Business

New York Recruits Women for 9/11 Hardhat Jobs

Friday, April 2, 2004

More than $10 billion dollars is slated to repair the damage in lower Manhattan wrought by the attack of Sept. 11, 2001. With worker shortages in the construction trades, organizations are reaching out to women for the highly paid jobs.

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Aldrich was one of the early women to enter the construction field. She began her first job as a carpenter in New York City 21 years ago.

"I finally got the job I wanted," she said. Having worked as a bookkeeper, Aldrich decided she wasn't cut out for life behind a desk. "I was a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl."

Today, Aldrich sports a t-shirt that reads "A women's place is in the union." She says that over the years, women have become less skeptical of entering the field and more and more are following in her footsteps. Those are good steps to take, she says. Now 50, Aldrich is a home-owner in Pennsylvania. Most importantly, she says, "I love my job."

Tough, Dangerous Work

Indeed, most of the women on hand to demonstrate their trades were happy with their career choices in more ways than one. The jobs are unionized, so the money and benefits are good.

When Marge Olsen, a demonstrator representing the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 15 first began working as surveyor 18 years ago, she made $8 per hour. Today, at 41, she makes $43 an hour plus an additional $18.50 per hour in benefits. She's worked in trenches, in the mud and in tunnels 800 feet underwater. The work is tough and dangerous and no one denies it.

During a panel discussion, the speakers did their best to point out the flipside.

"If you are going to work, you might as well work hard and make money," said Susan Hayes, the president and chief executive of Cauldwell Wingate Company, a Manhattan based construction management firm. Her statement drew applause from the women who packed the auditorium at the university.

Part of Hayes' role as the president of the board of the Nontraditional Employment for Women, a New York nonprofit, is to try to change the perception about women in these nontraditional fields. The group is devoted to training, placing, and advocating for women seeking work in construction and other skilled blue-collar trades. Its members were busy fielding questions and accepting applications throughout the night.

"These jobs are here for you," Hayes told the audience. "You have to figure out how to make it work for you and your family, so that you can achieve economic self sufficiency, and that--for women--equals equality."

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Marianne Sullivan is a New York-based freelance writer who writes frequently on economics and finance.

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