On Equal Terms: gender & solidarity launches at 2018 Women Build Nations Conference in Seattle! https://onequalter.ms

Eisenberg cover_Stanley'sGirl

On Equal Terms: gender & solidarity, an interactive online exhibition about women and the construction industry launched at the 2018 Women Build Nations Conference in Seattle!!! The independently-hosted site has a Landing Page and 12 unique rooms. 

It’s been a two and a half year project to launch. Deep gratitude to all the women of We’ll Call You, the many contributors and previewers who gave such helpful feedback, and to sponsors, crews, and viewers of the touring mixed media art installation on which its based. Huge thanks to generous support from the Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist Program at the U-Michigan Center for the Education of Women; Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center; Brandeis University; the 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund; Mass Humanities; and individual donors. The On Equal Terms Project has 501(c)3 status as an affiliated program of Brandeis University’s WSRC. 


Stanley’s Girl  and

We’ll Call You If We Need You: Women Working Construction, With a New Preface

Heartfelt thanks to the IBEW for a wonderful article about the new books, Boston Member’s Book Shines Light on Women in the Trades, in the August issue of The Electrical Worker! And big thanks to all who have hosted book talks, including CLUW National Leadership Conference, IBEW International Women’s Conference, 2018 Women Build Nations Conference, the Worker Institute of Cornell/ILR. Looking forward!




On Equal Terms installation going VIRTUAL! April 2018!


—— by Susan Eisenberg

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of federal affirmative action guidelines issued by President Carter April 7, 1978, we’re launching an online version of the 900-square-foot touring mixed media installation, On Equal Terms. On Equal Terms: gender & solidarity will be on its own independently-hosted website. It will have a Landing Page and 12 unique, interactive rooms.

If you’ll be in Chicago for the Women Build Nations conference, the Celebrating 40 & Building Forward On Equal Terms workshops will be a chance to preview the website material and give input while it’s in-process, as well as brainstorm plans for the anniversary year:

Sat., Oct. 14, 1:15-2:45 & Sun. Oct 15, 9:45-10:15am

We’re trying to create the website to be useful to apprenticeship and other classrooms, as well as unions and other groups trying to think boldly about equity. The Listening Room will include audio excerpts from interviews for We’ll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction (which will be re-issued next spring by Cornell, With a New Preface!), as well as poetry. We Remember will focus on work-related deaths, but also have a place to remember All Our Sisters who have passed, an element added at the suggestion of NYC tradeswomen, when On Equal Terms exhibited on the Lower East Side. Follow this link to Add a sister’s name

Huge thanks to a grant from the 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund, a “Negotiating the Social Contract” grant from Mass Humanities, and generous donors. Hope to see you in Chicago!

Remembering Kathy Mazza, Yamel Merino, and Moira Smith

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—by Susan Eisenberg

Kathy Mazza, Port Authority Officer, NYC The first female Port Authority Officer to be killed in the line of duty, Captain Kathy Mazza died while evacuating people from Tower One of the World Trade Center on September 11. Her clear-headed decision to shoot out the glass in the lobby, enabled hundreds to exit more swiftly. Three percent of the Port Authority Police Department perished that day. Having earned a nursing degree before joining the PAPD, Kathy rose through the ranks and became the first female commandant of the Training Academy, leading its emergency medical programs. The regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York City named her the 1999 Basic Life Support Provider of the Year.
Kathy Mazza

Yamel Merino, Emergency Medical Technician, NYC. Born to Dominican immigrant parents, Yamel Merino earned her EMT certification at Westchester Community College where she received the Chancellor’s Award for scholastic excellence. She worked for MetroCare Ambulance of Westchester County, and was MetroCare’s EMT of the Year in 1999. On September 11, she was among the first rescue workers to reach the World Trade Center site. She volunteered to enter the burning building. She was survived by an eight-year-old son.
Yamel Merino

Moira Smith, Police Officer, NYC. Assigned to the 13th Precinct, Moira Smith had been a member of the New York City Police Department for thirteen years. She was the first officer to report the World Trade Center attack, when she witnessed the first plane hit, and rushed to the site. She was killed while evacuating people from Tower Two, and is credited with saving hundreds of lives that day. A New York Daily News photographer captured an image of her helping an injured man out of the towers. After finding him medical assistance, she returned inside to continue with the evacuation. Survived by her husband, also a NYC police officer, and a two-year-old daughter, she was buried on what would have been her 39th birthday.
Moira Smith

