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Q&A: Oregon Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner

Professional background

Oregon Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner, 44, won election to his post in 2002.He was elected to represent Oregon's 13th House District in 1996, where he served until 2002. He served as House Democratic leader in 2000, and he served as assistant Democratic leader during the 1999 session. Gardner is a third-generation journeyman electrician. He has worked as an electrician for 22 years and served as vice president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48. He completed his National Joint Electrical Apprenticeship in 1985. He attended Illinois Central College, Portland Community College and Mount Hood Community College. He also has completed extensive coursework at the University of Oregon Labor Education Research Center.

Q: How prepared or unprepared are high school graduates to enter the work force? How does the apprentice program address industry needs?

A: Vocational and technical education offers high school students basic knowledge and skills of trades occupations. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, shop programs that once provided vocational and technical training are now being eliminated. Students are no longer aware of the opportunities available in the building, construction and industrial occupations. As a result, most students who express interest in apprenticeship training programs do not possess the necessary skills and knowledge to enter a career in the trades and to be successful.

The Bureau of Labor and Industries is working closely with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and organizations such as the Oregon Building Congress to find alternative vocational programs and funding sources so that students who choose to not pursue college degrees will have the necessary skills to become competitive in a global market. Additionally, we are developing an outreach program to educate teachers, guidance counselors, parents and students about the wonderful and well-paying jobs that can be accessed through apprenticeship programs.

Q: What have been the most successful apprenticeship programs over the past decade and what do you see as far as future programs?

A: The most successful apprenticeship programs appear to be in the traditional construction trades, such as sheet metal, electrical, plumbing and carpentry. These program sponsors have made solid financial investments in work-force training in order to meet long-term needs of participating employers. They continually assess and update their programs by monitoring their curriculum on an ongoing basis and by providing extensive pre-service and in-service training for their instructors. Each program also develops a marketing strategy and actively recruits applicants from diverse populations.

The health-care, information technology and creative services industries are areas that may offer exciting opportunities for future apprenticeship programs.

Q: What have you heard from the business community about the impact of the latest minimum-wage hike when it comes to hiring of inexperienced workers?

A: I haven't heard anything from the business community about the impact of the latest minimum wage hike relative to hiring inexperienced workers.

Prior to the passage of the voter-approved increase in the minimum wage last November, Oregon's minimum-wage workers had not received a raise in four years. I am pleased that a strong majority of Oregon voters agreed that a modest increase for our lowest-paid workers was long overdue.

The average minimum-wage worker is not a teenager living at home. According to the nonpartisan Oregon Center for Public Policy, 60 percent of minimum-wage workers are women, 73 percent are 20 years or older and 25 percent are single parents. Raising the minimum wage is by no means a panacea for poverty, but it will help tens of thousands of low-wage workers to put food on the table, pay the rent and to cover basic essentials. This is especially critical as this state is now grappling with dramatic cuts in health care and social services for our most vulnerable populations.

Q: How can employers and workers avoid wage claims and complaints?

A: By having a good knowledge of the wage and hour law provisions, keeping good records of the hours employees work, by making sure they understand what deductions may lawfully be made from wages, and by ensuring that employees take rest and meal breaks for which they are entitled. I would strongly encourage all minimum-wage employers to take advantage of our Technical Assistance for Employers Program. We employ a staff of professional trainers who are experts in employment law. Our technical assistance trainers can provide you with the latest in employment law developments and trends through monthly training seminars that are held in several areas of the state, and also by arranging on-site training seminars for employers.

Q&A appears Mondays on the Mail Tribune's Business page. It provides local leaders an opportunity to address timely issues in the business community.

To suggest a subject for this column, please contact business reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail