Boys-club culture, lack of oversight contribute to lack of women in trades

By: - July 30, 2018 4:53 am
CCSD student at East Career & Technical Academy

A 2016 photo from a media event at Clark County School District’s East Career & Technical Academy. (Photo by CCSD)

UA Local 525 — the plumbers and pipefitters union — has approximately 1,900 members.

Only 34 are female.

Nobody expects a plumbers and pipefitters union to be 50 percent female, but according to accepted guidelines and the goals they are required by the state to set, they are still coming up short when it comes to recruiting women into the industry.

And they’re not the only ones.

According to documents submitted to the State Apprenticeship Council, only one of the 67 journeyworkers in Local 199 (ironworkers) is female. Only two of 603 construction electrician journeyworkers within the ABC Nevada’s Las Vegas chapter are female, and that chapter is doing better than its northern counterpart. ABC Nevada’s Reno chapter reported zero women among its 350 journeyworkers.

During a State Apprenticeship Council meeting in May, State Apprenticeship Director Erin Hasty noted that 99 percent of the apprenticeship programs previously reviewed were cited for “underutilization” of females, which means there are fewer women in the occupation than would be “reasonably expected in view of all relevant factors.”

Perhaps more troubling: 55 percent of apprenticeship programs have no record of being reviewed by the State Apprenticeship Council, which in July 2017 switched from being housed under the Labor Commissioner to the Office of Workforce Innovation (OWINN). The programs are supposed to  be reviewed annually, not just for compliance with affirmative action plans but also for completion rates and other factors.

Hasty told the Current the council will discuss the lack of past review and the process for future compliance reviews at its next meeting, scheduled for August 9. All of the council’s current members were appointed after the switch to the OWINN office took place.

Affirmative action plans like the ones required of these apprenticeship programs do not include mandatory quotas and explicitly state they should not be used to favor women over men. Employers are required only to follow equal employment opportunity laws, which says they should not consider factors like gender or ethnicity at all — favorable or unfavorable.

Construction Career Day
A Construction Career Day Fair held by Clark County School District in 2016. (Photo: CCSD)

Instead, these plans are a pledge by the programs to put in a “good faith effort” to recruit women and minorities into their apprenticeship programs. With little oversight going on, what constitutes a good effort is up to individual recruiters.

For the plumbers and pipefitters, their gender diversity numbers look slightly better at the apprenticeship level than they do at total membership. According to the program coordinator, six of its current 119 apprentices are female. That’s 5 percent.

According to the workforce analysis formula used for these affirmative action plan reports, that number should be at 12 percent.

“We’re getting there,” says Dale Stubblefield, who oversees the plumbers apprenticeship program.

At Truckee Meadows Community College, only 4 percent of students enrolled in apprenticeship courses are female. That’s 21 students out of 510. At the College of Southern Nevada, 7.4 percent of students enrolled in its apprenticeship programs are female. That’s 170 out of 2,301 students.

Dian Vanderwell is the trades recruiter for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada (BCTNN), whose apprenticeships operate through a partnership with TMCC.

“It’s always been sold to them as a man’s job,” she says. “It isn’t. … I think a lot of them think maybe they physically can’t do it. With technology and changes in the construction field, it’s been easier to get in. We’ve seen an increase in women wanting to get in — as we get more women, as women see people that look like them.”

Nevada education and political officials have been emphasizing technology training to equip people for jobs presumed to be in demand in the future. Meantime, thanks in no small part to the retirement of baby-boomers, the nation is facing a shortage of people to fill high-paying jobs in trades.

BCTNN participates in career days and fairs, including ones specifically for women and girls. Vanderwell says she tries to push the council to include photos featuring women in their brochures and materials, and she tries to take advantage of promotional videos done at the national level.

A 2014 report released by the National Women’s Law Center found that rates of women in construction have stayed static over the past three decades and refuted the stereotype that women simply dislike physically demanding jobs, noting that the percentages of female corrections officers and firefighters have grown over time.

