Women have made few inroads in landing good construction jobs

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

NEW YORK — Jan­ice Moreno grad­u­ated from col­lege with a de­gree in English lit­er­a­ture, but never landed a job pay­ing more than $12 an hour. Now, at 36, she’s back in the class­room — in safety glasses and a T-shirt — learn­ing how to be a car­pen­ter.

“I an­tic­i­pate a lot of hard work,” she said amid in­struc­tion in saw­ing tech­niques. “I be­lieve it’s go­ing to pay off.”

If Ms. Moreno’s six-week train­ing pro­gram in New York City leads to a full-time job, she’ll have bucked long odds. On this La­bor Day week­end, pon­der the lat­est fed­eral data: About 7.1 mil­lion Amer­i­cans were em­ployed in con­struc­tion-re­lated oc­cu­pa­tions last year — and only 2.6 per­cent were women.

That per­cent­age has scarcely budged since the 1970s, while women have made gains since then in other fields. Even in fire­fighting — where they his­tor­i­cally were un­wel­come — women com­prise a greater share of the work­force at 3.5 per­cent.

Why the low num­bers, in an in­dus­try abound­ing with high-pay­ing jobs that don’t re­quire a col­lege de­gree? Rea­sons in­clude a dearth of re­cruit­ment ef­forts for women and ste­reo­types that con­struc­tion work doesn’t suit them.

Another fac­tor, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Na­tional Women’s Law Center, is per­va­sive den­i­gra­tion and sex­ual ha­rass­ment at work sites.

“It’s not sur­pris­ing that the con­struc­tion trades are some­times called ‘the in­dus­try that time for­got,’” said Fatima Goss Graves, the cen­ter’s vice pres­i­dent for ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment. “It’s time for this in­dus­try to en­ter the mod­ern era — to ex­pand ap­pren­tice­ships and train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for women, hire qual­i­fied fe­male work­ers and en­force a zero tol­er­ance pol­icy against sex­ual ha­rass­ment.”

Ef­forts to ac­com­plish those goals are more ad­vanced in New York than in many parts of the coun­try, with pledges by unions, em­ploy­ers and city of­fi­cials to boost women’s share of con­struc­tion jobs. One key player is Non­tra­di­tional Em­ploy­ment for Women, a non­profit which for three de­cades has been of­fer­ing train­ing pro­grams such as the one taken by Jan­ice Moreno.

Known as NEW, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has ar­range­ments with sev­eral unions to take women di­rectly into their multi­year ap­pren­tice­ships — at a start­ing wage of around $17, plus ben­e­fits — once they com­plete the train­ing. After four or five years, they can at­tain jour­ney­man sta­tus, with hourly pay of $40 or more.

Kath­leen Cul­hane, NEW’s in­terim pres­i­dent, said more than 1,000 grad­u­ates of the pro­gram have ob­tained ap­pren­tice­ships since 2005, and women now com­prise 12 to 15 per­cent of the ap­pren­tices with lead­ing la­bor­ers’ and car­pen­ters’ unions in the city.

Thanks to sup­port from foun­da­tions, em­ploy­ers and gov­ern­ment con­tracts, NEW cov­ers all costs for women tak­ing its pro­grams, in­clud­ing tran­sit fares to and from the of­fices in Man­hat­tan. Stu­dents must have high school or GED di­plo­mas and be able to carry 50-pound loads.

On a re­cent class day, Ms. Moreno and about 20 other stu­dents were learn­ing car­pen­try tech­niques from 67-year-old Howie Rotz, who’s been teach­ing since re­tir­ing eight years ago from a car­pen­try ca­reer.

“Women have a good work ethic,” he said. “They’re very se­ri­ous.”

Another in­struc­tor, Kath­leen Klohe, worked as a roofer and a union­ized car­pen­ter be­fore join­ing NEW af­ter the re­ces­sion hit in 2008.

“Did I come across sex dis­crim­i­na­tion? Once or twice,” she said. “A few times, I got the sense that I was not wanted, but I kept on. I knew what I was do­ing.”

She en­cour­ages her stu­dents’ in­ter­est in con­struc­tion, while ad­vis­ing that it re­quires “a cer­tain men­tal strength.”

Beyond learn­ing job skills, NEW stu­dents do role-play­ing to get ready for chal­lenges in deal­ing with fu­ture co-work­ers. Among the top­ics, Ms. Moreno said, is how to dis­tin­guish be­tween fla­grant sex­ual ha­rass­ment that should be re­ported, as op­posed to less egre­gious be­hav­ior that per­haps should be en­dured.

“They want us to be pre­pared for the pos­si­bil­ity we won’t be liked, or we’ll be the only woman on the job,” Ms. Moreno said. “If you com­plain too quickly, your job can be at risk.”

One of NEW’s union part­ners is La­bor­ers Lo­cal 79. Its busi­ness man­ager, Mike Pro­haska, said the lo­cal had about 220 women at last count — 3.1 per­cent of the roughly 7,000 ac­tive mem­bers. Of its cur­rent ap­pren­tices, about 12 per­cent are women.

“The women by and large are very well ac­cepted,” Mr. Pro­haska said. “To sur­vive, they have to toe the line... As long as they’re real work­ers, no­body minds hav­ing them.”

At the high­est level, the man­age­ment side of the con­struc­tion in­dus­try in­sists it would wel­come more women.

“Most of our mem­bers are des­per­ate to hire peo­ple,” said Brian Tur­mail, pub­lic af­fairs di­rec­tor for the As­so­ci­ated Gen­eral Con­trac­tors of Amer­ica. “They’re look­ing for any can­di­date who’s qual­i­fied to come and join the team — women, mi­nor­i­ties, vet­er­ans.”

Mr. Tur­mail sug­gested that most women aren’t tempted by con­struc­tion ca­reers, while those who are in­ter­ested might be ham­pered by a na­tion­wide cut­back in school-based vo­ca­tional pro­grams.

“It’s not a ques­tion of folks not want­ing women — it’s women not want­ing to work in con­struc­tion,” he said. “We would love to see the num­bers change. It’s the right thing to do and we re­ally need the peo­ple.”


You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here