Organized labor won a victory in the House of Delegates yesterday with the defeat of a bill that would have allowed trainees or helpers to work on public works jobs.

Only apprentices in approved training programs now can work on public projects under Maryland law.

Opponents of the bill said it would undermine approved apprenticeship programs in the state and mean trainees and helpers would be paid less than laborers.

Supporters said it would help people get on the first rung of the employment ladder and save the state money.

Del. Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore) said he was a supporter until he talked with union leaders. "Our problem is that people may get on the bottom rung and never get to the second rung," he said.

Unions are doing their part to make sure that apprenticeship programs have a "fair share" of blacks and women, Cummings said.

Del. Robert Neall (R-Anne Arundel) called the legislation "an opportunity bill" that would allow young people to earn a paycheck and learn a trade.

"We'll spend more money to assist these people because we're closing the door in their face," Neall said.

Supporters of the bill also said the state could save money since trainees would be paid less than journeymen 's wages.