Women have made few inroads in landing good construction jobs


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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.”



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