To the members of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental
and Reinforcing Iron Workers:
My name is Jeanne Park and I am a woman ironworker. My book number is 1222400 and I have been a member of the international since 1995.
To some of you I might be a novelty; many of you haven’t worked with a woman in the trades before. To some, I represent many of the things that are wrong with today's society and an intrusion on my coworkers’ masculinity. And to others, I am a symbol of unity that the trade could have and the growth and progress our trade could make in the future.
Numerous building trades councils tell us that union membership has decreased. In fact, almost all building trades will soon face a shortage of workers.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the construction industry will hire about 250,000 new workers each year for the next seven years. Only an estimated 150,000 new workers will come into the trades, creating a continuing shortage of skilled workers. School systems have dealt with dwindling financial support by disbanding skilled shop programs and accepting corporate donations. Many school children have no idea of options the union trades provide them.
Students are often directed to college or computer related tracks, though they may not have the desire to go through with these career options. We must begin to work harder at recruitment of workers, and ALL potential applicants with interest must be encouraged. We are skilled at teaching through apprenticeship, and building solidarity—our results stand tall as our union-made structures—you need only to look around our country to see what we have created!
According to the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau: Women are projected to comprise 47 percent of the total labor force in 2014. They will also account for 51 percent of the increase in total labor force growth from 2004-2014.
About 900,000 women across the United States work in some form of construction--a rise of 18 percent over the last eight years, according to the National Association for Women in Construction.
Though the Equal Employment Opportunity Act was passed in the early 1970s, women account for only 9 percent of total construction workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Why then is it that that women account for such a small number of members in our union? The most frequently heard theory is that women cannot or will not do our type of work. History tells the tale that women have done ironworking, liked it, did it well, and had to be forced out of continuing to do it. The fact is that women have done this type of work at least since World War II, when they were urged to serve their country by picking up rivet guns and welding rods , while men were sent to fight. They defied convention and social norms to work with pride--to work with their hands. Employers discovered that not only did they have to hire women because of the dwindling male work force, but they wanted to: the presence of women brought a camaraderie to the worksites, jobs were made smoother and loads were reduced to fit the women workers, resulting in more efficiency, and less injuries overall. After the war, women were then fired en masse in order to welcome the veteran male soldiers back to their civilian jobs, effectively belittling the female contribution to the war effort by workers and veterans alike. Unions used seniority to leverage women from their blue-collar jobs, jobs that women were doing well at and wanted to keep.
I find it sad that in many ways we are reliving unnecessary conflicts we have already been through in the past and should have learned from. Working people in this country, who face unprecedented assaults from anti-union forces that want to roll back the hard-won gains of the labor movements, should all be in this struggle together, regardless of sex, race, creed or color.
In a trade related to ours, the steelworkers was issued a consent decree in 1974. A consent decree entails a form of “settling out of court” between a particular industry and the government in matters of non-compliance to law. The book Women of Steel was written to track the process of the women brought into steel mills as a result. An analysis of the situation at steel mills in the 80s reveals that most women were able to perform their jobs well, that they liked their jobs, and that the most important factor determining their acceptance in their workplace was their attitude. Although women are still a minority today in the steelworkers union, female leadership has flourished. The women have created a healthy organization called “women of steel” with chapters in many of their locals, which provides support within their ranks and outside, addressing union matters at large.
Women were also encouraged to work construction by the government in 1978 under President Carter’s Executive Order. His intention was to set goals for the expansion of women into the workforce, and construction in particular. Women were to comprise 6.9% of the labor force by 1983. These goals were pursued until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 or as retired ironworker Mary Michels calls it, “the beginning of the Reagan-Bush Dark Ages” and the decimation of funding for programs to train women entering the building trades. The estimate of women in the construction force in 1983 was actually about 1.8% of all workers.
Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992. In 1996 with welfare reform came an opportunity to introduce women into construction fields again. With the help of legal and community based organizations, women with less education were being introduced to the concept of a decent wage with the understanding they could support their families and have fair and safe working conditions provided by unions. With the subsequent election of a labor-unfriendly president, funding for programs was again drastically cut, and community based organizations in 2000 folded or were left scrambling to keep the lights on. Today the percentage of women in our building trades hovers around 2%.
Each change proposed by the government for the improvement of blue collared women’s situation was opposed by the more hard core of the blue-collar unions. Even as contractors felt the pressures of legal responsibility, and union leadership conceded to the logic of such goals, they did not provide the example for the rank and file to follow. At each period of government inattention, unions have continued to ignore, if not encourage, the attrition of women.
