We had a strong start to March. This is Women’s History Month, and the first week is designated as Women in Construction week.
You probably noticed developers, signatory contractors, industry associations, and even politicians lauding women trades workers. Like most celebratory days, weeks, and months, the photo ops, accolades, and sponsored lunches fade fast. In their place, the disappointing everyday reality resurfaces: Nowhere near enough women count among the ranks of the building and construction trades.
Fortunately, there is work being done during the other 51 weeks of the year to bring more women trades workers into our unions and to level the playing field for them and for our sisters already among us. From our internationals to our locals, every level of organized labor is answering the call to support women who embark on apprenticeships in the building and construction trades.
We all know that mothers are some of the toughest people out there, and they’re also some of the most overworked. In acknowledgment of these facts, both the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and Ironworkers unions have worked with their industry partners to establish maternity benefits that replace income for pregnant members. Benefits can be paired with eligible leave and hour banks depending upon the collective bargaining agreement and other state leaves as applicable.
The Bricklayers also offer a 10% childcare discount on weekly tuition at early education center KinderCare’s 1,700 locations. Every little bit helps.
Here in the Bay, Plumbers and Pipefitters U.A. Local 38 offers a childcare plan benefit that reimburses up to $5,000 per year (or $416.66 per month) per family in eligible childcare expenses for dependent children under the age of 7.
Of course, you don’t have to be a mother to get a leg up as a woman in the building trades. With the support of the officers, this council is readying the launch of a women-led initiative called Sistas With Tools (SWT).
We’re working in close collaboration with union apprenticeship coordinators to finalize this program, in which our trainers will run an MC3 assessment and boot camp to introduce women and non-gender-binary people to the physical demands and skills needed to successfully complete various apprenticeships. In addition to teaching practical skills and offering childcare assistance ($5,000 for pre-apprentices and $10,000 for apprentices), SWT will connect apprentices with mentors who are journey-level workers in their craft and have experience both working in the field and being active in their unions
Simply put, we’re thrilled to get this work off the ground, and it’s about damn time. We couldn’t be prouder to roll out SWT.
To seed this effort, we’ve matched council funds with donations from local private-sector partners such as lobbying and PR firm Ground Floor Public Affairs, developer Strada Investment Group, and the Potrero Power Station development team, just to name a few. Even better, we’ve developed a program that recently earned state grant approval. In fact, this council’s SWT program managed to earn two key funding awards through the state. We’ll be rolling out program details in the coming weeks.
This effort will be a long road, and that’s by design. To develop and sustain a greater share of women in our trades, our commitment must be far more serious and last far longer than an annual weeklong celebration, and it must be far more streetwise than your average neoliberal politician’s social media feed. It also must be led by women in the trades and administered on the ground to meet the evolving needs of parents, and it must connect to the advocacy of our unions both within the halls of government and at the bargaining table.
With any luck, SWT will do all of the above.
Who’s Been a Friend
Last summer, Lorena Gonzalez was the first Latina to be elected executive secretary of the California Labor Federation. She brings years of experience to the post — along with her Teamsters union card.
Before her well-earned title as a labor warrior in the California State Assembly, Gonzalez was holding it down as the head of the San Diego Labor Council, where she earned the respect and partnership of the SD Building and Construction Trades Council.
Gonzalez is a fearless and unapologetic advocate for working families and truly believes that we are at our strongest when we are united. She pulls no punches and is ready to hold those in power accountable, be they elected officials, bureaucrats, or even rogue union siblings. Gonzalez is marshaling the might of the California-wide union movement to make sure skilled union members are put to work on housing and that we can earn enough to afford to live.
We stand with Lorena Gonzalez as a true friend of the trades.