 Deepest thanks to retired NYFD Captain Brenda Berkman for leading a group of tradeswomen on an amazing tour of the 9/11 Tribute site last fall. We were honored to have 3 other First Responders as part of our group: Con Ed employees Sharron Sellick, Monica Harwell, and Denene Ferguson.
I was so moved by what was shared on the tour that day. About the incredible camaraderie and solidarity and courage of New Yorkers on 9-11. The depth of personal loss. The devastating health consequences for First Responders. And that when 600 new firefighters were hired to replace those killed that day and the early retirements—NO women were hired. Because no women firefighters died on 9-11 (there were only 20 in the NYFD at the time). A reminder that human beings are complex.


—by Susan Eisenberg

Thank you, Amal, for snapping and sending this photo from NYC on December 22, 2015. Of course it could be Any City, USA.

2015. A full half-century after the Civil Rights Act made employment discrimination illegal….
2015. Thirty-seven years after Executive Orders were supposed to open construction jobs and apprenticeships to women….

2015. There are still people printing, posting, working under, and passing by signs that assume only men do these jobs. And sadly, they’re not so wrong: women are still only about 2.5% of the workforce. I agree—that’s dangerous!

Here’s hoping that in 2016, men who find these signs posted at their jobsites will take them down and throw them in the trash. That in 2016, those responsible for enforcing the law, and those who speak of solidarity, will act with creative courage. And signs like this one will seem like ancient artifacts.

Amal.NYC.MenWkg.IMG_1542Wishing everyone a joy-filled and just 2016!

Statistics –– collected and imagined

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—by Susan Eisenberg

       Happy 37th! April marks another anniversary of the 1978 federal regs that opened construction jobs to women. An Op Ed I wrote 2 years ago “Women in trades still waiting for fairness” has recirculated, and with that, questions about how we know the percentage of women in the trades.

Luckily, the Department of Labor keeps count, and posts data on their Bureau of Labor Statistics website. It can be a little confusing, so here’s a Step by Step, with matching pictures on the left.

1. Go to http://www.bls.gov. A great website to explore!

2. Scroll down the home page to the bottom. In the TOPICS box at bottom left, click on Demographics.

3. On the DEMOGRAPHICS page, data’s separated into categories. Click the first link: Demographic Characteristics of the Labor Force (Current Population Survey).

4. That brings you to the Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey page. A big gray box has an alphabetical list of categories like Age or Disability. Second from the end, click on Women.

5. This jumps you down that page to lots of statistics about women in the labor force. The second bullet down will say: Annual Tables. Click the (PDF) link Employment by Detailed Occupation and Sex and you’ll have the 2014 chart! The 2nd column gives the % of women in each trade.
Protective Service occupations (fire, police) are on pg 4.
Construction and extraction (mining) are on pg 7.

If you scroll down a bit more and open Annual report: Women in the Labor Force: A Databook, you can find data from previous years and compare. For example, women were 2.1% of electricians in 1994, and 2.4% in 2014.

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It’s imperfect (surprise!). Not everything’s counted and some get lumped together. We don’t know if the number of women Plumbers has doubled in the last 20 years, or there are lots of Pipelayers. But it’s a great starting-point. And reminds us that real change is yet to come.

WISH LIST! I’D LIKE TO SEE the BLS count Apprentice and Journeylevel separately, so we could know the stats on journeylevel careers — which after all, is the point. I doubt Medical Students count as Doctors.

KEEP YOUR OWN STATISTICS. Most change happens locally, regionally or in a union. Talk with friends and allies and plan a research project to track change yourselves. Same principle as asking someone to show their check. Some ideas: 1. Track the yearly earned pension hours for an apprenticeship class — comparing male and female — as they move forward in their careers. 2. Track and compare the pensions or pension hours of women who started different years. 3. Track the number of women who run jobs and the money they oversee.

Find out if things that matter are improving. Sometimes just knowing someone’s looking can encourage better results.

