Piper Joy (piperjoy) wrote in tradeswomen,
Piper Joy

What about Sarah the Plumber?

October 19, 2008                   
“Joe the Plumber” got to ask his question, now it’s Sarah the Plumber and other tradeswomen’s turn. Sarah is a real licensed plumber, member of the UA Local 130 here in Chicago, and the Chairperson of Chicago Women in Trades Board of Directors. Beth Barton, who is the chair of Missouri Women in Trades (MOWIT) has some questions also.
Beth Barton, a 29 yr. old Journeylevel Carpenter, is from the rural town of Luebbering, Missouri. She commutes 50 miles each way to work in St. Louis, Missouri.  After working as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant, for just a little bit above minimum wage, Beth put aside her healthcare (low-wage) career when she became pregnant and found herself raising her first child alone.  Beth, who grew up on a farm, realized she could do heavy lifting for higher pay by becoming a carpenter. Rejections from dozens of contractors didn’t deter her quest and she finally found one willing to hire a woman and  she was able to enter the Carpenter’s Union Training Program as an apprentice and join the union. She is a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 1596.
Five years later, Beth is now completed her apprenticeship and is married to a union carpenter and raising five children. Her favorite job was making someone else’s dreams come true, by building a house for charity.  She is her family’s primary breadwinner for now, since her husband, like many construction workers in this failing economy, is unemployed. Beth wonders what the new administration will do to create job security for women like her working in the construction industry.
Sarah the Plumber, Yvette the Electrician, Pam the Painter, and other tradeswomen like them have yet to hear much about the issues that matter most to them.  Times are tough for all construction workers, but these tradeswomen want to know what will it take to crack through the concrete floor to gain and maintain secure high-wage, high skill jobs. Here’s their top sixteen list of questions for the candidates:
  1. How can women who left TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families- also known as welfare) to take personal responsibility for themselves and their families, (and found themselves in jobs that paid minimum wage with no benefits), gain access to training and job opportunities that provide them with the wages and security to achieve the American dream?  
  2. What will be done about providing working mothers (and fathers) with affordable, quality, accessible childcare during our nontraditional work hours?
  3. What are your plans for ensuring that working women (or any person) who has/adopts or cares for children, the sick and the elderly can get paid family and medical leave like almost all of the other major industrial nations?
  4. When will women not have to work four extra months to have an annual salary equal to men’s wages?
  5. If we get into the “old boys network” will there be a safety net to ensure national health care? Can this cover our spouses/domestic partners and children as well?
  6. When exactly does the statute of limitations run out on pay equity? Is pay equity a trial lawyer’s dream, or a simple woman’s hope for (spare) change to pay the babysitter? 
  7. How much energy do women have to expend before we get (financial) independence (or at least a 23% discount on our bills to reflect the wage disparity)? 
  8. Do we have to kill a moose to demonstrate we can handle tools or provide leadership on the job?
  9. How many bridges (or highways and high-rises) do tradeswomen have to build to stop being seen as ‘just’ homemakers and breakground into male-dominated jobs?
  10. When can we anticipate that the free market and voluntary corporate efforts will level the playing field for women and people of color? When can we expect reparations for the disparity created by race and gender discrimination? Is this covered in the bailout bill (TARP) under executive compensation? 
  11. Can we expect the government to actually enforce safety regulations on the jobsite and ensure that personal protective equipment like hardhats, safety belts, gloves actually fit a woman’s physique? 
  12. Is the bailout (rescue-recovery plan?) a bridge to economic equity for working women, (and people of color and men), and exactly where does it go?
  13. Is a pink hardhat safer than a bonnet to protect us from the falling dollar and crashing stock markets?
  14. How much straight talk will it take before gays and lesbians can move from being just “tolerated” to full equality in our work, civic, military, family, and love lives?
  15. If we change “business as usual in the beltway”, how many documents will a worker need to be treated fairly and equally for day’s labor and to share the wealth they help to create?
  16. How many “hands across the aisle” will it take to create a bi-partisan bill to rescue women from second-class citizenship, low wages, and discrimination on the job? Can poor women be appointed to fill all the positions on the oversight board to assure compliance? Can full childcare be provided at all meetings?
We are all wondering why so much time and money are being spent in this campaign on lipstick, acorns, derivatives, and banking bubbles while working people are barely staying afloat, and some of us have already fallen victim to floods, foreclosures, predatory financial institutions and illegitimate wars.  We never bet the bank on our futures, it wasn’t an option. We just work hard for them. Can’t our elected officials do the same? Can’t the media be more than weapons of mass distraction.  Will someone listen to our ideas about what a real bailout/rescue/recovery plan that is a bridge to economic equity for working women, and men of all colors can and should look like. We actually have the tools, unions and know how to use them to produce real family values and products worth investing in.
Lauren Sugerman
Executive Director
Chicago Women in Trades
o/312-942-1444 ext. 214 c/773-704-3627
Contact Beth at: jbbarton@peoplepc.com 
Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) is a nonprofit organization committed to improving women’s economic equity by increasing the number of women working in well-paid, skilled trade jobs traditionally held by men. For more information, visit www.chicagowomenintrades.org. or call us at 312-942-1444.
In the interests of full disclosure, CWIT is a community organization that formerly received funding from the Woods Charitable Fund and has associated with ACORN in the past and supports their campaigns for living wages and poverty reduction. All the women named above are pseudonyms to protect the identities and jobs of real tradeswomen who go to work everyday and come to CWIT with the above concerns.

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