Future Ready Oregon: A Win for Workforce Equity

In a tremendous win for workforce training equity, Governor Kate Brown signed the Future Ready Oregon bill into law. Future Ready Oregon is a blueprint for change and an opportunity to build an economy in Oregon that supports all workers in achieving their dreams and building a more prosperous future.

Funding from this bill will create new workforce development programs and expand existing programs in healthcare, technology, manufacturing, and other high-demand sectors while reducing barriers to employment. This investment package will specifically support community college Career Pathways programs, local Workforce Boards, and apprenticeship programs as they expand their capacity to provide free career education and support services to more Oregonians. Funding will also strengthen pre-apprenticeship like Oregon Tradeswomen’s Pathways to Success program that demonstrates strong outcomes for women in construction. Oregon Tradeswomen program graduates start their careers making an average wage of $22.81 per hour.

In addition to supporting and expanding current workforce development programs, Future Ready Oregon encourages innovation by providing Workforce Ready Grants to fund education and training programs in industries lacking accessible career pathways. With these programs, there is a renewed commitment to continuous improvement and accountability by tracking data to measure success outcomes for underserved populations.

Oregon’s Racial Justice Council and the Governor’s Workforce Workgroup helped guide this policy through a lens focused on equity to ensure minority groups like women and people of color are not left out of economic recovery. Oregon Tradeswomen’s Executive Director, Kelly Kupcak, served on the Governor’s Workforce Workgroup and contributed to the proposal which includes the goal of serving at least 50% women through these new and existing programs.

Future Ready Oregon makes much-needed new investments in the programs that help workers overcome barriers to pursuing careers providing economic security through good wages, health insurance, and retirement benefits. These investments will provide resources to offset the costs of support services such as childcare, transportation, and housing stabilization. When quality training is coupled with direct support, workers are successful in securing employment, businesses can meet their labor demands with a qualified workforce, and our communities have a shared prosperity model that works for everyone.

Tradeswomen Advocate Leslie Cotton Pushes for Equity

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

The first step to affecting change is by raising awareness: nothing can change if people don’t know about the issues! The tradeswomen movement has been around for decades, but with historically low numbers of women in the trades, it has been an uphill battle to gain visibility of this mission with our leaders, but times are changing.

The tradeswomen movement is more than just changing the idea that women can work in construction. It’s about ensuring jobsites are welcoming to women, creating debt-free pathways to employment, and reducing barriers to accessing these careers such as affordable childcare or reliable transportation. While Oregon Tradeswomen has been helping women find success in the trades since 1989, we need the awareness and support of our leaders to set up better systems to continue training and retaining diverse, skilled workers in the face of a huge labor shortage.

The Biden Administration passed the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill giving long-overdue funding to repair, rebuild, and improve upon the United States’ aging infrastructure. In addition to the roads and bridges associated with infrastructure, these funds will invest in the workers needed to achieve these goals. This means expanding apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship training, addressing workplace harassment and discrimination, and ensuring women and people of color are included in this monumental overhaul of our nation’s infrastructure.

From the inception of the bill, our leaders have shown their commitment to listening to the voices of tradesworkers to make this plan equitable and effective. As part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Transportation, a virtual Town Hall was held on March 7th, 2022 to hear from a panel of workers around equitable job creation, job quality, labor standards, and workforce development. One of these panelists was Leslie Cotton, an Oregon Tradeswomen graduate and Union plumber with UA Local 290. Leslie has been a vocal advocate for women and people of color in the trades and had the opportunity to speak directly with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on the importance of access to job-training for rural Americans, and safe, healthy workplaces.

Leslie shared her story as the daughter of a single father in rural Washington who struggled, like many others in their small community, to find work that could support his family. Seeing her father work day-and-night to provide for Leslie and her disabled brother drives Leslie’s activism because she knows her family is not alone in this experience. When her father got sick, Leslie was faced with the responsibility to provide for her family and, with the job-training she received at Oregon Tradeswomen, she found the ability to do so in the trades.

Even though Leslie worked hard to build her career, as a woman and a person of color, she faced her share of obstacles. Men on the job would belittle her because they just saw her as a “diversity hire,” and not a fellow trades-worker. She even came to work one day to find a noose on her jobsite, a racist symbol that is now illegal to display in the State of Oregon. These experiences are not uncommon and by speaking up, Leslie is letting our leaders know that more must be done to ensure workplaces free of harassment, hazing, and discrimination.