A Blue Light on Construction Sites???


—by Susan Eisenberg

We rightly like to call apprenticeship the OTHER 4-Year Degree, and point out its advantages. But we can also use the lens of college to identify what falls short.

The day after the AP story about tradeswomen came out I gave my daughter a ride to work. She’s been commenting on tradeswomen issues since she kicked me in-utero building the Westin Hotel at Copley Place in 1983. Or when, a few years later, she came with me to referral, looked up from her coloring book at the room of men and asked in a loud kindergarten voice, Where are the women? Her take-away from the AP story was that how the construction industry deals with sexual harassment and assault wouldn’t pass muster on today’s college campus. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Anyone who’s taken their high schooler on a campus tour knows that emergency phones with blue lights are everywhere. But the issue of assault is more complex and the U.S. Dept. of Education has placed dozens of colleges under investigation for possible violation of Title IX for inadequate “handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.” Campuses nationwide have organized around this issue. In the best scenarios, universities have involved activists and victims to develop better procedures.

What’s clear is that without procedures that are workable, publicized and funded, policies on a poster are just a piece of paper. People need to not only know what to do, but be prepared and responsible to act. Like we learn CPR. One issue under particular scrutiny is reporting, including the responsibility of any college employee to report any harassment or assault they’re aware of, and procedures for when the administration’s response is inadequate.

Apprenticeship programs are a wonderful hybrid of school and work, but that also makes victims of sexual violence doubly vulnerable — both their training and employment come into jeopardy. And the perpetrator is more likely to be the equivalent (at a college) of teacher or administrator, and the person to whom they can report, more likely to be that person’s friend, colleague or relative. There are a lot of challenging issues: when assault should be reported to police, how to investigate sensitively and efficiently, how to train frontline responders to intervene effectively.

This seems like an important issue for Joint Apprenticeship Committees to join with their women members to evaluate, implement, and re-evaluate. Practices under discussion at colleges can offer a useful starting point. Advice like, Just ignore that nitwit, ignores the real damage of sexual assault on a person’s training, employment, and well-being. In an industry like construction, what does zero tolerance mean in practice?

The campus demonstration slogan, Carry the Weight Together — inspired by Emma Sulkowicz and students at Columbia — sounds a lot like Solidarity.

Remembering Karen O’Donnell


—by Susan Eisenberg

Karen was in the fourth class of women in Local 103 IBEW/Boston, beginning her apprenticeship in 1981. She worked for eight years in construction, before becoming an electrician for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), a job from which she retired this past summer. I don’t think there was ever an organization or meeting that impacted tradeswomen where you couldn’t find Karen taking notes and speaking up. Her electrical training and deep concern for the environment combined to make her one of the earliest proponents of solar energy in the IBEW.

She was a founding member of the Boston Tradeswomen’s Network and the Massachusetts Tradeswomen’s Association and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).

Karen died Nov 20, 2014, at 60, from brain cancer. During her two-year illness she had an incredible circle of support from her union sisters and brothers in Local 103, at the MBTA, and across the country.

Please feel welcome to add your remembrances and Comments.


from Carol Rosenblatt, Executive Director, CLUW:  It is with a heavy heart that we wish a fond farewell to Karen O’Donnell, a CLUW stalwart and an original and refreshing women’s advocate in the labor movement.

I met Sister O’Donnell shortly after I began to work for the Coalition of Labor Union Women as its Executive Director almost 15 years ago. Karen was an outspoken sister who was unafraid of

addressing issues in which she believed, that were always progressive and frequently centered on the concerns of women in the trades.

She was a member of IBEW and served for many years as a delegate to CLUW’s National Executive Board and was active in its Non-Traditional Jobs committee. She was dependable and responsible, but even after she no longer served in the delegate capacity she would attend as an observer, somehow managing to do so on her own funds, sharing a room when she could find one.

goodbyeShe served as CLUW’s representative on the board of Tradeswomen Now and Tomorrow and brought their issues to CLUW’s attention at our national meetings. When CLUW held its meetings in the Washington DC area Karen would invite her parents to attend as they lived in the area and I had the pleasure to meet them also. She had an aura of ‘flower child” in her attire and always had affixed a stream of buttons in support of various causes (all good in my opinion) too.

