ERISA Preemption and State Apprenticeship Laws

Erisa The Sixth Circuit decided an important ERISA preemption case yesterday, Associated Builders & Contractors, Saginaw Valley Area Chapter v. Michigan Dep’t of Labor & Economic Growth, No. 07-1639 (6th Cir. Sept. 16, 08) ,concerning the continuing validity of state apprenticeship laws in light of ERISA.

From the Daily Labor Report today (subscription required for full article):

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act does not preempt a Michigan law that sets ratio and equivalency requirements for apprentice electricians, the Sixth Circuit rules in lifting an injunction issued in 1992 that barred the state from enforcing the apprenticeship laws.

In ruling that the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth can now enforce the ratio and equivalency requirements set out in the state’s electrician apprenticeship law, the three-judge appellate panel finds that the state law imposed mandates on apprenticeship training programs, but those mandates did not affect ERISA-regulated concerns.

According to the appeals court, the policies underlying the ratio and equivalency rules, which were aimed at the safety of electrical apprentices, are “quite remote from the areas with which ERISA is expressly concerned.” The court finds, among other things, that if ERISA preempted the apprenticeship law, it would result in states being prevented from regulating the safety of apprentices and the standards of electrical apprenticeship, areas that traditionally have been regulated by the states.

This case is an appropriate application of ERISA’s modern ERISA preemption doctrine, which is closer to conflict preemption than field preemption.

It also highlights something that I have been writing about a lot recently, which is that states have an important, complementary role to play in areas that are generally though to be occupied by federal labor relations law.  Jeff Hirsch and I have a debate on PENNumbra coming out on October 1st on the role of state regulation of the workplace (more details to follow).

I will take this decision, Jeff, as the Sixth Circuit siding with my side of the debate.

Cross posted on Workplace Prof Blog.


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