With the input of trades-workers like Leslie, our movement has more visibility than ever. As a result, we are seeing a new commitment from policy-makers to invest in systems centered in equity. We look forward to following the implementation of the Infrastructure Bill and the impact on our industry. Everyone deserves to work meaningful, family-supporting jobs and we believe we are at the precipice of real change for workers everywhere.

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

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.

The Hardhats with Heart Initiative

Did you know construction workers are disproportionately affected by heart disease? One in four tradesworkers have high blood pressure, some even being unaware of it before its too late! While construction careers are active jobs, some even say a replacement for the gym, that doesn’t automatically grant tradesworkers a path to great health. After speaking with Lily Banning of the American Heart Association (AHA), we learned there are multiple factors for this heightened risk for heart-attack and stroke for tradesworkers.

Hardhats with Heart is an initiative under the AHA that came to existence when a volunteer, Bart Dickson, President and Founder of Cobalt, spoke up about the frankly unacceptable amount of times he had to make calls to the families of his workers to let them know their loved ones had suffered from a heart attack or stroke on the jobsite. After some investigation, it became clear that there is a direct connection between stress and heart health for tradesworkers with the mental and physical demands of the jobs often being exacerbated by unhealthy coping habits such as poor diet, increased use of energy drinks, use of tobacco products, as well as lack of information about the warning signs of cardiovascular disease.

The AHA is also exploring the role of workplace culture as a contributing factor to overall stress levels and heart health. Jobsites where workers experience harassment and discrimination are hostile work environments which not only negatively impact worker safety, productivity, and retention, but also heart health and overall well-being! These impacts are intensified for women and BIPOC tradesworkers, which is why Oregon Tradeswomen focused on jobsite culture change work: we are an affiliate trainer of RISE Up – a bystander intervention model to prevent bullying and harassment, and part of the work around Safe From Hate which calls on all industry stakeholders in the construction industry to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion by clearly addressing jobsite culture.

With help from construction companies and construction-adjacent organizations like Oregon Tradeswomen, the American Heart Association started Hardhats with Heart in 2017 with three local priorities here in Oregon: Increase access and education about healthy diets, help tradesworkers manage chronic disease, and reduce the high risk of heart disease in tradeswomen. Hardhats with Heart is working hard with the local construction industry to provide jobsite trainings on health and stress-management, offering on-site blood pressure screenings, and creating a virtual Resource Hub for tradesworkers and their employers to learn more about the simple ways they can help prevent heart disease and deaths.

This online Resource Hub is dedicated to health information specific to the construction industry with the intent of being free and easily available. Subjects include nutrition, mental well-being, fitness, managing blood pressure, and more! When we asked the AHA’s Community Impact Director, Lily Banning, about what she wanted our audience to know about these online resources, she told us, “Hardhats with Heart is rolling out a series of industry-wide trainings for free! There is a focus on a different topic for every month starting this July, running through December. We encourage all tradesworkers and their employers to join in on the conversation and get their questions answered!”

Hardhats with Heart looks to continue improving its resources and the services they offer to tradesworkers so that the number of lives lost from preventable disease is reduced. To do this, they want to hear from you! What are you doing to take care of your health? Is there a focus on health, both heart specific and holistically, on your jobsite? What can Hardhats with Heart do for you?

If you are passionate about this issue and want to contribute or want to learn more about how to get involved with Hardhats with Heart, please contact Lily Banning at Lily.Banning@heart.org.

As a community, the goal is to provide free and easy to access free resources to help inspire and equip tradesworkers to live longer, healthier lives.

