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
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!
Just before the economy took a turn for the worse in 2009, Echo Dahl moved to Portland from Arizona, to put her bachelor’s degree in Architecture to work. Unfortunately, what she encountered was a lay-off followed by five years of searching for work. While unsuccessful in finding a job, she was determined to make it on her own, and as a way to make ends meet, she bartended part time and was able to persist by living off the tip money she earned as well as some public assistance.
Echo first heard about OTI at a job fair she attended but the timing was not right because she had just given birth to her son, Onyx. She never lost the thought of a career in the trades, though, and Echo returned to OTI a couple years later – after she made the decision to pursue a career as a carpenter. She was hopeful that she would make more money than the $37,000 per year she was once able to earn in architecture.
After graduating from OTI’s Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class in 2013, Echo knew she would need a car in order to get to and from job sites, she made the somewhat difficult decision to give up her apartment and move in with her mother so she could use her damage deposit and tax return to buy a car.
“OTI was instrumental in my new career”
Echo now works as a project engineer for Pavillion Construction. She supports the project manager and superintendent on job sites. She was able to reach her goal of earning $60,000 a year just four years after starting OTI’s pre-apprenticeship class. When asked how OTI has helped her get to where she is today she said, “OTI was instrumental in my new career. I worked as an architecture intern and never knew my current position existed until OTI sent me on my first interview. This role essentially mirrors my old position with the (architecture) firm but it’s MUCH more fun. I get to be on site, see the construction happen, and be involved. And it PAYS better!!”
Echo was totally inspired by the trainers at OTI and her fellow tradeswomen during the TAC program. When asked what advice she would have for other women who are considering work in the trades, she said, “I tell anyone who will listen that the trades are a much smarter route than college. My college education helped me get where I am today, but if I had pursued carpentry out of high school, I could have reached the same goal while making much more money along the way and without the 50k in debt that will forever be my albatross.”
“I went from an unemployed single mom living in an apartment just barely making it to a successful mom with a new house and a great job. I’ve finally reached all my big goals after many years of struggling. OTI made that happen.”
Echo’s future career aspirations include becoming a superintendent or project manager. She is thankful for finding OTI during a time in her life when she was searching for a new path. In her own words, “I went from an unemployed single mom living in an apartment just barely making it to a successful mom with a new house and a great job. I’ve finally reached all my big goals after many years of struggling. OTI made that happen.”
AJ Banuelos is a woman on a mission: She is determined to succeed both as a worker and as a mother, and is forth-coming on both topics. She laid out her life plan while tending her two sons one sunny May afternoon.
Growing up along the West Coast, from Seattle to Southern California, AJ finally settled in Portland. She graduated from high school and took some college courses, despite having her first child, a special-needs daughter, at age 18. Her early career involved office and clerical work, but AJ descends from a long line of union-oriented construction workers, “Construction chose me,” she says. She soon recognized that union construction work pays from 2 to 3 times more than clerical. She had gotten as far as certifying and working as a flagger – hazardous work – before she began training at Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. in January 2011, subsequently achieving union apprenticeship.
AJ took up the family trade but with a twist. Everyone else in the family entered building construction; AJ is a member of Laborer’s International Union of North America, Local 320-Roadway and Highway. She moves earth on rail crews, grading and elevating rail. Why? “Because roads and bridges nearly always need repair and building, whereas building construction stops and starts.” The only downside she sees is weather. Despite the fact that AJ is not working currently she has a positive view both of the path she’s chosen and of her future.
Of her decision to apply to OTI and the outcome, she can summarize it in one word: “Awesome!” Her class of 42 was record-sized. The women both challenged and assisted each other and many of them still communicate. AJ continues to volunteer with OTI because she likes the idea of women helping women.
AJ is rightly proud of what she’s learned on the job: Her favorite story from the rail crew shows a lot of ambition. She said she noticed that the foreman would be holding tools, so she would say to him, “you shouldn’t be doing the work.” Then he would teach her how to use that tool. She gained a lot of training through observation. Nonetheless, her proudest work-related accomplishment is becoming a union member.
Family life sounds hectic but organized. On work days she gets herself and the kids ready to go, takes them to school/care and herself to work, always 20 minutes early. Her shift was 7:00 am to 3:30 pm. After work she picks them all up for scouts, football, church, union meetings, and OTI meetings, depending on the night. She is very particular about her children’s activities and television viewing habits, making decisions that will help them grow in mind and body.
She looks to the future: AJ hopes to become a union delegate and attend regional and national conferences. To those who scoff at the idea of women in trades she says, “You haven’t met US!” To other women she advises, “Consider all options; don’t rule out anything.”
AJ’s two year old gets fussy and she scoops him up and pops a berry she’s prepared into his mouth, never missing a beat. “I want my children to be happy and successful,” she says, “to do what their hearts desire and to be satisfied with their decisions.” They surely will be if they follow their mother’s advice: Know the difference between need and want. Don’t want what you can’t have; don’t do something just because you want to; don’t go anywhere just because you want to. Be happy with what you get by working for your goals. Sounds like a recipe for success.