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Women Building California Conference 2008

“Often as a woman you’ll be on a job site and feel alone. It is so amazing to walk into this conference and know you are really not alone, that all these women here today are in the trades and shared your experiences,” said Carol Toliver of Tradeswomen, Inc., addressing the audience at the seventh annual California Women Building California Conference in Oakland, May 17-18. “It is also about union strengthening and making sure we are the best union members we can be. We have a lot to contribute, and it is only through unity and community we can remain strong,” she continued.
The conference was high spirited and well attended by about 400 people of all races, ages, genders, and sexual preferences. They came from as far away as Texas and Oklahoma. They ranged from pre-apprentices to master tradespeople and instructors. Every aspect of the building trades was represented. “We are about networking, learning skills, and having a good time,” stated Debra Chaplan, the conference coordinator.
Tradeswomen, Inc. proposed that the California State Building Trades Council sponsor a conference about women in the trades seven years ago. Council president Bob Balgenorth not only got approval, but he made it an annual event.
The building trades councils have been very supportive of bringing women into the trades, according to Beth Youhn, former executive president of Tradeswomen, Inc., who was honored at this year’s conference. However, the number of women in trades is still very low. “Getting into the trades is just the beginning,” Youhn explains. “The dropout rate for apprentices is very high; in many trades it is over 50 percent. So we have to find ways to help people be successful as apprentices, and then they will be successful as journeypeople. Nationwide there is still less than 3% women in the trades, and yet these are great jobs for single moms and all women that are interested.”
Assemblymember and state senate candidate Loni Hancock emphasized the need to increase recruitment. “You are still pioneers. The door opened a crack and you walked through…Now you can open the door wider,” she challenged the audience. Hancock introduced a bill to provide outreach programs to encourage women in high schools to enroll in apprenticeship programs.

Recruitment, retention, and leadership development were primary focuses of the conference. There were also workshops aimed at improving the quality of life in the trades. They addressed everything from snappy comebacks to buying a home in today’s market, from becoming a contractor to understanding pensions, from reading a blueprint to talking to a lawyer. The conference attendants heard from state legislators including Assemblymember Fiona Ma, Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero and Senator Ellen Corbett, as well as Hancock.

The importance of participating in electoral politics was another focus of the conference, with the state budget and presidential election looming overhead. State Building Council President Bob Balgenorth emphasized the need to elect a president who would “heal the wounds that George Bush did to all the working people.” Referring to McCain as John McSame, Balgenorth warned that if elected, McCain will continue the attack on working people, and we will continue to have “a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and to hell with everyone else.” The only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is for union people to precinct walk and phone bank. That message was echoed by California Senator Ellen Corbett, who warned the audience that if the governor’s budget is passed, with its 10 percent cut in services and reduction in education spending, the results will be devastating to working people. It is up to the people in the audience to make their voices heard, she said. Otherwise there are plenty of legislators who will take the easy way out and listen to the people writing them large checks.

Organized Labor talked with several people at the conference about what it is like to be a woman in the building trades and how the attitudes towards women have changed

LauraVergeront-women-Trades-conference-5-17-08---9 MelLowney-women-BuidlingTrades-conference-5-17-08---190 VickiCruz-women-BuidlingTrades-conference-5-17-08---125 OpalConnor-women-Trades--5-17-08---132 BethYouhn-women-Trades-5-17-08---138
Laura “Low Voltage” Vergeront Mel Lowney Vicki Cruz Opal Connor Beth Youhn
sherryChapin MarthaHernandez-IrmaMarez-women-Trades-5-17-08---117 DiahannaChristie-women-BuidlingTrades-conference-5-17-08---153 MelindaGaumer-women-Trades-5-17-08---161 KarenTrusty-women-Trades--5-17-08---184
Sherry Chapin Martha Hernandez and Irma Marez Diahanna Christie Melinda Gaumer
Patricia Burnham
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