Unions, historically, have led the way to correct injustice. We’re the ones who have fought for dignity and fairness in work conditions. Frequently we have led and government had has to follow. Now it seems like government is supposed to lead and unions are supposed to follow. Who knows about the conditions of us, the workers who wake at 5:00am every morning to hang the bang the steel better than us? Who knows about who it is that works and who doesn’t? What safety conditions need to be enforced, and what becomes more of a hazard when others meddle with the regulation of tried and true practice? Who is supposed to lead--them or us? Let us be proud to be ironworkers who make room for those that want to work and stand with us. Even as other unions progress slowly, let us stand at the forefront and embrace our future and our history.
Despite the entry of women into our locals in the 70s, there is not one notable picture of a female ironworker in the 100th Anniversary History of the Iron Workers. Rosie the Riveter has been given some attention—but her visage is all but forgotten except as a part of the distant past.
Some apprenticeship instructors tell their female ironworkers that the trade is rough, so suck it up. There is no support for women’s efforts, and no acknowledgement that they are entering a field as an underdog in adverse conditions. We’re supposed to accept the fact that not only are we entering one of the most challenging construction fields, not only does our safety equipment not fit, and that we have to work twice as hard to make up for our smaller size and strength, but we have to re-train all the men around us to treat us like co-workers, like human beings. New women have no one to turn to for advice or help. They aren’t directed to anyone who has experienced what they are likely to experience. I’ve always enjoyed talking about the trade to my fellow male workers, but even those that understand the best don’t fully realize what women go through. And though I talk to my female friends about the trade, most haven’t a clue as to what construction life is about.
Over thirty years after the first women have entered our ranks, many potential leaders have been finding positions in other fields: Joyce Harris in BuildingC3, Randy Loomans as Director of Governmental Affairs for the Operating Engineers Local 302, Felicia Battley of Boston’s Women in the Building Trades. Many other feisty leaders are retiring: Mary Michels, Jan Jenson, Pam Green, Kelly Easley.
After completing three years of apprenticeship, it cannot be denied that any worker has earned her place to work in our union. Personally I had thought myself that with journey-level status, I would gain a modicum of respect. I have discovered to my disappointment that this is not true. Each job is still a proving ground, a “re-training” of the men we work with to respect our strength and skill. Sometimes it’s easier, because the longer we’re in, the more people we know. Sometimes it’s not, because our reputations are taken as a challenge--especially if we are good at doing what we do, and normally we should be regarded as doing the union proud. Women often find less respect as they gain in experience, and are mocked and harassed on the job even more harshly as they reach for retirement. True, not all women are cut out to be ironworkers, but truth be told, not all men are either. The women who have pioneered and endured should be given the job of leading the way for others, providing mentorship and not be forced into obscurity.
We are losing trained journey-level workers. For women losing our role models is especially tragic, since we need them more than ever. Our energy is redirected from fighting for better work conditions, job site safety or respect for all, towards fighting within our ranks. I found for reasons of survival and my own self-respect that I had no choice but to prioritize and hold protecting myself and fighting for my sisters above acting exclusively for my local at large. I will however make the argument that acting on behalf of my sister ironworkers benefits the union at large. Although if you, my union asks, I will always be there for you, my union, as the union should be there for women too.
And when the union is there for women, the results are good. Lee Newgent as apprenticeship coordinator of Seattle local 86 was actually disappointed in only recruiting 6.5% female apprentices. This is the highest female recruitment level I’ve ever heard of. He is so confident with his program and the support of his membership that his daughter has entered into the program. How is it that so many other locals continue to insist that it is not necessary to even look into how or why they aren’t attracting more women to their trade? Can we not see that this might be a symptom of larger problems within our organization based on “brotherhood?”
For this reason, we women ironworkers must have the support of the representatives here in this room, the leaders of our membership. The standards must be set by people responsible and with the understanding that this is for the betterment of the entire union.
I would like to present to you a demand: The women ironworkers demand from the union only what the union insists is necessary from contractors: a safe work place, the opportunity to perform one’s job free from harassment, and respect and dignity afforded union members. We invoke the right to organize
I Jeanne Park delegate from local 377 in San Francisco, CA would like the Ironworkers International to make a verbal commitment to support Women entering the Ironworker Industry and to mail a letter from the General Executive Board to the locals expressing this support.
