Lauren Sugerman is the director of the National Center for Women’s Employment Equity for Chicago Women in Trades. Opinions are those of the author.
As someone who has worked and promoted the craft for more than 40 years, first as an elevator mechanic helper and then as a co-founder of Chicago Women in Trades, I have seen firsthand the impact securing a job in the craft can have over the Life of women.
A non-profit, CWIT trains women for high-paying, highly qualified jobs traditionally performed by men, and advocates fair employment and working conditions. Most of the women who come to us are struggling for a living for themselves and their families, living on minimum wages or some form of public aid just a paycheck away from the disaster.
Construction apprenticeships start at around $ 17 an hour, and many women make over $ 40 an hour with accomplishments within three to five years. They have the opportunity to move up for the first time in their life and receive meaningful salary increases without graduating from college or getting into debt.
291,000 women work as electricians, carpenters, workers, bricklayers, plumbers, painters, sheet metal and iron workers and other highly qualified, well-paid professions with additional services in the craft. But in recent years women still made up less than 10% of all construction workers, despite making up half of all non-agricultural workers in the general economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When Japlan “Jazz” Allen first joined Chicago Women in Trades, she was two years out of jail and was working in a low-paying janitorial job.
“I felt like I had two options,” said Allen. “I could get on with my badly paid job or get back on the streets. I didn’t like any of these options. “
Everything changed for Allen when she signed up for CWIT’s 12-week training program that helps women pass apprenticeship exams and provides them with essential support services that make the dream of working as a craftsperson possible. In order to open up new opportunities, pre-training programs like the one at CWIT are essential. The federal infrastructure law now pending in Congress could open this door wide.
Earlier this month, the Senate approved a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, but failed to include the language of a proposed change put forward by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and 11 co-sponsors, including my own Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick., Durbin advocated that it provided effective equal opportunities policies to increase opportunities for women and people of color in construction and to ensure harassment-free workplaces.
As the bipartisan infrastructure bill makes its way through Congress to await further debate and voting, lawmakers still have the opportunity to change the lives of thousands of women by setting workforce targets for both women and people of color Commit the construction industry to ensure that these underrepresented groups have a place on the infrastructure construction teams.
Legislation should contain language that outlines targets for workforce participation for underrepresented groups, sets a target of 15% apprentice utilization, mandates the creation and maintenance of respectful jobs, and funds for support services such as the recruitment of apprentice preparation programs. These revisions are supported by a wide variety of organizations, contractors, and international unions, including the carpenters, bricklayers, boiler makers, and those of Jazz, the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union.
To have a real impact on the number of women in the professions, Congress must include a language that makes it mandatory that 0.5% of all federal and state funds are used to support infrastructure projects would be spent on breaking down barriers to entry for women and people of color. Currently, 1% of motorway aids are allowed are spent on this type of service, but only a few countries have made use of this option.
While some might argue that mere setting of participatory goals should be sufficient for recruitment, experience has shown that despite the requirement of good faith (which, unfortunately, can be easily circumvented), such goals are seldom achieved.
Mandatory participation goals work. Massachusetts has more than doubled the national female participation rate by imposing mandatory participation targets. As of 2013, 38 projects worth $ 7.2 billion have used these best practices and achieved 7.33% women hours. Over half of the women were women of color.
Today Jazz Allen is an experienced craftsman who has earned the respect of her employees in the ironworking industry in 18 years. She worked as a foreman in several jobs, is the CEO of CWIT and a committed mentor for apprentices and new apprentices, for example on dealing with company policy.
“I’m not going to lie, construction work can be challenging. Women at work don’t always get the respect they deserve, ”she said. “I tell women who are new to the trade that there are only two sentences you need in building (and in life) to survive: ‘That’s not cool.’ and ‘For real? ‘ These two can be used to silence almost anyone, ”she said. “But clearly more can be done to make the workplace more women-friendly.”
The final draft of the bill should include language funding for the prevention of harassment and support services, which are critical to keeping women who work in the craft sector. Services such as childcare, travel expenses and the purchase of work equipment and equipment can additionally support the access, entry and success of women in training and professional training in the skilled trades.
We urge Congress to ensure that all infrastructure laws pave the way for women and workers from other diverse groups to get into the construction industry and thrive, and support policies for inclusive, harassment-free workplaces.