At CLUW’s last convention Karen although by this time ill, was present and in the traditional opening of the parade of banners of unions, represented IBEW, with her walker to assist. At that convention she was presented with a special (well-deserved) award recognizing her commitment. Her dedication to CLUW was unwavering, as was her dedication to the labor movement.

Karen, I am glad Kerry Karen and Me3I had the opportunity to know you and CLUW cherishes your memory. Rest in peace, dear sister.

from Sara Driscoll:  Karen could always be counted on to take the side of the least of those among us. She had a keen eye and a warm heart and a delightful laugh. We will miss her and her dedication to the fight for justice and equity.

Only Tell Positive Stories

—by Susan Eisenberg
Positive stories are great –– they convey a goal, inspire, give us something to cheer! They don’t require the teller to remember difficult experiences or make listeners uncomfortable. And they’re often rewarded by those in power — or at least don’t bring reprisals. I get it. But I find the pressure on tradeswomen to LIMIT themselves to telling stories of success, counterproductive (and depressing). Five reasons why STAYING PURELY POSITIVE can be harmful:

1. First, it’s just NOT TRUE. Not because the stories are false, but because so much is omitted. Like a heavily redacted document, it signals what people with power want known. And so, silences complaints and lowers credibility.

2. LOSES an important OPPORTUNITY TO TEACH. Fatal accidents are talked about on construction sites not because they happen all the time, but because they PROVIDE WARNING that might prepare a person to react appropriately in unexpected moments of danger. Or see patterns, see where things are heading and change course or bail before it’s too late (like change to a contractor or local where they’ll get trained or stay employed). Researching We Remember, about tradeswomen whose deaths were work-related, I found that being unable to imagine that someone responsible for your safety might want to cause you serious harm could be fatal.

3. MISLEADS and SHAMES. Women considering these careers  deserve an accurate picture of what they’re entering, including how likely it is they’ll receive that good pension. And tradeswomen who did things right but were failed by the system –– those hard-working apprentices who worked to become capable mechanics but found themselves unemployed at journeylevel — DESERVE NOT TO BE BLAMED. Unless discrimination is talked about frankly, the implication is that women who left didn’t measure up.

4. UNDERCUTS OUR OWN GOALS of reaching a critical mass. If tradeswomen only have positive stories, what explains our tiny numbers (2.5% of the workforce)? Lack of interest in these occupations? Simply poor marketing?

5. UNDERESTIMATES ALLIES in and outside the labor movement. Tradeswomen need people who can take the time to understand their situations and stand with and for them. If we can’t believe the labor movement is capable of growth –– not just numerically, but emotionally –– or capable of acknowledging mistreatment and making needed corrections, we’re in trouble. If we’re not able to say what’s been wrong and still wrong, how would anyone know how to help?

Finding the right balance of upbeat and harsh (and boring day-to-day) is challenging. And different for everyone. And changes for the same person at different times. That accuracy is what to aim for.

The stories that draw me most are the saves: bad situations that were rescued, discrimination that was acknowledged and corrected.

Nitwits or 1963-ers?





—by Susan Eisenberg

“The training will be good for those nitwits.” I winced, but said nothing, then mulled over my silence and ‘nitwits’ for weeks. The speaker was describing the 2-hours of required harassment training for the electrical maintenance department at Massport, a quasi-public agency that oversees three airports (including Boston Logan), and the port. Those permanent, well-paid jobs everyone wants.

There’s always someone who’s going to “do something stupid” … “act like a jerk” … “be an asshole”
I’ve been bothered by this kind of language for a long time. Language that makes the person sound pathetic or laughable, when they’re often quite smart, determined, and — too often — successful in achieving their goal. Words like “nitwits” keep the focus on personal — rather than systemic — failings. And sends us in the wrong direction.

1963-ers is the term I’ve been trying out. It seems more accurate and useful.

Not until 2006 did Massport’s electrical maintenance department (roughly 40 workers) hire its first woman. In 2011, she and the second woman hired –– both after very successful careers in construction –– were gone. During those 5 years they tried unsuccessfully to redress persistent, systematic abuse through Human Resources and their union. After both won discrimination and workers’ comp settlements for career-ending injuries, the department is back to being a woman-free-zone. Some in attendance described the harassment training as “a joke”.