USW: Statement of Policy on Sexual Harassment (found at http://www.usw.org/usw/ptrogram/content/254.php) “We have democratically passed tough, meaningful policies at our Conferences and conventions and negotiated such policies to protect our members. They are not just words. We take them seriously. In addition to cooperation and understanding mutual respect must be the basis of interaction among trade unionists. The USW will neither tolerate nor condone behavior from its employees or from others doing business on USW property, such as vendors, that is likely to undermine the dignity or self-esteem of an individual, or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment. One form of harassment that is particularly demeaning and intimidating is sexual harassment and the following policy shall apply to allegations of such harassment. …Some forms of harassment may not violate the law. For example, harassment allegations concerning an International employee and a Local Union member would normally not affect the member's employment or working environment. But such harassment does violate the basic principles of the union. The USW considers sexual harassment of any kind a serious offence. Complaints of harassment in the workplace and at USW activities will be investigated. This policy is based upon a desire to mediate resolutions of complaints in an amicable and non-adversarial manner. Because, in most cases, the individuals involved are both members of our union, emphasis will be placed on resolving complaints informally in the first instance. Where such resolution is not possible, a formal complaint can be processed. A substantial complaint will result in appropriate action, up to and including termination of employment for USW employees. All complaints will be handled in a confidential manner and all formal complaints should be directed to the International President. ….”These are two principles that are fundamental to the trade union movement: human rights and solidarity. Harassment strikes at the heart of both. AS trade unionists we must work to protect rights, not take them away. Trade union principles prohibit us from infringing on the human rights of others, and oblige you to stand with them to protect rights when others attack them…. From Women of Steel: Female Blue-Collar Workers in the Basic Steel Industry by Kay Deaux and Joseph C. Ullman
“Chapter 5: Studying Women of Steel”
p. 66: Objectives of the Research: At the most general level, we wanted to find out everything we could about6 the situation for women in the steel mills. As most researchers know however, such global interests need to be focused…Moving from our general concern with women in the steel mills and the effects of affirmative action consent decrees, we formulated several specific questions to be pursued in detail.
1. Have the consent decrees had a noticeable effect on the hiring patterns for women in the steel industry? The steel industry consent decrees were signed in the spring of 1974. Our study began in 1979; approximately five years after those agreements had been reached. One might not expect to see a sharp rise immediately following the agreements, given the time necessary for recruitment and possible training of this new segment of the labor force. Nonetheless, after five years it should be possible to assess changes in employment patterns and to determine whether women were being hired in increasing numbers and whether they were staying in the labor force once hired. Further, comparison of employment figures within different departments and job classifications should provide a more detailed picture as to where women were entering and how they were progressing. Such a detailed analysis should also allow assessment of the degree of movement by women into apprenticeship programs and craft occupations, areas that were specifically targeted by the consent decree. 2. Are there any specific costs associated with an increased effort to hire women in the industry? Our question here was whether the recent practice of hiring more women carries a price tab. If women have not traditionally applied for steel mill jobs, then how are they encouraged to do so now? Are there any additional costs involved in finding women who are interested and in recruiting them for mill employment? Once women are hired, are there other coast factors involved? Does it require additional funds to train women, perhaps compensating for skills that they did not develop in earlier years? Other areas of potential cost that we wanted to consider were turnover and absenteeism. In this case, the loss of worker hours could affect the costs of the industry less directly, but would have an impact nonetheless. Finally at the most global level, we might question whether the overall productivity of the steel industry is affected by an increase in women workers. IOF women are not as capable, as some have claimed, then overall productivity should decrease, given a constant number of workers. 3. What problems do women encounter as they begin to work in the steel industry? Possible barriers that women might encounter could be either internal or external in nature (O'Leary, 1974). Internal barriers are those that the woman herself may bring to the situation. For example, some research has shown that women generally have less confidence in their ability to perform tasks, particularly those jobs or tasks that have traditionally been associated with men (Crandall, 1969; Deaux, 1976; Lenney, 1977). Other writers have argued that women actually fear success-that they are afraid to do well because such success will bring them ostracism from friends and colleagues, cause men to shun them, and result in a general loss of femininity (Horner, 1972). Such psychological characteristics, if they are indeed pervasive, might cause women to avoid job settings in which men have been traditionally preeminent, or to perform poorly once they enter these arenas. At a somewhat less psychological level, background and lack of relevant training can serve as internal barriers. Where as many men grow up learning how to fix cars and lawnmowers, taking vocational courses in electricity and mechanics, and being generally familiar with tools and machines, women typically have less experience in these areas. Deficits in these