GUEST BLOG: Tiffany’s Return to Oregon Tradeswomen

In 2018, I sat outside an event at Women Build Nations and talked with Kelly Kupcak, Executive Director of Oregon Tradeswomen. It was a very difficult conversation because I had just told her about my impossible decision to leave the organization and move on to other work. Kelly and I cried together and dreamt of how we would continue to work together in a different context. I made the choice for my own life and career, but I didn’t fully understand that more than leaving a “job,” I was going to feel like I had left the tradesworker community.

In the same way that I didn’t fully understand what I was losing in 2018, I didn’t fully comprehend how much returning to Oregon Tradeswomen would feel like coming home. For those of you that don’t know me (yet), my name is Tiffany Thompson (she/her) and I am the new Director of the RISE Up program in Oregon. I worked at Oregon Tradeswomen for five years –organizing the Tradeswomen Leadership Institute, coordinating volunteers for Oregon Tradeswomen’s Career Fair, advocating for public policy, and providing training and assistance for unions, apprenticeship programs, and contractors. By and far, I was the most passionate about changing construction culture and preventing hazing, bullying, and harassment.

Even though I was no longer with Oregon Tradeswomen, tradesworkers still reached out to me to share their experiences of harassment and hostile worksites. I feel incredibly honored and grateful to these folks for trusting me. It is each one of those stories, each moment of trust, that made me realize that I still wanted to be focused on creating culture change. In 2018, it was a fledgling conversation about how to address issues that were rampant throughout the industry. Now, in 2021, so much has shifted, and I am deeply grateful that I can work full time, as a part of this community, to build the work environments that we all deserve – a culture that is inclusive to all people, where BIPOC and workers of all genders are able to thrive, grow, and build long-lasting careers.

If you have not heard of RISE Up (Respect, Inclusion, Safety and Equity), it is a respectful workplace program designed to provide all workers with the tools and support necessary to create and maintain a safe, inclusive and productive work environment for everyone. RISE Up provides industry best practice workplace consulting and training to help contractors and sub-contractors create an environment of productivity, safety, and equity in construction management and on work sites. I KNOW that change is possible and I firmly believe RISE Up is a path to much needed change. While I am grateful for the trust of tradesworkers, I hope that we will get to a place that no one needs to reach out with those stories again – that my new job will be unnecessary.

Now, these conversations are not just possible because of RISE Up. There is a huge push in the construction industry in Oregon for jobsite culture change. First off, I was working as the Construction Career Pathways program manager at Metro. Through this program, public agencies are teaming up with stakeholders from private industry, apprenticeship programs, unions, and community-based organizations to provide reliable career pathways for women and Black, Indigenous and people of color in the construction trades. Construction Career Pathways is a regional effort and, including culture change, anti-harassment training is a key focus of the work. Without this regional conversation, I don’t think I would be back at Oregon Tradeswomen! In addition, as a response to hate crimes on jobsites in 2020, the industry created the Safe from Hate Alliance. Participants much sign the Jobsite Culture Pledge and they are meeting regularly to create this change throughout the construction industry.

With all of these efforts underway, I can’t wait to see where we are in another three years. Through collaboration and intentional efforts, we can all work toward a future where worksites are truly safe in an industry that is free of discrimination, harassment, hazing and bullying.
I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has welcomed me back with such enthusiasm and are sharing in my optimism about the RISE Up program. And, for those of you who I have not met yet, I can’t wait to continue to build community with you.

 

Sincerely,

Tiffany Thompson (she/her)
Director of Workforce Equity and Technical Assistance
tiffany@oregontradeswomen.org
503.335.8200 x 136

Building Code Boards: CALLING ALL WOMEN

Jennifer Turcios Image Courtesy of the City of Santa Clarita

Jennifer Turcios, the city of Santa Clarita first woman inspector. Coutesy of the city of Santa Clarita.

An average person spends approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, yet many of the buildings in which we currently live and work are some of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses, waste energy, and harm our health.

In our time of climate crisis, our homes and buildings become our refuge. State level codes set the standards to make sure our buildings are safe and sustainable places to live, work, and raise our children. By serving on one of these very important boards you can help change an agency and make your voice heard.

Women, and especially women of color, are significantly underrepresented in Oregon’s decision-making processes around building codes. Building energy codes are the primary mechanism in place to regulate energy performance in new construction or major building renovations and they need to hear your voice.

Building Codes?