Before Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employment discrimination in hiring, advancement and layoffs was LEGAL. Let’s be honest, some people are nostalgic for 1963, and some of those people have control over the work environment. I often think “traditional industry” is a code word for this.

Back in the summer of 1981, I was sent to the GM plant in Framingham, MA, the only woman among 400 men. We were reconstructing the assembly line after demolition, installing the first robots –– a great job for a new 4th year apprentice. “Everyone is welcome here,” the steward assured me, “blacks, guys who refuse to work with blacks, women, guys who refuse to work with women.” At the time, it was a relatively progressive point-of-view.

By now, the fallout of that thinking is clear. You can’t give safe harbor to people who feel entitled to discriminate and exclude AND provide a fair workplace. It’s not hard to figure out why women’s workforce percentage has stalled at 2.5%, if women can be trained, given work assignments, evaluated for promotion or layoff, and have their safety overseen by someone who feels entitled to remove them. When 1963-ers are in supervisory or leadership roles, even men who are fair-minded read the signals and become afraid to act as allies. Effective harassment training would teach how to intervene, and would address the power issue.

Hopefully, 2014 will be a year when the industry helps 1963-ers join the 21st century — or makes THEM unwelcome.

Thank you! 2013


—by Susan Eisenberg

2013 was an especially productive year for the On Equal Terms Project, grounded in a national network of activists. Thanks to the many people and groups who made that possible. Some highlights:

We gained the ability to receive not only grants, but also tax-deductible individual and corporate donations through our Brandeis University affiliation.

A radio panel in St. Paul, MN, built on new Midwest connections from 2012. Testimony was contributed to a winning discrimination case for the first female hired in the electrical maintenance department at Massport — a workplace shamefully now without female employees.

Grants and the generous hands-on support of NYC tradeswomen, their family & friends, made an On Equal Terms exhibition at the Clemente possible. Bathroom shack walls, a gangbox, Stella — everything! — had to be unloaded and carried by hand up to the 2nd floor gallery, installed, de-installed, packed up, and carried back down. Thanks also to everyone who came to see and consider the work, especially those who gave feedback, left comments and remembrances. These conversations keep the installation growing. A personal highlight was the chance to read new work poems, incubated on Whidbey Island, WA, to construction workers in NYC, at a closing event for On Equal Terms at the Clemente Center. — Susan

Berger-Marks Foundation
Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center
Estelle Disch
21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund
J.& M. Brown Company
National Electrical Contractors Association, Boston Chapter
New York Labor History Association
Poets & Writers
Tyre Fund
Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University

Melinda Hernandez, Miguel Trelles, Jack Fahey, Harlo Holmes, Gayann Wilkinson, Deb Gilcoine, Sara Driscoll, Brigid O’Farrell, Lisa Narducci, Cynthia Long, Veronica Session, Laura Kelber, Rudy Mulligan, Odessa Thomas, Vanessa Salazar, Caridad Castro, Chris Levesque, Sinade Wadsworth, Scott Havelka, Brenda Berkman, Sandra Dunn-Yules, Eileen Macdonald, Devin Lindow, Cora Cofield, Cecelia Baez Raymond, Sinade Wadsworth, Anda Clark, Michael Hernandez, Justin Hernandez-Pinero, Eric Hernandez-Pinero, Stevie Weinstein-Foner, Eileen Sullivan, and Jennifer, Zach & Jack Kocienda

Colorlines, review of On Equal Terms by Von Diaz
Labor/Arts virtual On Equal Terms exhibit
McClatchy Op Ed, 3 April
Truth to Tell, KFAI radio, St. Paul, MN hosted by Andy Driscoll “Women in the Trades”: Mary DesJarlais, Susan Eisenberg, Rasheda Pettiford & Heidi Wagner
Stanley’s Girl poems in The Progressive (“Power”) and
On the Issues (“Code”)

Hedgebrook, Whidbey Island, WA, writing residency
Melinda Hernandez
Nancy Mason

Kelly Harrigan
Theresa Waldo

Spring term: Zuri Gordon
Fall term: Rose Wallace
Blog Design: Julie Shih