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!
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!
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:
As it happens with many long-range plans, a day once so far away, is suddenly upon us. Oregon Tradeswomen’s CEO and lauded labor activist, Madelyn Elder, is retiring in June!
Madelyn came to Oregon Tradeswomen with firsthand experience of what it’s like to be female in a male dominated industry. She worked for more than 20 years in both Seattle and Portland as a cable splicer before shifting her work to focus on worker justice and financial management. Madelyn served as president of the Communications Workers of America (CW) local 7901 for 15 years. During this time, she also earned her post baccalaureate degree in accounting.
Madelyn retired from CWA in 2014 and joined Oregon Tradeswomen full time as our first Chief Financial Officer. Madelyn’s work and leadership has been invaluable to our growth as an organization, and living our work and mission to ensure equity and dignity in the workplace.
Madelyn’s team will miss her leadership, sass, and joyful laughter. We know she will continue showing up and speaking out for worker justice.
We wish Madelyn all the best in retirement and know that while she will get to spend time with friends, family, and go on many birding adventures, she will continue to raise hell.! Much love to and best wishes to our sister.
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!
Tradeswomen Build Nations (TWBN) is the largest annual gathering of tradeswomen from all around the world to connect, network, and be inspired to take the next steps in their careers and in their Unions.
The 2021 event happens October 1 – 3 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The North American Building Trades Union will make an official announcement in July about how TWBN will happen this year – in person or online.
Regardless of whether TWBN is virtual or in person, don’t hesitate to begin discussions with your local leaders about participating in the conference! Here are links to important resources to help in the process:
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!”
The National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues recently announced that Leah Rambo is now serving as the new Co-Chair of the National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s issues.
Leah began her career as a sheet metal worker in 1988 and after working 10 years in the field, she was appointed as a full-time instructor, becoming the first woman to hold this position. She continues to hold the position of Director of Training for SMART Local 28, where her primary responsibility is training Local 28’s 521 apprentices and 2,300 Journey and Light Commercial workers!
Leah currently serves on the New York City Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education Advisory Council and Gender Equity Committee and is the Co-Chair of the NYC Coalition for Women in Construction. Leah holds a BA in Labor Education and several trade certifications.
To learn more about Leah Rambo and her journey into the trades, watch this video interview with Leah published last year!
In her creative nonfiction collection Blockhead, Grace Covill-Grennan documents her experiences working as a carpenter in the building trades, exploring the intersection of issues of gender, class, craft, and labor and how it all plays out on the job site. She uses hybrid-genre pieces—vignettes, character sketches, memories, and poetry—while attending to the issues of gender and class providing constant discomfort.
Grace will be in Portland for the book release event at Black Hat Books!
November 15, 2019
Black Hat Books
2831 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
Portland OR 97212
You may also purchase your copy of her handmade and numbered book from Another New Calligraphy.