Going after apprenticeship regs, overtime rule again

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) questions Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su about the department's proposed regulations for registered apprenticeships during a Senate budget hearing on Thursday. (Screenshot from streamed event)

Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su on Thursday again faced questions from congressional Republicans regarding new federal rules and proposed regulations they deem as costly and unnecessary, including those focused on overtime and registered apprenticeships.

During a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Biden administration’s proposed fiscal year 2025 budget, GOP members of the panel asked Su about new overtime rules and apprenticeship regulations from her department. The questions were similar to what Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee asked Su at a hearing earlier this month.

Subcommittee ranking member Sen. Shelley Capito (R-West Virginia) said the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new overtime rule would dramatically increase costs for many businesses and organizations, including colleges and universities, who have said they may have to raise tuition and reduce programs to comply with the rule. The American Association of Community Colleges is among the organizations that oppose the rule.

Rep. Katie Britt (R-Alabama) observed that small colleges and universities are especially vulnerable, noting their revenue is uncertain due to concerns about fall enrollment. A growing number of colleges and universities are worried that problems with rolling out the new federal student aid application and process may impact their enrollments.

“My office has spoken to schools that don’t have large budgets or endowments but are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs for the upcoming academic year” due to having to implement the new rule and reevaluating salaries across the board, Britt said. She asked that DOL consider “additional flexibility with respect to the timing of this rule’s implementation.”

Su replied that DOL is providing time for employers to prepare, citing its two-step approach to implement the rule. The salary threshold at which employees can be classified as executive, administrative or professional will increase to $58,656 by January 1, 2025. As an interim step, the current salary threshold of $35,568 will increase to $43,888 on July 1.

Hampering new apprenticeships?

Republicans also questioned Su about proposed apprenticeship regulations. Capito said she strongly supports registered apprenticeships and would like to see them expand into new fields, but she is concerned that DOL’s regulations would make the process more complex and prompt employers to turn away from using them.

“These proposed changes would make an already complex system even more difficult for employers to navigate, and I think it could reduce registered apprenticeship opportunities for workers across the country,” Capito said in her opening statement.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), vice chair of the full Senate Appropriations Committee, asked why DOL wants change program completion guides for apprenticeships from competency-based to a time requirement. In Maine, competency-based programs often have a higher success rate than time-based or hybrid programs, she said. She added that over the past four years, the percentage of apprentices who failed to complete either hybrid of time-based apprenticeship programs was almost double those of competency-based programs.

“I don’t understand why the administration made the decision to remove competency-based approaches to apprenticeships? Could you explain what the rationale was?” Collins asked.

Su didn’t answer the question directly, saying the goal is to expand apprenticeship opportunities to populations with low participation rates. She also observed that registered apprenticeships have expanded in sectors beyond where apprenticeships are traditionally used, noting for example that there are now teacher apprenticeships in more than 30 states.

“The goal is not to limit options for expanding registered apprenticeships. It is to make sure that those programs continue to have the standards that have made them so successful overall,” Sue said, adding that it also ensures that employers get workers with the experience and knowledge to succeed on the job and do so safely.

“But the way that you do that is to measure their competency, not require an arbitrary amount of time,” Collins replied.

Shout-out for SCCT grants

During the hearing, Rep. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) noted DOL’s Strengthening Community College Training (SCCT) Grants Program, for which the department is seeking $70 million for FY25, an increase of $5 million over FY23. She asked the department to ensure rural community colleges have access to the grants, noting they work with local companies to provide training to fill workforce gaps.

The acting secretary said she would.

“100% they are key to the overall workforce system,” said Su, who earlier in the hearing noted West Virginia University at Parkersburg‘s $6.5 million SCCT grant for nursing programs, which the college received as part of the second round of SCCT grant awards in 2022.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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