Our Vision: We elevate tradeswomen: women as equal and construction trades as honorable work. Our Mission: Build the North American representation in the global network of tradeswomen advocating for themselves.
The Tradeswomen Build Nations (TWBN) conference is a yearly event by North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and it is the largest gathering of tradeswomen in the world. TBB has a special relationship with this international conference. In the past, we’ve been able to bring key partners to the USA for the event, we’ve run workshops there, and it continues to be a meeting place for former delegates to reunite. This year, many of our members descended on Las Vegas Nevada for the event.
This year, we were able to distribute information about our organization at one of the tables in the main gathering area. Some of our leadership met with union leaders about creating women’s committees. We also met with other international partners about issues affecting our union sisters abroad and future delegations.
More than anything, it was an opportunity to recharge and connect with sisters from across North America. Guest speakers included Martin Walsh, Secretary, US DOL; Gina Raimondo, Secretary, US DOC; Wendy Chun-Hoon, Director, DOL Women Bureau; Sean Garvey, President, NABTU; Liz Shuler, President, AFL-CIO and many others.
A range of workshops offered at the conference from Women in Union Leadership to Be That One Guy (a workshop offering strategies against workplace harassment) inspired and energized our sisters! We are proud to continue supporting and participating in this conference.
On October 4th and 5th, Tradeswomen Building Bridges was honored with an invitation to participate in the 1st ever Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) Global Conference on Women in the Trades. Delayed by Covid-19 from its original scheduled date of June 2020, it was held in Madrid, Spain as part of 5th BWI World Congress.
More than 200 Women from 117 countries gathered. Despite participants speaking 13 different languages, we were able to share experiences, learn of the various global campaigns supporting women’s rights, and built global connections.
Key themes highlighted over the two days were:
* Women’s work being seen as equal in the workplace
*Women’s rights are human rights and a rising tide will lift ALL boats.
* Work/Life Balance: Moving beyond a model that is over 50 years old, to one that works for current lifestyles.
TBB members, Doreen Cannon and A. McCoy, represented North America in two separate panel discussions. Doreen shared her experiences as a Union Plumber, weaving in the value of the best practices that came out of our London delegation. With more than 25 years of experience as a tradeswoman, Doreen testified about the power and energy that gatherings of women leaders, like this one, brings about in our networks. Day One ended with the official opening of the Women’s Conference by Rita Schiavi, Chair of the BWI International Women Caucus. There was also an homage to our departed sister Jin Sook Lee, the Global Campaign Director of BWI. These two women were close friends of our organization since its inception.
The following day McCoy spoke on a panel about gender in contract negotiations. They shared TBB’s best practices for increasing the number of women in the trades. In addition to highlighting increased numbers of tradeswomen in Oregon and Massachusetts, McCoy also presented the history of TBB and our belief in building Tradeswomen Networks.
Day Two ended with the launch of the 5th BWI World Congress. Here we heard uplifting words from Per Oolf, President of BWI, Gilbert F. Houngbo, Director General of International Labor Organization (ILO) and Pedro Hojas, General Secretary of General Union of Workers of Spain (UGT FICA).
During these two days, we were able to connect with our friends from previous delegations. We were particularly excited to visit with Rajeev and Prerna, two BWI South Asia program officers who we met during our 2019 delegation. We also saw our sisters and brothers from Unite in the UK and our sisters from the BWI European Women’s Committee.
We also built new connections with our Australian sisters and strengthened our connection with our friends in the Philippines.
On June 18th, the TBB delegates attended their second demonstration, this time alongside tens of thousands of UK workers. The march and subsequent rally in Parliament Square, was organized by the Trades Union Congress, a federation of trades unions akin to the USA’s AFL-CIO. The protest was held a few days before a mass strike of 50,000 railroad workers.
The demands were simple. Marchers were fighting for a real pay rise for every worker (one that exceeds inflation) and a living wage for all. They wanted respect and security for all workers, an end to racism at work, a boost to union bargaining rights, an increase for those on universal credit (similar to our USA low income and unemployment schemes), and a tax on energy profits.
No matter where you go, workers are struggling against the same forces. It was an honor to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters from across the pond.
Our 2022 London Delegation ended with two jam packed days of networking to connect our North American tradeswomen with delegates from across the world. The goal was to share knowledge and build connections for future collaboration. We were hosted at Unite the Union’s London headquarters.
Day one opened with a speech by special guest Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite. We also heard from EDF energy about diversity and inclusion in the nuclear sector.
We also heard from special guest Hattie Hasan, founder of Stopcocks Women Plumbers, an organization established in 1990 to help women in construction trades with issues around respect, quality of service, and aftercare. Stopcocks vision is to bring tradeswomen together to change the UK construction and skilled trades landscape for good.
Our second networking day featured participatory activities and sharing on issues and themes relevant to tradeswomen such as family support; training and careers; climate change; migration; working conditions; and barriers to leadership.
