Harris County passes historic $9.1 million investment in union apprenticeship programs

Harris County Commissioners voted today to approve a $9.1 million contract that will double enrollment in local union apprenticeships in the building and construction trades, as well as creating two new apprenticeships in the entertainment and transportation industries.

“Building a better, more resilient labor force — by investing in our workers — is an essential investment in the future of Harris County,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Apprenticeship programs provide an avenue to high wage careers without the need for a traditional four year college degree.”

Judge Hidalgo with Hany Khalil, Horace Marves, Candyce Castillo, Mark Grady, and Paul Puente

This investment by Harris County, funded by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, represents one of the largest investments in union apprenticeship training programs in the country, and by far the largest by any county in Texas.

Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation said, “High quality apprenticeships like those run by unions are a proven path to prosperity: Apprentices “earn while they learn,” earning wages above industry average while developing essential knowledge both in the classroom and on jobsites — without having to pay a dime, unlike college — while preparing the highly skilled, highly productive workforce on which our shared prosperity depends.”

Unlike traditional university programs, apprenticeships offer participants the opportunity to start working in their chosen trade while gradually learning the skills they need. As apprentices move through their program, they gain salary and benefits increases, which for union apprentices are defined in a collectively bargained contract.

Paul Puente, Executive Secretary of the Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council said, “Harris County is home to a growing and dynamic construction industry, but workers unfortunately often don’t see the benefits of that growth.”

Harris County is the most dangerous place in the country for construction workers, misclassification and wage theft are rampant, and many workers don’t have access to basic needs, like workers compensation and employer-paid health insurance, let alone retirement benefits or a pension.

Candyce Castillo, Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee of Pipe Fitters Local Union 211 said, “We provide a fast-track for workers into high-paying union jobs upon graduation. At the journey level, union construction workers make on average 38% more in wages alone than their non-union counterparts.”

In addition to higher wages, union apprenticeships also provide additional benefits, such as health insurance, workers compensation insurance, and a pension. All union apprentices are also required to take safety trainings, ensuring union jobsites are the safest in Harris County.

Two new programs will also launch this year in the entertainment and transportation sectors. The new entertainment industry apprenticeship, spearheaded by the International Alliance of Stage and Theatrical Employees (IATSE) Local 51, will train stagehands to work in Houston’s theater and live events industry as well as on megaevents, like the upcoming 2026 World Cup.

Mark Grady, Business Agent with IATSE Local 51 said, “The new programs that we will be able to develop will be a game changer for our local and the entire Harris County entertainment industry, helping to ensure that we have the homegrown skilled workforce to staff any event.

The new transportation industry apprenticeship will be led collaboratively between METRO and Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 260. The program will train mechanics to work on the new electrified fleet of buses that will soon be taking to Houston’s streets.

Representatives from TWU Local 260 with Sanjay Ramabhadran, METRO Board Chair and TGCALF Executive Director Hany Khalil

Horace Marves, President of TWU Local 260 said, “During the energy transition, we have a chance to build a better community for ourselves. To expand opportunities to everyone in Harris County, and make sure that underserved communities have access to good, safe jobs.”

The eleven participating apprenticeship programs will recruit, train, and place 665 new apprentices with employers over two years, while also upgrading the skills of hundreds of current apprentices and journey level workers.

Ironworkers Local 84 apprentice Paris Alexander with Business Manager Eric Fryer and Candyce Castillo from the Pipefitters Local 211 JATC

Applications for the ARP/MC3 apprenticeship readiness program are open now. All other programs will open admissions over the summer. Interested Harris County residents can learn more by visiting gcaflcio.org.

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The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation (TGCALF), AFL-CIO unites the power of 92 unions with over 60,000 members living in 13 counties to advocate for working families in the Texas Gulf Coast. We mobilize our members and community partners to demand a fair shot at better lives for all working people — regardless of the color of our skin, which country we come from, or whom we love.

Learn more: www.gcaflcio.org/

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