 Building codes are set at the state level in Oregon. They regulate important aspects of fire, life, and safety in new homes and buildings. As a subset of overall building codes, energy codes establish minimum levels of energy performance in these homes and buildings.

Building codes in Oregon are administered by the state Building Codes Division (BCD), alongside legislatively mandated advisory boards. These advisory boards play a vital role in determining the minimum energy efficiency of Oregon’s new homes and buildings. Board members are citizen volunteers representing different construction-related industries.

The boards include the Residential and Manufactured Structures Board (RMSB) focused on low-rise residential dwellings and the Building Codes Structures Board (BCSB) which focuses on commercial buildings. Members are appointed by the governor and subject to confirmation by the Senate. The RMSB consists of 11 members with four-year terms. The BCSB consists of 9 members with four-year terms.

Board Service

 Serving on the RMSB and BCSB Advisory Boards is an important role which helps set the direction for how homes and buildings are built in Oregon. In addition to having a voice on key codes decisions, advisory board members interact with construction industry professionals on a range of topics and hear expert testimony on all codes proposals coming before the Advisory Boards. Advisory Board members also interact with State of Oregon Building Codes Division staff.

Historically, the BCD has been reluctant to set codes and standards that will help move Oregon towards creating resilient and climate friendly homes and buildings. With your involvement, that could change.

The Advisory Boards include legislatively mandated representatives from various construction industry specialties:

  • “A Representative of residential building trade subcontractor” (RMSB)
  • “A Contractor specializing in residential structures” (RMSB)
  • “A Contractor specializing in remodeling residential structures” (RMSB)
  • “A Public Member” (RMSB)
  • “A Representative of the building trade” (BCSB)

The state does not provide any specific experience requirements to serve on Building Codes Boards, but applicants should be able to show they have related work experience for the seat they are applying.

Information and Resources

Residential and Manufactured Structures Board (RMSB)

Building Codes Structures Board

General “Become A Board Member” Information 

For more information

Please feel free to reach out with specific questions:

Amy Cortese:  amy@newbuildings.org
Anthony Roy:  aroy@earthadvantage.org

To apply, please visit:

https://www.oregon.gov/gov/admin/SiteAssets/Pages/How_To_Apply/Interest%20Form.pdf

Oregon Tradeswomen’s Summer Night and Weekend Training

Oregon Tradeswomen recognizes the need to provide options to working women to participate in our programs. Many of our Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC) pre-apprentices are not only juggling family demands, but working while attending the program. In fact, many join while employed full time and have to give up employment in order to attend. To help these students achieve their career goals while financially sustaining their families, Oregon Tradeswomen responded by offering a night and weekend TACC class this Summer.

Here are some of the participants’ accomplishments observed so far, thanks to the alternative night and weekend schedule:

  • Two TACC participants work full-time jobs during the day and are committed to graduate while preparing for IBEW’s Electrical Apprenticeship.
  • A third student is working full-time as a teacher aid while caring for a newborn and a toddler while attending TACC.
  • Another participant is able to work part-time, care for her kids, and thanks to the current schedule, her husband can watch the kids in the evenings.
  • We also have a participant who is a full-time mom, and is able to leave her kids with their dad in the evenings so that she can attend classes.

Oregon Tradeswomen is able to be responsive to jobseeker needs, and shift our programming with the valuable collaboration of industry partners and we will continue to make our program more accessible. Look for additional evening and weekend classes in 2022!

Graduate Success Story: Jamie Jarrett

In 2019, Jamie Jarrett came to Oregon Tradeswomen with a tenacious drive to change her life. Having grown up in a cycle of poverty without a strong support system, Jamie found herself battling drug addiction and had to do whatever she could to make ends meet to survive. From working in a strip club, to managing a fast-food kitchen, the opportunities available to her did not provide the long-term stability she needed to live a happy, healthy life.

Despite the barriers she faced, Jamie’s determination to overcome adversity was a key asset as she evaluated what she needed to do to secure a bright future for herself. She originally found out about Oregon Tradeswomen (OTW) from her fiancé, a union carpenter who had worked with an OTW graduate in the field. It wasn’t until a miserable day at work that Jamie seriously considered pursuing a career in construction. With fire in her belly, Jamie did everything she could to get involved with Oregon Tradeswomen, attending events, social hours, and information sessions until she was selected for the Fall Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class of 2019.

Joining this training cohort offered Jamie a positive community of women that fostered friendliness and support. Jamie told us, “I have never experienced an environment like this before where women were helping each other instead of fighting to get ahead.” This support system did not end with the 8-week program. Being the only woman on a job-site can sometimes be isolating, but having a network of women who are going through similar experiences is a truly invaluable resource.