We were grateful to benefit from the participation of colleagues from European union affiliates of Building and Woodworkers International and Building and Woodworkers’ union Federation.
The delegates networked with tradeswomen from across North America and around the globe; strategized with Unite the Union on the greatest challenges facing working people; and built leadership experience and skills. This was done through interactive sessions, relying on a combination of formal presentations and group work. Leaving plenty of time for sharing of experiences, solution-focused ideas, and informal relationship and capacity building.
Some of our delegates had an opportunity to visit CONEL which is the first completely free trades college in England. They offer training and apprenticeships in many manual trades and they offer several construction trades classes for woman only.
We toured their campus and heard from Glen Lambert on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the trades. We also connected them with communities where they could utilize the supply of labor they are creating.
West London College (WLC)
The other delegates visited WLC. We were happy to see bulletin board where they recognize all the success stories of their apprentices and post pictures with write ups.
We found knowledgeable and supportive teachers, with a focus on diversity and inclusion. The apprentices were eager to talk with us about their experiences on the job and in the classroom.
Our day ended with a networking event in the Houses of Parliament. We received a special tour of the Palace of Westminster, and then we attended a reception on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), Tradeswomen Building Bridges, and the University of Westminster. It was hosted by member of Parliament, Emily Thornberry. We used the event as an opportunity to exchange views and ideas with members of Parliament, peers, and business leaders on how to attract and retain women into construction.
Our London delegates have toured job sites all over the city over the past few days. We wanted to take time to highlight some of them. Thank you to the contractors and union partners for supporting our mission of elevating women in the construction trades.
Our objectives for these site visits were to visit, tour, and receive an overview of working arrangements; meet with women construction workers; meet with company representatives to discuss challenges in recruiting women into construction; hear about company initiatives to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion; and to have discussions around gender equality and climate change in construction.
Battersea Power Station No. 1
At its peak, the Battersea Power Station was supplying a fifth of Londons electricity. It is being redeveloped and will open to the public in September 2022. It will become one of Londons largest office, retail, leisure and cultural centers for about 25,000 people.
We met with Declan Murphy, a carpenter and union activist who represents Batersea trades workers in grievance and disciplinary hearings, and monitors safety on the site. It was an informative and exciting tour.
Mace Dragados/ HS2 Euston
HS2 is a new high-speed railway linking up London, the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland, serving over 25 stations, including eight of Britains 10 largest cities and connecting around 30 million people. Around 3000 people will be working on the site at the height of its construction.
We looked at three different areas of their massive 10 year transportation infastructure project. They have already set up a womens network for those working in all areas of the project from trades workers up to management. Our delegates were impressed to see an innovative and progressive hard hat sticker system. The stickers meant you took an LGBTQ ally training, there is a sticker delineating you are a FIR (Fairness Inclusion and Respect) Ambassador, and mental health first aider and mental health ally.
This is a 52 story office building in the center of London. We had the pleasure of hearing what it’s really been like to work at Bishopsgate from Maddie, a current student and Assistant Construction Manager for the site; Emma, a Construction Management Engineer and leader for the project; Beth, a Commercial Manager and Second-Year Grad Student; and Callen, an electrical contractor with TClarke and former apprentice. We shared similar experiences being a strong women in a mostly male dominated field.
Canary wharf is a huge complex with various buildings at different stages of completion from piling and ground work for new construction. Fit-outs of new hotel shell and core offices and final fit-out of residential and retail outlets.
This is a union project and our group met with Trevor Simpson from Unite the Union. He is a long standing unite activist and experienced convenor. He also represents the construction sector on Unites Executive Council.
Our delegates met with union sisters from various sites across London who are working to start their own womens committee for construction workers.
Skanska/ Blosom Street Development
Skanksa led us in a tour of their Blossom street development. The space is intended for new offices and retail. We saw how they are blending new and old by refurbishing some space while building a more modern structure. We spoke with construction manager Sophie Baker and engineer Leonora Pilakoutas who led our tour. They spoke about seeing a change in construction recently as more women join the trades. We met a woman who works as a roofer alongside her father and brother.
We also met Terry, a representative of the London Building Workers Branch. His role is to provide support on site for construction workers. Lastly, we had a Q and A session with Graham Mercer, the project director for the development. He spoke very highly about Skanska for being an inclusive work environment and noted our ideas about how to implement more strategies to retain more women workers.
Written by TBB delegate Soph R Davenberry of Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, Local Union 66
On June 14th, 2022, TBB Delegates attended the Grenfell Tower Memorial March in West London, on the 5th anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire which killed 72 people in the immediate event with many afterwards from subsequent trauma.
A group of about 20 delegates proceeded to West London after the Research Forum to participate in the march on the 5th anniversary of this terrible disaster which could have been prevented. The delegates got separated en route to the march, marching about 5 min apart among thousands of people, in silence, for a few miles through the borough with the course ending at the Grenfell Tower site. The Memorial Commission, led by family members of the dead, organizes two such marches a year on Jun. 14th and Dec. 14th. For this occasion, the barriers surrounding the site were lowered allowing marchers to view the memorials placed at a plywood barricade at the base of the tower. Video screens, speakers, and a drone camera had been arranged to accommodate the large crowd gathered to hear numerous speakers, from members of the commission to leading sports figures from the borough, with a distinct call for accountability for the shortfalls in the construction industry which led to the disaster.