kinds of experiences, similar to many of the task requirements in the steel mills, may serve as a handicap or internal barrier to women's performance in the mills. Yet another potential barrier for women is a lesser degree of physical strength. Work in the steel mills often invokes images of “John Henry, the steel-driving man,” who flexes muscles, lifts massive weights, and sweats profusely in the heat of the blast furnace. Such an image is far removed from the stereotypical conception of women as frail, dainty, and clean. Moreover, there is little argument that women on the average are not as strong as men (Hogan, 1979). Although the specific ration of strength between the sexes differs according to the particular muscle group, in each case it is clear that the average man has greater strength than the average woman. More directly, a recent study conducted with steel workers has found significant performance differences between male and female workers on a variety of strength-related tasks, such as lifting 75-pound bags, carrying jackhammers, and moving loaded wheelbarrows (Arnold, Rauschenberger, Soubel, & Guion, 1982). To the extent that physical strength is an important aspect of steel mill job performance, the woman would be at a clear disadvantage, lacking the muscles and pounds to do the job as well as the average male worker. Equally important in considering the possible problems of women in the steel mills are external barriers. External barriers are those blocks in the institution or the immediate work situation that confront any woman whatever her won personality, desires, and abilities. Discriminatory hiring policies are one obvious example. If women are not given an equal opportunity to apply for steel mill jobs, or if screening measures are used that unfairly favor men (criteria that are not, in the current legal jargon, bona fide occupational qualifications), then they will not find their way into mill jobs. The physical nature of the jobs can be considered in this context as well. Specific demands of the jobs-whether they be in terms of strength, endurance, or resistance to temperature extremes-may serve as barriers for some potential employees. In addition, particular tools may have been designed for men and may not be as suitable3 for a female employee. The interpersonal context can provide another set of important external barriers. At the supervisory level, foremen may discriminate in their jobs assignment, refusing to assign women to those jobs that carry more responsibility and that provide a path to more advance positions. Supervisors of training (the journeymen in the craft occupations) may not provide women with the instruction necessary to learn a new job or skill. Supervisors and male workers alike may provide an unfavorable climate for women. Negative attitudes may be conveyed through words and gestures, by statements about the incompatibility of women and steel mills, or by professed beliefs in the home as women's proper place. More directly, male coworkers may directly express antagonism, engage in unusual hazing procedures, or make women the brunt of foul jokes and unwarranted pranks. Even more seriously, sexual harassment can be a critical issue. The possible existence of such barriers-either internal or external-needs to be documented in order to understand how blue-collar women function in traditionally male settings. 4. Has the hiring of women affected the ability of the industry to meet other affirmative action goals?..... 5. How do the women themselves view their jobs as blue-collar steel workers? As we noted in Chapter 2, there is considerable disagreement as to what kinds of jobs women want and what characteristics they want those jobs to have. Blue-collar work, particularly in the steel industry, has not been a traditional choice for women. What kinds of women are now in the steel industry, taking advantage of newly created opportunities? Knowing more about the likes and dislikes, hopes and misgivings of this selected group of women can furnish important insights into women workers as a whole.
“ERA Pours the Foundation for Equality in the Construction Trade” (PDF available through: http://www.equalrights.org/) Even today in 2001, women's participation in particular industries is relatively obsolete because of deeply entrenched patterns of discrimination that enforce and perpetuate the existence of “men-only” jobs…. The passage of welfare reform in 1996 forced thousands of women into the workforce; most women were required to accept the first available job, which primarily were low-wage, unstable, unskilled jobs that did not provide the women with the means to move and remain out of poverty. Welfare rights and women's rights organizations, including ERA, advocated for the development and implementation of effective welfare reform policies that support skill enhancement and higher wage jobs. One such strategy was to encourage, train and assist women in obtaining nontraditional occupations, including those in the construction trade. The construction trade, unlike many other occupations that predominantly employ non-college educated workers, provides relatively high hourly wages, overtime opportunities, union membership, booming growth, and opportunities for skill development. …ERA's impact litigation will focus on the practices of one or all of the industry players-the apprenticeship programs, the unions and the contractors-all of which engage in discriminatory behavior against women. …Women who have overcome the barriers to training and gained access into the “brotherhood” are finding that in a post Proposition 209 California, women need not apply. The attitude of many employers is 'we're just not interested in hiring women, and we don't have to.' Even employers who previously trained and hired women, have retreated to the discriminatory practice of denying highly qualified women jobs, solely based on their gender. Women on the job face another host of problems. Similar to women's experiences in apprenticeship programs, they tend to be assigned menial tasks unrelated to their trade. Tradeswomen also face sever sexual harassment, denial of basic equipment and bathrooms, pay inequity, a lack of overtime opportunities and a hostile environment that can be tantamount to life-threatening situations.