When Jamie finished her 8 weeks of pre-apprenticeship training, she set her sights on the electrical trade because of her enjoyment of science and math. Jamie also got involved with various Facebook groups for electrical apprentices and female electricians to get a better idea of what the work would be like. When she saw photos of huge substations and carefully bent conduit, her excitement for the trade intensified. “If I was to go and learn something new, I knew I wanted to bend pipe and make an electrical room look like what I saw online. There is something aesthetically pleasing about electrical work,” Jamie explained.

Jamie is now a 4th term electrical apprentice at the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center where she now goes to work every day looking forward to learning new things and putting them in practice. Not only does she love her job, but she has broken through the cycle of poverty. Jamie shared with us that, “In the trades, I know I can be on my own and be okay. I know I have food to eat every day, I have an apartment to go home to every night, and I have health insurance for the first time in my entire life.” The newfound security and comfort in her life, both financially and mentally, also allows her to take time off to visit places she has always wanted to see. She also stresses that “I never thought five years ago that I would be here and working towards a career that is good for my whole life, that nobody can take away from me. No matter what I go through in my life, I will always have this.”

When we asked Jamie about what motivates her to keep going on the hard days, she said that the progress she has made since she took her first steps at Oregon Tradeswomen just about two years ago is what inspires her. In those two years, her life took a total 180 degrees all on her own merit. “I have achieved so much,” Jamie says. “So far I have completed three terms of schooling and have gotten straight A’s. The fact that I want to go to school and learn feels so good!” Jamie proved to herself that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to and that is a power in of itself.
Jamie’s optimism about the future is undeniable. Her goal is to give back to the next generation of tradeswomen by becoming an instructor at the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center, but for the time being she is truly enjoying her day-to-day as an electrician. Her love of the work and the stability it affords prompts Jamie to help other women navigate to a career in the trades. She is open about her own journey and how getting involved with Oregon Tradeswomen changed her life. When asked why someone should support Oregon Tradeswomen, she says, “They give chances to people that might not ever have had any. If Oregon Tradeswomen didn’t take a chance on me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Its stories like Jamie’s that keeps our mission moving forwards. When we hear Jamie say, “my biggest achievement is learning who I am supposed to be,” and that “being in the construction world has been that piece that I was missing,” we know we are making a concrete impact on people’s lives. Everyone deserves to have a career that they love, and everyone deserves to have a prevailing wage with generous benefits.

Oregon Tradeswomen is proud to be a part of Jamie’s success story, but it was her perseverance that got her to where she is today.

Workforce Partner Spotlight: Autodesk

Aerial view of the Autodesk offices in Portland, Oregon.

Oregon Tradeswomen is always grateful to our Workforce Partners for their commitment to a diverse and equitable workforce. When we moved in to our new office space in the Rockwood neighborhood, complete with a workshop for our pre-apprenticeship training program, Autodesk helped us out with a donation including AutoCAD 360 software to help us take our hands-on training to the next level. Autodesk is changing how the world is designed and made. Their technology spans architecture, engineering, construction, product design, manufacturing, media, and entertainment, empowering innovators everywhere to solve challenges big and small. From greener buildings to smarter products to mesmerizing blockbusters, Autodesk software helps their customers to design and make a better world for all.

When we asked Autodesk about why they support Oregon Tradeswomen, they shared, “Autodesk is incredibly proud to support Oregon Tradeswomen and share in its mission to advance change within the industry, for both our current and next generation of trade workers. Their important work challenges the traditionally male-dominated narrative of the industry, replacing it with one that empowers underrepresented populations and celebrates gender inclusivity, economic independence and wage equality for all. It’s an especially critical undertaking as our society continues to contend with a significant skilled and technical labor shortage. Our Autodesk team is honored to work hand-in-hand with such a purpose-driven organization to help make inroads to the industry.”

Thank you Autodesk for supporting the learning and growth of the next generation of tradeswomen!

2021 Summer Tool and Gear Swap

For the first time since we moved in to our new office in the Rockwood neighborhood, we opened our doors to the community this August for our Summer Tool and Gear Swap!

Oregon Tradeswomen continues the tradition of these Tool and Gear Swaps becausebuilding up an arsenal of tools at the beginning of a career in the construction trades can cost hundreds of dollars. This event offers a way for tradeswomen to gather tools they need for free, and it brings our tradesworker community and our new Rockwood community together!

