At the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center, IBEW Local 48 apprentice Amber Sommer showed visitors how to use a conduit bender. From left, that’s Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. | PHOTO BY TAYLOR BALKOM, COURTESY US DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
By COLIN STAUB
U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh toured the NECA/IBEW Local 48 training center in Portland March 24 and heard about efforts to bring more women into the building trades. That’s a familiar cause for Walsh, who as head of the Boston Building Trades unions created a program that brings women and minorities into the building trades.
At the training center, Walsh was joined by Governor Kate Brown and U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer. During a roundtable discussion, seventh term IBEW Local 48 apprentice Kat Zimmerman said her journey to the construction trade began after college.
“Despite having two undergraduate degrees, I struggled to turn either one into a meaningful career,” Zimmerman said. She completed Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship training but didn’t pursue it further until years later, when, miserable in an office job, she applied and was accepted into the IBEW apprenticeship.
But Zimmerman says more needs to be done to retain tradeswomen; she knows several who quit the field because of job site harassment and discrimination. Zimmerman recommended enforcing a requirement for federal construction contracts to have two or more women on a job site to prevent them from being isolated. She also suggested anti-harassment training like that could be offered as part of required continuing education credits for journey-level workers.
Walsh said the Biden administration wants to expand programs that bring more women into the building trades and other union jobs. In addition to measures against harassment and discrimination, increasing workers’ access to childcare removes a hurdle preventing women from working in these jobs, he said. He anticipates more women will enter the trades as these projects advance.
“To the women at this table who are in the trades, you are pioneers,” Walsh said.