Twenty-four girls studying construction trades attended a bustling Career Fair at the Electrical Worker's Union, Local 103, in Dorcester last week. A session on Becoming a Union Tradeswoman, moderated by four women apprentices, journeymen and licensed members exposed them to the educational, salary, pension and workforce benefits of joining a trade union. Only four out of 10 college graduates in Mass. earn more than union workers, who start at salaries of $22 per hour and move to $40 or more with free education and training, union representatives said.
The number of women entering the construction trades in Massachusetts has tripled in the past five years and the unions want more. By 2020, they hope to push female membership from 7% to 20%, said Brian Doherty, General Agent for the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District.
"It starts here with the folks in the back of the room," he said, referring to the 34 booths at the career fair. Students seized opportunities to chat with members from 16 unions, employers of four large construction companies, state departments that support the trades, and other students from Massachusetts vocational high schools.
They were also inspired by Twanya Lawson, known as "T" on the job site where she works as a machine operator supervisor out of the Local 4 International Union of Operating Engineers. Working as a barber and a machine operator, she earned enough money to buy a house at 21. She especially enjoys showing up on the job to hear, "What are you doing here?" That's when she tells the guys, "You're working for me."
"Believe in yourselves and do your best," she told the rapt crowd of high school girls. "We work with jerks sometimes, but never let them intimidate you or knock you down. You've got your health and your strength. We can still be girls; we just have to wrap it up and get the job done."
"I love her," said Emily O'Brian, a senior studying plumbing at Whittier. She approached Twanya after she spoke and posed for a selfie.
The Massachusetts Girls in Trades group formed last year to introduce girls to unions and apprenticeship programs. They host two career fairs each year in eastern and western Massachusetts where they attract about 600 students.