We were thrilled to see such an enthusiastic turnout of graduates and friends of the organization as well as some new friendly faces! It was heartening to witness connections being made and information shared over the selection of tools. One Oregon Tradeswomen graduate even came to the event to help re-build another graduate’s tool library after their equipment was stolen from their car. Whenever our network of tradesworkers come together, it is clear that the bonds that are made under our roof are long-lasting!

We cannot forget to thank our wonderful business partners Neil Kelly, Knife River, and Milwaukee Tool who provided eager volunteers to help us run the event! We are so grateful for our partners’ willingness to pitch in and make this event run smoothly!

Now that the Tool and Gear Swap is over, we are filled with elation at the strength of our community and absolutely cannot wait to spend more time with you all! Your next opportunity to join the Oregon Tradeswomen community is every third Wednesday of the month at our virtual Social Hours and this October at Build With Us! Oregon Tradeswomen’s Blue Collar Gala! We hope to see you there!

Build Back Better: A visit from U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh with Oregon Tradeswomen graduate Leslie Cotton

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh with Oregon Tradeswomen graduate Leslie Cotton

On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh visited Oregon and came to the UA Local 290 Springfield Training Center to talk about the Biden administration’s #BuildBackBetter plan and the goal of building an inclusive, worker-centered economy.

Secretary Walsh was joined by Representative Peter DeFazio, Oregon Labor Commissioner, Val Hoyle, and other labor leaders around the state. Together, they discussed the pending infrastructure bill and how the Biden administration plans to invest in apprenticeship and advancements for workforce equity.

The same day, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan physical infrastructure bill including substantive investments in roads, bridges, rail, transit, and utilities. The amendment for workforce equity which would increase access for women and people of color on infrastructure construction jobs was not included in the final bill.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle listens to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh

Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle listens to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh

Our tradeswomen community will continue to work for equitable access and opportunities for women and people of color in the construction industry and is so appreciative of the Labor Secretary’s visit to advocate for registered apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and infrastructure investments to benefit all workers. When asked by Oregon Tradeswomen’s Executive Director, Kelly Kupcak, about his leadership at the U.S. Department of Labor, he outlined a comprehensive commitment to all workers, migrants, women, disabled persons, veterans, and BIPOC. He concluded by saying “Equity is in my DNA”.

Oregon Tradeswomen is grateful for Secretary Walsh’s leadership and his dedication to equity and fighting for worker dignity on the front lines.

Workforce Partner Spotlight: Streimer Sheet Metal

When Oregon Tradeswomen’s founders came together, the idea of women working in the construction trades was a radical idea. While we are still on the road to a construction workforce with an equal representation of women and men on the job-site, the face of the construction industry is definitely changing.

Much of this shift is a result of the commitment of Oregon Tradeswomen’s Workforce Partners who empower our organization to continue giving women the tools to succeed and who embrace our mission to increase women’s participation on job sites across our region. We are grateful to Workforce Partners like Streimer Sheet Metal who have made an active effort to hire women, including a number of Oregon Tradeswomen graduates.

We spoke with Streimer Sheet Metal’s HR Manager, Teresa Bergan, about why they support Oregon Tradeswomen as a Workforce Partner. Teresa explained, “Streimer supports Oregon Tradeswomen because learning a trade is an educational pathway to a great career choice that raises women above the everyday career. Streimer supports and partners with Oregon Tradeswomen to train women who are looking for a career in the sheet metal craft. Those graduates become employees that become a voice and an ambassador of Streimers’ dedication to excellence and professionalism in the construction industry.”

Oregon Tradeswomen is grateful for Streimer’s commitment to the tradeswomen movement, and their positive impact on the industry. We invite you to meet some of the incredible tradeswomen on their team:

Meet the Women of Streimer Sheet Metal:

 

Support for Katie Kutcha’s Son

Oregon Tradeswomen is saddened at the loss of our sister Katie Kuchta. Katie was a 2015 OTW TACC graduate, 2017 Woman on the Rise Award Winner, and an incredibly positive force in the Laborer’s family. She will be missed dearly by so many.

Many in our community asked how to best provide support to Katie’s family. Oregon Tradeswomen collected donations to benefit Katie’s son, Stephen, who dreams of going to the Northwest Lineman’s College in Meridian, Idaho.

The direct campaigns have closed, however, if you wish to make a contribution, please contact us.

Liz “Knuckles” Nichols the Cement Mason

Liz Nichols grew up in Massachusetts, and like so many teenagers, she received the clear message that her next step after high school was to go to college and get a degree.

