Infrastructure bill could expand opportunities for women


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Lauren Sugerman is the director of the Chicago-based National Women in Commerce Center for Employment Equity for Women. Opinions are for the author. As someone who has worked in and promoted professions for over 40 years, first as an elevator mechanic assistant and then as a co-founder of Chicago Women in Trades, I have seen first-hand the impact that having a career in the professions can have on women’s lives. Lorraine Sugerman Permission granted by CWIT, a nonprofit organization, CWIT trains women for high-paying, highly skilled jobs traditionally filled by men that advocate fair employment and working conditions. The majority of the women who come to us struggle to provide for themselves and their families, living on minimum wage or some form of public assistance, only one salary away from disaster. Apprenticeships in construction careers start at about $17 an hour, and many women earn more than $40 an hour with benefits within three to five years. They are given the opportunity to apply and receive meaningful wage increases for the first time in their lives, without the need for a college degree or debt. About 291,000 women work as electricians, carpenters, laborers, masons, plumbers, painters, sheet metal and iron workers, and other highly skilled, high-paying jobs with advantages in the trades. But in recent years, women were still less than 10% of all workers in construction jobs, despite representing half of all non-agricultural workers in the general economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When Japlan “Jazz” Allen first came to Chicago Women in Trades, she was out of prison for two years and working a low-paid job as a janitor. “I felt like I had two options,” Allen said. “I can keep working my low-paid job, or I can go back to the streets. I didn’t like either of those options.” Everything changed for Allen when she joined CWIT’s 12-week training program that helps women pass apprenticeship entrance exams and provides them with the essential support services that make the dream of becoming an entrepreneur possible. Pre-vocational programs such as those at CWIT are essential to open up new opportunities. The federal infrastructure law, now awaiting in Congress, may open that door wide open. Earlier this month, the Senate approved a bipartisan trillion dollar infrastructure bill, but failed to include language from a proposed amendment, backed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and 11 co-sponsors, including advisers Tammy Duckworth. and you have. Durbin, this would have provided effective equality measures designed to increase opportunities for women and people of color in construction professions and to ensure workplaces free from harassment. As a bipartisan infrastructure bill makes its way through Congress to await further debate and a vote, lawmakers still have an opportunity to change the lives of thousands of women by setting workforce-building goals for both women and people of color to ensure that these underrepresented groups are not. You have a place in the infrastructure construction teams. Legislation should include language that sets workforce participation targets for underrepresented groups, set a target of 15% apprenticeship use, require the creation and maintenance of respectable workplaces, and provide funding for supportive services such as employment in pre-vocational programs. These revisions are supported by many international organisations, contractors and unions, including carpenters, construction workers, and boiler makers, and Jazz is a member of the International Federation of Bridge Workers, Construction, Decoration, and Steelworkers. Preventing Harassment In order to make a real impact on the number of women in occupations, Congress should include language that makes it mandatory to spend 0.5% of all federal and state dollars earmarked to support infrastructure projects on removing barriers to entry into occupations for women and people of color. Currently, 1% of highway aid money is allowed to be spent on these types of services, but few countries have embraced this option. While some would argue that simply setting engagement goals for employment should suffice, experience has shown that these goals are rarely met, despite the requirements for making a good faith effort (which, unfortunately, can be easily resolved). Objectives of mandatory participation. Massachusetts has more than doubled its national labor participation rate for women by making participation targets mandatory. Since 2013, 38 projects worth $7.2 billion have used these best practices, generating 7.33% of women’s hours worked. More than half of the women were women of color. Jazz Allen is now a seasoned businesswoman who has earned the respect of her co-workers during her 18 years in the steel industry. She’s worked as a former administrator in multiple jobs, is CWIT’s chair of the board and a dedicated mentor for pre-trainees and recent interns on things like how to approach job site policies. “I’m not going to lie, working in construction can be challenging. Women in work don’t always get the respect they deserve,” she said. “I tell women new to the profession that there are only two phrases you need to survive in construction (and in life).” : “It’s not cool.” Really?’ “You can silence anyone with these two,” she said. “But it is clear that more can be done to make the workplace more female-friendly.” The final version of the bill should include language funding to prevent harassment and supportive services that are vital to ensuring that women working in the professions remain in the professions. Services such as childcare, transportation expenses, and the purchase of work-related supplies and equipment can support women’s access, income, and success in apprenticeships and journey-level jobs in skilled occupations. We urge Congress to ensure that any infrastructure legislation clears the way for women and workers from other diverse groups to enter and succeed in construction careers and to support a comprehensive harassment-free workplace policy.


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