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Building the Union


Joy “JT” Ferguson’s first construction experience was driving a 51-ton truck. The hardworking member of Local 959 in Anchorage, Alaska, quickly rose through the ranks to become a step-up foreman, and credits her success in large part to the opportunity afforded her by a Teamsters Union apprenticeship program.

“Without the training I received through the Teamsters apprenticeship program, I wouldn’t have been able to get the job I have,” said Ferguson, a mother of five. “I hope to see more Teamsters apprenticeship programs implemented elsewhere.”

Ferguson is one of a growing number of Teamster women who are joining careers in the trades, which includes working as construction drivers, surveyors, plumbers, electricians and more.

Apprenticeship programs and pre-apprenticeship programs introduce more women to the trades, can last several years, and provide hands-on expertise to help participants grow in their fields.

Cheri Lipps is the apprenticeship coordinator at the Alaska Teamster Training Trust, which oversees several apprenticeship programs and offers a pre-apprenticeship program specifically for women interested in careers as construction drivers.

“It’s a way for them to explore what the industry is really about and to help women find a way to successfully get into the industry,” Lipps said. “What they find is not just a job, but a career.”

Trades Meeting

Debra Chaplan knows the value of women in the trades coming together for education and empowerment. For 14 years, Chaplan, a member of Local 853 in San Leandro, Calif., coordinated an annual conference for women in the building trades and construction. As Director of Special Programs for the California State Building and Construction Trades Council, Chaplan was tasked with organizing each conference held in California since 2002. The conference participants have grown from 200 to nearly 1,100 in that time.

This year’s conference will be led by North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and held April 29 – May 1 in Chicago.

“There will be a caucus for women in each union, so there will be a Teamsters women’s meeting and about 40 workshops on what it is to work in the trades and construction, and how that’s different from other jobs,” Chaplan said.

“It’s a great opportunity for Teamsters and all women who attend,” said Iliana Flores, Southern Region Training Coordinator with the Teamsters Training and Development Department, who teaches workshops at the conference. Flores, the Teamster representative on the NABTU Tradeswomen Committee, was proud that Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa signed onto a resolution in support of women in the trades, which was introduced at the 2015 conference.

The resolution recognizes the important work that women are doing in the building trades and paves the way for concrete goals to increase the number of women in the trades and the resources available to them.

“The Construction Division supports and welcomes women in construction, as well as the pipeline industry. A large number of Teamster women have taken advantage of our pipeline training programs in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and we expect more to upgrade their skills in future training classes,” said Bubba Davis, Director of the Teamsters Building Material and Construction Trade Division.

Thanks to apprenticeship programs, and an emphasis on women in the building trades, more women are learning about union careers and building strong futures.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 Teamsters Women’s News.