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Women getting hardhats – Albany Times Union

New York

Tameeka Gwyn is used to schlepping concrete weighing as much as 60 pounds (27 kilograms) around a construction site. For Janna Rojas, it’s a cinch to carry metal pipes as heavy as 100 pounds (45 kilograms) going into new plumbing.

“When you first do it, it’s quite a shock, but it’s reality,” says Gwyn, who with Rojas is helping build a Manhattan high-rise for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.

They are some of the new faces of the 21st-century American construction worker — with women slowly making inroads in an industry still dominated by men. While there has been progress thanks to a rebounding economy, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found women represent only 3.4 percent, or about 285,000, of the nation’s 8.3 million construction workers. Over the last decade, the total number of women in the construction industry has risen by about 31 percent.

One program in New York City addresses the gender gap head-on, kickstarting recruits’ training while gaining a promise from unions to try to reserve 15 percent of on-site actual apprenticeships for women. The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York is working with a nonprofit group, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), which runs a pre-apprenticeship program for women who want to become plumbers, electricians, carpenters and members of other trades.

“We’ve had a real shift in terms of really working with the unions as partners in our work because they recognize that the need for a diverse workforce, a workforce that represents the population of New York City and beyond,” said NEW president Kathleen Culhane. She says they recruit trainees by distributing flyers at job fairs, community organizations and unemployment offices in addition to social media outreach.

It’s clear the industry has a long road ahead to even out its gender discrepancy — one that is hardly surprising for a job often characterized by male workers whistling at women who walk past job sites — despite a push from the (hash)MeToo movement that is leading to sweeping changes in many occupations around the globe.

“The (hash)MeToo movement has highlighted what’s right and what’s wrong, and women are being accepted more and more on the job sites,” says Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council, an organization of 15 labor union affiliates representing 100,000 workers.

Philip LoMonaco, the foreman of the cancer center project, has seen that happen firsthand. He says he first saw a woman on a construction job about a decade ago. Now, there are 200 female workers, including Gwyn and Rojas, building the high-rise on Manhattan’s East Side — representing about 5 percent of all workers on that project, according to the builder, Turner Construction. Jacobson & Company, a large carpentry contractor in metropolitan New York, says 9 percent of its nearly 300 employees are women.

Many of the female workers come from low-income circumstances and some are single mothers used to juggling multiple jobs to pay the bills. But once they break into the trades, these women are better off than those in other lines of work, facing a smaller wage gap compared to men. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says women in construction are paid 96 cents on the dollar compared to their male colleagues, versus only about 80 cents on the dollar in the general workforce.

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