Rchard Bermack Photography


Women Building California Conference 2010

Organized Labor

Ninth Annual Women Building California Conference for Women in the Trades
Why, after all these years, are only 2 percent of workers in the building trades women, and what to do about it, were the major issues raised at this year's Women Building California conference in Oakland. The same topic may have been raised each year, but this year promises to be different. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis sent one of her top guns, Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, to deliver a message: The federal government is here to help. “There's a new sheriff in town,” Shiu told the audience. “We want to ensure that affirmative action really means something..... We are looking at the regulations to ascertain all the ways we can strengthen them, to ensure that your working conditions are free of harassment, free of retaliation, and allow you to be promoted and work in a non-discriminating work environment.” And then, perhaps in reference to the past administration's lack of action, she added: “But without enforcement, a regulation doesn't mean anything. I am committed to enforcing the law.” Referring to her distinguished career as a civil rights lawyer, Shiu repeated her commitment to enforcement, drawing cheers from the audience. Shiu intends to use the power of her office to increase the number of women in the trades by pressuring federal contractors, who control 22 percent of construction jobs, to hire more women. Many of the contractors want to do the right thing, she stated, but during the past 8 years of the Bush administration, they got no support. The new administration recognizes the need to foster women entering the trades and to provide linkage for employers to hire them. One of the agency's first tasks is rebuilding itself. “We lost 30 percent of our funding and 25 percent of our staff,” Shiu stated. She then reached out to the audience: “We have 200 new jobs at the OCCP, and it would be wonderful to have some of you join our ranks to insure that our compliance officers and the people in the OCCP team come from the same background as the people in our cases.”

This is the 9th annual conference is sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, in collaboration with Tradeswomen, Inc., an Oakland-based tradeswomen advocacy organization. Women Building California is the only conference in the nation that brings together women from all building trades crafts. Held at the Oakland Marriott on May 15-16, 2010, the conference brought together 335 journey-level tradeswomen, apprentices, pre-apprentices and advocates, mostly from California but also from Oregon,Washington, Nevada, Texas, and the Washington, D.C. Area. The event showcased tradeswomen's art, poetry, spoken word, and music, and included workshops on building skills to help women survive and thrive in the trades, and developing leadership to help women advance on the job and in their unions. The conference speakers included Assemblymember Joan Buchanan; Meg Vasey of Tradeswomen, Inc; Rita Magner, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104; Susan Eisenberg, author and artist; Bob Balgenorth, State Building Trades Council; Assemblymember Fiona Ma; Sue Doro, writer; and Raquel Smith, spoken-word artist.