—by Susan Eisenberg

There was a recent kerfluffle of emails about women working at the World Trade Center site –– the most high-profile construction project in the country. According to a September 2011 CNN Money video, “The hammer girls rebuilding Ground Zero”, only 30 women worked there “surrounded by 3300 men.” WHOA!?! Doing the math, women held fewer than 1% of the construction jobs at the World Trade Center.

How can this be?!? As early as 2002, meetings were being held about the reconstruction of Ground Zero, and how to ensure that women would be fairly represented. Mayor Bloomberg’s Construction Opportunity Commission issued initiatives that included ten percent women in apprenticeship classes. What other site could possibly send a stronger message about the heart and hopes of the nation?

While it’s wonderful to watch a video that profiles and celebrates carpenter Josefina Calcano, electrician Patrice Morgan, and sheet metal worker Leah Rivera, the piece made 1% seem normal –– rather than outrageous. Nontraditional Employment for Women, one of the NYC organizations that’s worked hard to open access, has questioned whether CNN’s numbers are accurate, or maybe apply to only one of the towers –– but so far no one’s pointed to any other stats. Or, where to find them. I’ll gladly include corrections in a future blog –– but right now, it’s 1%.

Bad news is better than no news.

Whatever the stats are –- for jobs across the country –– let’s get them out in the open where they can be discussed. We can only work forward with transparency of information. I’ve added a link to an article that my mother clipped and sent me from the Cleveland Plain Dealer back in 1994, that I recently found. Back then, Hard Hatted Women was able to get the monthly stats on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame published in the city’s major newspaper. The assumptions of September’s CNN video represent quite a backslide from the PD article published more than fifteen years earlier.

With new federal regs due out in November, public perception of what’s normal is important. We need to counter the notion that things are okay or, as good as can be expected. Now is the time to be open about barriers.

August 2011 marked a third of a century (!) since the April 1978 regs that opened construction jobs to women. In just a few years we’ll celebrate the half-century anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination in the workplace.

Hold the sparklers! ­–– let’s celebrate with straight talk and accurate, public accounting. Acknowledging the problems would be a welcome sign of a commitment to creating real solutions.

If someone’s willing to COUNT AND TELL . . . 4 things I’m curious to know:

1. What percentage of women who graduate apprenticeships are working steadily 3 years after reaching journeylevel (are women making it into the core workforce: real careers)?

2. Do women lineworkers have longer apprenticeships than men? I’ve been surprised that so many linewomen I’ve talked to –– who seem awfully smart to me! –– have been held back for reasons that sound pretty vague.

3. Do showcase jobs work as models? Does the percentage of women working in the area actually rise –– or are all the women just put there? AND if so, is that percentage maintained 18 months later? Do model projects trigger change or hide a flatline?

4. By checking hours counted toward pension benefits, how do the careers of women compare with men from their apprenticeship class?

What are you curious about?

ALERT!!! New affirmative action regs are due from the Department of Labor in November (I’ll publish them on this site). Only a 30-day response time is expected. LET’S BE PREPARED! The On Equal Terms Project participates in the National Tradeswomen’s Task Force. Please join the conversation — use or adapt this draft letter to gather tradeswomen and allies in your area to discuss what you think is important to make regulations EFFECTIVE. Response letters to the DOL will COUNT and WILL BE COUNTED.



  1. Well expressed Susan. I, too, wonder about the statistics and who on all levels of government are watching & paying attention to cozier happening to all the women who were trained over the last 3 1/2 decades. My experience is that we Tradeswomen were under employed throughout our careers. The end result is that we do not have enough pension credits for a decent retirement despite the passing of 35 years or more.


  2. Susan: First of all, thanks for all your hard work on behalf of tradeswomen everywhere.

    The frustration continues. I always felt proud to earn just as much hourly as my fellow male union carpenters, but it didn’t hit me that I actually made less because I worked less hours year after year. Although I am now a retired carpenter and receiving a good pension for my living standards, I am receiving several thousand dollars less than those who worked steadily. In my first 12 years of work, I had to “establish” myself as skilled (by whose standards?) and rely on projects that required females. Who among us does not want to be recognized and employed for our skills not our gender? Answer: Those women who enter the trades with the pride of their craft. I love my career accomplishments and continue to work for the best for women in the building trades.


    1. Thanks, Rocky, for adding your experience of the pull both ways — love of the work and accomplishments, but exasperation that women don’t seem to end up with the same financial rewards or recognition for their skills. Solvable problems, I think, if union locals and internationals made the commitment in actions, not just words.


  3. I’d be interested in an answer to number four, but I don’t think the Boilermakers even allowed women into the apprenticeship long ago enough to have anyone collecting a pension.


    1. Sounds like a great thing to investigate, Amanda! Maybe your local or International could help you find and network with other women boilermakers. Or help you meet each other in person at the next Women Build the Nation conference May 19-20, 2012 in Sacramento. And, if anyone reading this is a woman boilermaker or knows one, let’s get that networking started!


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