The entire experience was truly powerful. I was in the group that had fallen behind the other group and we weren’t entirely sure where we were going, but from the tube train I could see the march as we passed overhead so we hopped off to join in. The silence was remarkable, that residents in the neighborhoods might not even know such a large group was going by. Marchers were wearing green, which I happened to be wearing also. Especially stirring was a group of firefighters (members of the fire brigade UK term) lined both sides of the street under a bridge. We caught up to the first group in time to be together for the shared words. The names of all who died we read, interspersed with the gathering citing honor to them.
I have studied this fire because it relates directly to my industry—the fire started from a small combination fridge-freezer unit which members of my trade service. The Aluminum Composite Materials (ACM) panels are manufactured and installed by sheet metal workers. The fans and dampers for smoke control are manufactured, installed, and maintained by members of my trade. I have experience doing all of these things. One of the most significant things about a union tradesworker is that when we have the solidarity of each other, we also have the power to speak up when things are wrong, whether that’s wages, working conditions, and especially safety. The specific individuals and companies in the UK are most likely not unionized (although some counterparts in the U.S. and Canada are). And I wonder at what points having a skilled, trained, properly compensated and respected workforce could have made a difference. That’s all part of the mission of this conference for me.
On June 14th, the delegates were hosted at Tideway’s office for some presentations. The first being from CEO Andy Mitchell on workplace culture change and gender diversity. Then we heard from Women into Construction on the work that they do recruiting women into the construction industry. Two of our delegates shared about their passion for their trades, their unions, and TBBs mission. Our goal was to show that women of all walks of life are passionate and successful craft workers.
There were also panel discussions, discussing topics such as gender parity on site, building skills and education, and sustainability. There was also a networking portion after the presentations.We met some women working on the Thames Tideway Tunnel, as well as some veteran tradeswomen from the UK. The event was attended by TBB delegates, Women Into Construction students and graduates, veteran tradeswomen, and women in construction management.
The delegates spent the next portion of the day at a research forum hosted by the University of Westminster. The purpose of the event was to share cutting edge research with the Delegation’s tradeswomen members, UK and European based academics, trade unionists, and practitioners.
The Forum focused on three current structural challenges deeply affecting women working within the construction industry. Strategies for increasing women’s access to the trades; female empowerment and leadership, and their impact on working and living conditions; women, climate literacy, and zero carbon construction.
Panelists included researchers, trade unionists and practitioners from Canada, the United States, South Africa, across Europe, and the UK. Three of our delegates shared about impacts that they have had on their local areas.
Our delegates partnered with the Islington Council to tour three different sites. The first was their Joinery Workshop where we met two women working with the council in carpentry. One has completed her apprenticeship and one is a 1st year apprentice. It was interesting to learn how their apprenticeship works and share our systems of apprenticeship from back home.
The second site tour was at K&M Decorating, a local contractor who set up their own training center for apprentices. We toured the facility, then had a round table discussion with program graduates, tradeswomen and women who work on the business side at K &M.
The third site visit was at the Kings Cross construction Sills Training Centre run by North-West London College. We toured their training facility and learned about their partnership with the borough of Islington and the developer responsible for the major Kings Cross redevelopment project.
Delegates also walked toured the new construction and learned about the history of the area and the massive redevelopment project that is taking place.
The day concluded with a reception at the Islington Town Hall where we heard from elected officials, TBB Delegates and UK tradeswomen.
The Tradeswomen Building Bridges Community Picnic at Caledonian Park on June 12th was a massive success. Residents of Islington came out to meet us, ask questions, and listen to our stories about being women in the construction trades.
Member of Parliament for Islington South and Finsbury, and Labour’s Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry, Islington Mayor Marian Spall, Deputy Council Leader Diarmaid Ward, Councilor Jason Jackson, Councilor Hannah McHugh, and Councilor Saiqa Pandora spoke at the event about the importance of women in construction and the opportunities that the Holloway Prison Project represent for the community.
The Colleges of West, North-West and North-East London (CNWL, CWL, and CONEL were present to offer information on apprenticeships that they offer.
We heard from community activists Nikki Gibbs and Sophie Benedict on the importance of creating a womens building to house social services on the Holloway site.
We also heard from tradeswomen Bim Balogun Springer, Nikeia Hunter, Marie Havsgaard, and Doreen Cannon on their career journeys as tradeswomen.
It was fitting that this day of community advocacy took place at the site of a 40,000 gathering of trade unionists who came together to show support for the Tolpuddle Martyrs who were sent to Australia for forming a trade union. We came to London as proud trade unionists looking to spread the sentiment of solidarity and inclusion.