Did you know that women can, and do, work in the trades while pregnant? When we caught up with Liz Nichols after her appearance on CBS’s Tough as Nails skilled-trades competition, the Oregon Tradeswomen graduate and new Business Agent with Cement Masons Local 555 generously shared her experience about being pregnant on the jobsite!
Liz welcomed her second child into the world last September, but when Liz was pregnant with her first child as an apprentice, the lack of resources to guide her through the journey was intimidating. The first doctor she met gave her the unsettling news that she shouldn’t plan on working after the first half of her pregnancy. When Liz connected with a nurse midwife for a second opinion, she was assured she could continue working longer into her pregnancy. Having been acclimated to the physical labor of being a cement mason, Liz learned it was safe to stay at her current activity level, but to be sure to listen to her body. So, Liz did just that and showed up to do cement-work on the jobsite every day up until three weeks before her due date!
Months after she was back at work, Liz was on a job with another tradeswoman who was going through her first pregnancy. Having just forged her own path as a pregnant tradesworker, Liz was able to share the valuable tips and tricks she learned from being pregnant with her first-born. Being able to share her experiences was really rewarding, and being the guide she didn’t have during her first pregnancy was a significant for Liz. She told us she is excited for the day these these narratives become normalized.
This Mothers Day, we are delighted to be able to share this story because of how little representation there is for pregnant tradesworkers. Being a woman in construction is already a unique experience, so there are even fewer stories out there about pregnancy in the trades. Even so, something special we see constantly from tradeswomen is an enthusiasm to support and mentor fellow tradeswomen.
Fortunately, more unions and employers are stepping up to offer parental benefits to their workers. As more women than ever are starting careers in the trades, we anticipate increased visibility and acceptance for tradeswomen who choose to work while expecting a new addition to the family.
As for Liz? She continues to be a support system for many tradeswomen who reach out to her for advice on social media, doing her part to be the change for tradeswomen across the country! And somehow, Liz also manages to find time to explore cement work in a creative way on a small scale. Through her side-hustle, Gray Day Goods, she is a regular donor to Oregon Tradeswomen’s Build With Us! Auction. You can check out Liz’s Cement artwork on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/GrayDayGoods
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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 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.”
Being a Mom and a Tradeswoman have more in common than you might think: both jobs are hard work and require patience and commitment.
A construction job site can be a messy place where you have to stay focused even though you’re surrounded by loud noises and distractions. Being a parent means being responsible for showing up on time for appointments, or adjusting to early mornings, similar to the schedule of a construction worker. Raising a child also requires constant attention – which is also a necessary skill when working on a jobsite. Without attention to the details, safety concerns arise and mistakes are made, costing crucial time and money for the project.
Beyond the shared skillsets of working in the trades and being a Mom, the benefits offered by construction careers are just what you need to support a family. Tradesworkers earn high wages, have insurance, retirement plans, pensions, and other benefits – resources that make having a family a little bit easier.
Anjanet “AJ” Banuelos Bolanos, Oregon Tradeswomen graduate, Field Representative at LiUNA Local 737, and mother of three shared with us, “The most extraordinary moment for me was when I closed on my first home by myself. I was only in the union for 3.5 years. No cosigner, no spouse, just my name on the mortgage. I went from sharing a bunk bed with my three kids in my mom’s spare bedroom to homeownership.”
Kara McCrossen, another Oregon Tradeswomen graduate and Ironworker mom shared with us: “The best thing about being a tradeswoman mom is… I’m providing a quality life for my boys and teaching them to appreciate strong women.”
Ultimately, these two jobs are hard work, but the foundation of being a successful tradesperson or mom is love. When things go wrong or you are just exhausted from a long day, love keeps you going and makes the hard days worth it. Beyond the challenges, being a Mom and a Tradeswoman is empowering, exhilarating, and provides a sense of accomplishment from seeing the awesome results of your hard work – whether it’s the bridge you helped build or the child you’re raising.
To all the tradeswoman moms out there, know that you are a superhero. To all the tradeswomen who want to be moms or moms who want to start a career in the trades, know that you can do both. Just remember not to give up on your dreams, and know that Oregon Tradeswomen has your back!
Happy Mothers Day!
Ruby grew up in Boulder Colorado and has been around carpentry most of her life. Her Dad is a finish carpenter, but until recently, she never thought about it as an option for herself.
Ruby moved to Portland in 2010 for college – taking a year to establish residency. After more than 7 years in and out of college and working full time, being broke, and stressed out, Ruby came to a turning point.
She was working in the lumber department of Home Depot, the first woman to work there, and struggling to juggle the demands of a full time job and going to school full time and studying. One afternoon, a customer noticed Ruby’s hard work and hustle. The customer said, “Hey, you work really hard and we need people like you in the trades. My union sponsors this organization, Oregon Tradeswomen. You should check them out.”
Ruby looked into our programs and the timing was perfect. After applying and getting accepted into Oregon Tradeswomen’s Summer 2018 Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC), she was laid off from her job in the lumber yard, but pursued our training program anyway. “It was an incredible struggle at that time. I lost my health insurance, and my ability to access needed care and medication. I was in a dysfunctional housing situation, too. It was a really huge milestone for me to graduate. My whole family was there at graduation which was really meaningful for me, and the whole experience has truly been life changing.”
Wanting to go into the Ironworkers apprenticeship, Ruby put in her application and went to work at Vigor as a temporary employee. It wasn’t long before she heard back from the Ironworkers. She was accepted, went through orientation and started out as a rod buster. “It was the most incredibly difficult work I have ever done or will ever do.”
Ruby wasn’t sure this was a good fit for her, but she isn’t the type to just show up and quit, so she kept doing the hard work “More than 9 months into my apprenticeship, I was either carrying a heavy load on one shoulder or stooped over tying rod all day. When I realized this wasn’t going to be a long term fit for me, and that I needed a change, I started exploring residential carpentry.”
After doing some research, Ruby submitted a few applications with local companies, and in a couple of months, she got an offer. This was a turning point for Ruby in her career path. She was hired on by Green Gables Design and Restoration as a laborer two years ago. “I took a pay cut, but it was okay, because I knew it was the place I wanted to be. My first week with the company, I thought they were playing a trick on me because the people were so nice, respectful, and easy to work with. The culture was relaxed, friendly, and positive.” The teamwork oriented crew helped her feel excited to learn.
And learning is one of the things Ruby loves most about her career. “I love that I am constantly being asked by the work to use my brain and my body in creative ways. There is always something to learn, something new, even if I’m digging a hole, there some unexpected thing I learn. I also appreciate that this is viewed as an asset by the people I’m working with.”
When we asked Ruby to share something that would surprise us, she shared, “I am very business-like when I get to work, and in layers and rain gear, we all look the same. People are probably surprised when I take my gloves off. I like to paint my nails – I’m femme.”
When asked to reflect back on her time in the class, Ruby said:
“I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience! Oregon Tradeswomen allowed me to get out of the ‘poverty track’ – the jobs available to me where I could just barely scrape by. Graduating from OTW got me out of that cycle of living paycheck to paycheck. But it wasn’t easy! It was a hard class. OTW is not kidding around. It’s a serious program. But it paid off. It’s a stepping stone or a gateway to a different level of prosperity!”