* Every year, more than 440,000 Americans become apprentices, receiving training through approximately 37,000 apprenticeship programs. Source: U.S. Department of Labor
* The construction industry will hire about 250,000 new workers each year for the next seven years. Only about 150,000 new workers will come into the trades, creating a continuing shortage of skilled workers. Source: U.S. Department of Labor
* The construction industry employs approximately 800,000 workers statewide. By 2010 the construction industry will need approximately 200,000 new workers. Source: California Employment Development Department
* In 2003 construction industry in Sacramento County employs 35,000 workers. By 2006 the industry will employ almost 40,000 construction workers, a 15% increase in demand for the workers. Source: California Employment Development Department
* For every four people who leave the trades, by retirement or otherwise, only one new person is supplied by apprenticeship programs to enter the trades. Source: University of California
* The California Department of Education tells us that out of every 100 students in our high schools, 30 will drop out before graduation. Of the 70 who are left only 21 will go on to college. Of those who attend our community colleges, half will drop out in the second semester. Yet, all of our state counseling resources are geared for the few who will actually finish college. Source: California Department of Education
* Students in state approved apprenticeship programs start out at 40% of the prevailing wage in their area. This translates to about $12-15.00 per hour, plus benefits while they begin the program. That rate goes up each year until they turn out as journeymen. The average craft journeyman makes about $28.00 per hour in this state plus health and pension benefits. Many trades pay in excess of $75.00 per hour with overtime. Source: State Building and Construction Trades Council of California
* The average age of a construction worker is 47 years old. Source: State Building and Construction Trades Council of California
Jan "high pockets" Date: July 8, 2006 12:00:17 PM PDT To: girlofsteel
Subject: Re: one of the good guys.... Thank you, Lee for your good comments and from the other gals on this list and myself, we ALL thank you! I got into the ironworkers in North Dakota in 1976. They stuckme in the rod patch for THREE years, hoping to get rid of "that broad." I fooled 'em and outworked most of the guys on the job. When I pointed out to the BA and apprentice coordinator that apprentices were only supposed to do 1,500 hours of rods and I had OVER 3,000, I decided it was TIME to put me somewhere else! So they told me I was going "up top" on the powerhouse to work on the boiler iron. I said NO WAY am I stupid enough to do that with NO prior knowledge of ironworking, much less off the ground more than 90 feet (we built 90 ft. firewalls out of double wall rebar). I said if he was such a damn idiot to do that to ANYONE, especially me, I would take him out back and we'd have a little hand to face discussion about that... since I was nearly a foot taller than him and had been working rods for 3 years and he could obviously see my muscles, he declined and put me on the hook on crew and working up with the building! When my daughter got into the apprenticeship in San Francisco in 1983 they tried the same tactics with her and I got into the apprentice coordinators face so bad he turned white! When I came to San Fran. in 1980 Natalie was the only woman in that local (she was on the permanent Golden Gate Bridge crew). I went to EVERY union meeting for the 10 years I was there and didn'tlet them get away with much BS about women. I've known Dan Hellvig since he was a snot nose kid and always thought he was a pretty good guy. Now I'd like to go kick him damn but!!! If I have to make a special trip from NC to CA to do that - I'll invite you all! My daughter is now in Tacoma living with Mom's 91 yewar old sister and working in the railroad yard maintenance crew. She WOULD like to get back to working iron again (I think). In fact, there's a big job coming up in Wenatchee (one of the clients in the doctor's office I now work in here in NC is an engineer and said the job will start this fall and last about 3-5 years). Maybe some of you'd like to go work in a sane environment for a while till we get Dan hellvig and the international guys in DC plumbed up...! At 63 (next) week, I'm still up to kicking some butt!! Jan Jenson JIW 1021600 25 years and retired - NOT retarded or scared of anyone/thing!!
From: Linda Wallis < > Date: July 10, 2006 6:57:11
Subject: Re: one of the good guys....
Jeanne, One thing for sure, you're fighting a losing battle. I just want out!!!! I am freaking out about being 56 ans still in this shit!! It seems the longer you're in, the les respect you get because of all the younger male morons. I give up!!!
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Paap, Kris. Working Construction: Why White Working-Class Men Put Themselves- And the Labor Movement-in Harm's Way. Ithaca and London: ILR Press, an imprint of Cornell University Press, 2006.
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