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Judge strikes down part of law requiring apprenticeships to do work in North Hempstead

North Hempstead Town Hall, seen on Oct. 14,

North Hempstead Town Hall, seen on Oct. 14, 2018. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A State Supreme Court judge has ruled against the Town of North Hempstead in a lawsuit regarding when plumbing contractors can  do work in the town.

The town council passed a law amendment in 2015 that required contractors and subcontractors doing work on commercial projects larger than 100,000 square feet to have an apprenticeship training program. Two years later, council members passed a similar measure mandating that contractors have an apprentice program with at least one graduate in order to compete for town contracts. 

The Oyster Bay-based Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors of Long Island, or PHCC, challenged those amendments in 2018. Don Conway, the group's president, said about one-third of his membership of 74 contractors and associates had been negatively impacted by the amendments.   

"We had experienced, licensed plumbers who had been working in North Hempstead for 30 years and they weren't allowed to work there any more," Conway said. 

In January, Judge James P. McCormack ruled that the 2015 amendment was unconstitutional because it essentially blocked certain companies from competing for contracted work. The ruling means North Hempstead can no longer enforce its apprenticeship program rule on contractors competing for work with private companies.

The 2017 amendment is not affected by McCormack's ruling.

North Hempstead officials did not respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit. The town filed court documents in January appealing McCormack's decision. 

Conway said PHCC filed suit because it was concerned the town could apply the amendment to smaller-size projects, adding that the lower the square footage, the more contractors and subcontractors are affected. 

When the 2017 amendment passed, Supervisor Judi Bosworth said the change would ensure tradesmen working in North Hempstead are skilled and would give residents confidence that new construction projects are done correctly.

In court documents, McCormack indicated the amendments “do not bear a substantial relation to the promotion of the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare of the community.”

North Hempstead isn’t the only Long Island town involved in an apprenticeship lawsuit.

Oyster Bay Town is in a similar case against the Long Island and New York Mechanical Contractors Association. In that case, which is in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, the association argues that there is no true connection between apprenticeship programs and safety on the job. 

“The presence or absence of an apprenticeship program does not determine the safety or skill level of a contractor or its employees,” the association states in its lawsuit.

Last month, Babylon Town settled a lawsuit against Bay Shore-based Opal Construction Corp. The company had argued that the town overreached its authority when officials passed a 2012 town code amendment stipulating that companies working on commercial buildings of 100,000 square feet or more must show “any general contractor, contractor or subcontractor for such project participates in an approved apprenticeship training program.”

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