee. He should continue that work, with Legislative action next year.

The auditor’s report points to two laws that restrict competition for state work. One is that boats be built in Washington. The other is that 15 percent of the work be done by apprentices in a program certified by the Washington Apprenticeship and Training Council.

The first restriction makes sense. The second should be repealed.

In the last round of contracts, for two 144-car ferries, the build-in-Washington law narrowed the bidders to three yards: Vigor Industrial (formerly Todd) in Seattle, Nichols Brothers on Whidbey Island and Dakota Creek in Anacortes. The apprentice requirement narrowed the bidding to one: Vigor, which got the work.

Having three bidders is tolerable. One is not.

There is no need for the state to demand that 15 percent of the work be done by trainees. That can be decided by the employer.

There is also the matter of the state power to certify. The Apprenticeship Council, which is made up partly of union representatives, refused to certify the apprentice program at Nichols Brothers, which is nonunion. The company appealed to the state Office of Administrative Hearings, and last July it won.

Dakota Creek, which is also nonunion, had declined to bid on the 144-car ferries because of the apprentice law.

Frank Foti, owner and CEO of Vigor — the company that has benefited most from the law — says, “There are lots of ways to train workers without it being a state-certified program.” One such program, to train South Seattle Community College students in welding and fitting, is set to be opened at Vigor’s Seattle yard June 1.

Community college industrial programs are good. So are union apprenticeship programs. The state should let bidders decide what training programs they need.

The state does have reason to limit its work to Washington yards. It keeps the money and jobs here and maintains skills and equipment the maritime industry needs.

Beyond that, the Legislature should turn a critical eye on limits to competition that drive up the cost of new boats.

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