The report argued that targeted efforts needed to be increased and affirmative action requirements strengthened. Simply not discriminating against women when they apply isn’t enough. You have to actively recruit.

Nobody believes that more strongly than Evelyn Pacheco, Nevada’s first black female plumber.

Pacheco became a plumber apprentice in 2002. She’d been working in the maintenance department at Fitzgerald’s Hotel and Casino, which is now the D Las Vegas but back then was owned by Don Barden, the first African-American to own a national chain of casinos. A coworker encouraged her to seek out a job with the plumbers and pipefitters.

“Hell no” was her first reaction.

Then she reconsidered.

Pacheco and her grandchildren
Evelyn Pacheco is believed to be Nevada’s first black female plumber. Here she poses for a photo with two of her grandchildren after being recognized by the City of North Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Evelyn Pacheco)

Sixteen years later, she is glad she did, and she wants others to follow in her footsteps. While she is no longer a plumber — she left in 2011 in order to raise grandchildren — she is pushing for her union to be more active in recruiting women. She has organized her own career fair. She’s been talking to established groups like Chicago Women in Trades to try and replicate their female-focused trade group here in Southern Nevada. She’s also attempting to launch a business that helps women get into the construction and building trades.

If the trades won’t promote to women themselves, she will. She sees it as her life’s mission.

“They don’t come to us,” says Pacheco. “It’s the good ole boys who don’t give a shit. They’ve got their cousins, their uncles in.”

Not one to mince words, she is the first person to acknowledge that the path she took — the path she is promoting others take — was not easy. Not only was the work physical, but at times it came with a heavy dose of discrimination.

“Men told me I was taking their job, that I can’t do their job,” says Pacheco. “I had foremen (who) would put me by myself to see if I would do (the work) or to see if they could get rid of me. N-word. B-word. I had it all.”

Pacheco says she filed complaints with the state’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission several times.

Even when conditions weren’t outright hostile –perhaps after she’d successfully proven and re-proven her worth to foremen or fellow crew — Pacheco was still clearly a woman in a man’s world. She jokes: “I was out there with the men with their butt cracks showing all day, with their beer guts, scratching their balls all day.”

The tradeoff for dealing with all that was worth it for her. She believes it would be for other women as well.

According to its current master labor agreement, apprentices at Local 525 begin at $19.31 per hour (excluding benefits) and work their way up to $38.61 per hour. The minimum hourly rate for journeyworkers — what you become after you’ve successfully completed your apprenticeship — is $42.90 per hour, plus benefits.

Pacheco remembers being similarly paid well during her time as a plumber.

“This is blue-collar work,” she says. “This is blue-collar money.”

Here in Nevada, where minimum wage is $8.25 per hour, $42 an hour is a respectable wage for anyone. For a black single mother like Pacheco, it felt like a godsend. She wants other women to be able to earn those living wages and have security and stability for their families.

“Why can’t they?” She asks. “Why can’t they support their families?”

Many women already are, most of them at lower wages than men. In 2015, 42 percent of mothers were the sole or primary breadwinner of their household. When that percentage is broken down further, the numbers are even more dramatic: 70.7 percent of black mothers and 40.5 percent of Latina mothers were responsible for bringing home the majority of money for their families.

When trade organizations do recruit to women, one of their talking points is that everyone gets paid the same. National statistics seem to back that up. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women across all industries earn 81.1 percent of what men make. In the construction industry, that wage gap is much narrower — women earn 95.7 percent of what men make. (Other analyses say the wage gap within the construction industry is still pronounced for black and brown women.)

Looking beyond financial stability, Pacheco believes women can truly enjoy hands-on work. She says what kept her going throughout the years was the sense of accomplishment and pride in the work itself. She loved — still loves — having the ability to look around the valley and say she worked on that casino, or that school, or that building.

“Most people can’t do that,” she says. “They don’t know the first thing about building something. To me, it’s like art. Actually, it is.”

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.