 

2021 DJC Building Diversity Awards

Congratulations to the DJC Building Diversity award honorees who were recognized at the virtual event this month! We were so thrilled to see our Executive Director, Kelly Kupcak, honored for her work in the furthering equity and justice in the construction industry as a part of the Safe From Hate Alliance. We thank the DJC for their commitment to keeping this issue at the forefront of our community and industry, and for shining a light on the good work happening in our community to help make our jobsites more inclusive and respectful for all workers.
It was just a year ago when UA Local 290 apprentice and Oregon Tradeswomen pre-apprenticeship graduate, Leslie Cotton, took brave actions that launched an industry-wide regional initiative. After reporting a noose that had been hung on her jobsite weeks earlier and no action being taken, Leslie took it upon herself to remove the noose and contact Oregon Tradeswomen. These bold actions resulted in industry and community coming together to take the Safe From Hate Pledge and work together to end harassment, hazing, and bulling in our industry.
Big gratitude to the Tradesworker Equity Council and all of the unsung heroes – tradesworkers themselves – who courageously show up each and every day to do this work, often in the face of bigotry, sexism, and racism. We proudly share the DJC’s Building Diversity Award honorees with all of you.
  • GeoEngineers
  • Todd Duwe, Perlo Construction
  • Meyer Memorial Trust headquarters project
  • Mel Jones, JE Dunn Construction
  • Román Hernández, Troutman Pepper
  • Kelly Kupcak, Oregon Tradeswomen Inc.
  • Wenaha Group
  • Portland Building reconstruction project
  • RKm Development
  • The Skanner (lifetime achievement award)
  • Center for Equity & Inclusion
  • Advanced Tribal LLC
  • Hacienda Community Development Corp.
  • Angela Watkins, Minority Construction Group and Constructing Hope
  • NAMC University
  • Safe from Hate initiative

International Worker’s Day 2021

On May 1st, we recognize International Workers Day, also known as May Day, to honor workers and the fight for worker’s rights throughout history. May 1st was chosen to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket Square Massacre in Chicago where, what began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour workday, ended in several dead, dozens of wounded, and an aftermath of social unrest.

This fight continues. The month of May marks the anniversary of a heinous crime of hate on a jobsite in downtown Portland where Oregon Tradeswomen graduate and UA Local 290 member Leslie Cotton found a noose on job-site where she was working as an apprentice plumber. Our industry and our community were outraged, and rightfully so, that this blatant act of hate was put on display for all to see, and to serve as a threat to some of the workers on that jobsite.

Since that awful day, our industry and our community have come together to work to put an end to jobsite harassment, collectively working to make construction jobsites safe from hate.

This week, the House Judiciary Committee of the Oregon Legislature is taking up SB 398, which passed the Senate in March. If it passes in the House, the bill would make it a crime to display a noose. There is much more work to do.

While the construction industry provides excellent careers pathways, family-supporting wages, and benefits such as healthcare and pensions, it also has a long history of harassment, hazing, bullying, and discrimination. This unacceptable behavior is most often directed at women and people of color, and for too long, this hostile culture has been permitted to continue.

Oregon Tradeswomen, along with many other industry stakeholders, have long spoken out against discrimination and hate on jobsites and remain committed to changing toxic jobsite culture. Through our participation in the Safe from Hate Alliance, the Metropolitan Alliance for Workforce Equity (MAWE), and in implementing a jobsite culture program called RISE Up (Respect, Inclusion, Safety and Equity), Oregon Tradeswomen is pushing for long-overdue, needed changes to make workplaces safe for all workers.

Our guiding voice for jobsite culture change is the Tradesworker Equity Council (TEC). The TEC is comprised of a diverse group of committed tradesworkers who are part of the Safe from Hate Alliance Steering Committee. Leslie Cotton, the tradesworker who found the noose on their jobsite last May, is a member of this council. She, along with the other Council members and the many tradesworkers in our industry, are the unsung champions in this work. They show up every day not only to do the heavy and hard work of construction, but the equally difficult work of fighting for worker justice and equity.

Oregon Tradeswomen is immensely grateful to the members of the TEC who are the true heroes of this work. Their candor, courage, and tenacity is helping make our industry safe and respectful for all workers.

Thank you for showing up, speaking out and standing up. We are now, and always, humbled, inspired and honored to work alongside you in fighting for justice and equity.

Mary Ann Adkins-Bahena, IUOE Local 701
Janett Arellano, UA Local 290
Leslie Cotton, UA Local 290
Jessica Hendrickson, Heat & Frost Insulators Local 36
Nickeia Hunter, PNW Carpenters Local 1503
Warren T Hunter Jr., UA Local 290
Miranda Jenniches, IUOE Local 701
Jelani McRae, IBEW Local 48
Alejandra Prado, PNW Carpenters Local 1503