Liz started college in 2002 and achieving that college degree was no easy feat. College itself was challenging for Liz. She told us, “I was just a mediocre student. I had ADD and a learning disability and getting through college was a struggle.”

But Liz persevered and in 2006, earned her bachelor’s degree in English.

The next steps were not so clear, but the next challenge was in front of her: finding living wage work, paying off college debt, and building her future.

Liz shared that she “had a bit of a crisis of confidence. I got the degree, but it was still a struggle to earn a living wage.” Liz added, “After going through college telling myself, ‘just get through this, and everything will be okay…’ it did a number on my self-esteem because I wasn’t okay – it was still a struggle to earn a living wage.”

Liz moved to Portland and found employment working gardening and landscaping jobs in the spring, summer, and fall, and working at coffee shops in the winter. Her situation was unfortunately common – Liz had her college degree, but was in debt, earning low wages, and receiving no health or retirement benefits at either job.

While working the landscaping jobs, Liz discovered she really enjoyed working outdoors and doing physical work, and it was during a conversation with a customer at the coffee shop in the winter of 2013, when Liz made the connection that she could have the best of both worlds with a career in the trades: living wages and a physical job, not behind a desk. “One day while chatting with an IBEW electrician, I learned about Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship program. I applied immediately. Liz continued working as a barista until class started. It was meant to be, as Liz almost didn’t get into that class. She said, “I was on the waiting list and lucky for me, someone dropped out!”

Liz loved Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship class. “I knew immediately I wanted to go the union route.” Liz was drawn to the debt-free career training, the pay, healthcare, retirement benefits, and stability.

Liz said she started TACC with a bit of ’imposter syndrome’, or “who am I to think I can go down this path?” But what she heard from Oregon Tradeswomen instructors throughout the class: “You’re here because you don’t have experience. You will get on the job training and that’s okay – that’s expected.”

Liz started a one-week class with the Cement Masons right after graduating from TACC. On Wednesday after class, Liz was asked to stay late, where she was offered entry into the apprenticeship program starting the following week! She called Oregon Tradeswomen immediately, very excited and slightly unsure. Liz LOVED the work, but wasn’t completely sure she should go for it so quickly? She trusted her instinct and joined Cement Masons Local 555 and is so happy she did.

“My Union has been wonderful.” Partway through her apprenticeship, her father-in-law was diagnosed with a terminal illness and Liz and her husband packed up their home in Portland within a week, were moving back to Massachusetts. “It was intense but being in a union saved me!” Liz had virtually no gap in her apprenticeship training – she picked up the next week after arriving in Boston. “There were fewer women on jobsites when I was working in Boston, but I was glad to be able to continue my apprenticeship training without missing a beat”. When she moved back to Portland, it was seamless again.

During much of her last year of apprenticeship, Liz was pregnant, and she worked up to 3 weeks before her due date working concrete! Four months later, Liz was ready to take her journeyman exam. On the scheduled day, she couldn’t secure childcare and brought her young son with her and her instructor and Business Manager babysat while Liz took her journeyman exam! Liz reflected warmly on that day and said, “I felt very supported throughout my apprenticeship there.”

When we asked about any challenges Liz had along the way, Liz shared that most of her male coworkers have been supportive, “there were a few who tried to talk me out of the trade, encouraging me to go to an ‘easier trade’ – to go push a broom or become a flagger.”

Liz also shared that there are not yet any formal structures in place for parental leave – or nursing mothers. “I nursed for 20 months, but there were no facilities on the jobsite, so I was discreetly pumping and dumping breast-milk into a porta-potty. I was still able to nurse son though.”

Today, Liz is loving her work as a journeyman cement mason, and a recent competitor on the CBS television show Tough as Nails! Oregon Tradeswomen was contacted last year by the show’s producers, and we shared the information on social media. Liz told us, “I saw the post on Instagram and went to the website. I filled out the form and sent photos of myself on the job. A few weeks later, I was contacted to participate on the show in LA!”

Liz couldn’t share much about the show, as it was airing at the time of this interview, but she did share that one of the things she loved most was seeing the other undeniably amazing women. “It makes me so happy that the show offers such a physical representation of strong women – increasing visibility in places where there aren’t as many women doing physical work.”

Liz loves the work she does! She told us: “Concrete is like alchemy! It’s challenging work that’s different everyday and I love that you get a final product so immediately. Every time I leave the job site there is something new there that will probably outlast me.”