We'll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction (ILR Press Books)

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9780801433603: We'll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction (ILR Press Books)
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"For my very first day in union construction I was sent to a bank in downtown Boston where a journeyman needed a hand pulling wire. Arriving early with my new tools and pouch, I knocked on the glass door in the high-rise lobby and explained to the guard that I was a new apprentice working for the electrical contractor. He refused to let me in. So I sat down on the tile floor, my backpack and toolpouch beside me, and waited for the man whose name I had written down alongside the address and directions on a piece of paper: Dan. The guard explained to Dan later that he'd figured I was a terrorist planning to bomb the bank. In 1978, that seemed more likely than that I might actually be an apprentice electrician."Susan Eisenberg began her apprenticeship with Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1978, the year President Jimmy Carter set goals and timetables for the hiring of women on federally assisted construction projects and for the inclusion of women in apprenticeship programs. Eisenberg expected not only a challenging job and the camaraderie of a labor union but also the chance to be part of a historic transformation, social and economic, that would make the construction trades accessible to women.That transformation did not happen. In this book, full of the raw drama and humor found on a construction site, Eisenberg gracefully weaves the voices of thirty women who worked as carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, painters, and plumbers to examine why their numbers remained small. Speaking as if to a friend, women recall their decisions to enter the trades, their first days on the job, and their strategies to gain training and acceptance. They assess, with thought, passion, and twenty years' perspective, the affirmative action efforts. Eisenberg ends with a discussion of the practices and policies that would be required to uproot gender barriers where they are deeply embedded in the organization and culture of the workplace.

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At a time when feminism seems mired in the hermeneutics of gender--whether, for instance, there is such a thing as feminine discourse or a feminine management style--We'll Call You When We Need You serves as a refreshing reminder of what movements like feminism and affirmative action truly stand for. Twenty years ago, Susan Eisenberg showed up for her first day as a union electrician, only to be refused entrance by the building's security guard. He thought she was a terrorist; as Eisenberg puts it, "In 1978, that seemed more likely than that I might actually be an apprentice electrician." Also in 1978, the federal government first put into place its ambitious time lines for opening construction work to women; in three years, the Department of Labor anticipated, women would constitute 6.9 percent of the industry's workforce. Perhaps predictably, this never came to pass, and what women did find work in the trades did so in the face of considerable hostility, abuse, and even physical violence from their male coworkers. We'll Call You When We Need You is the story of how these women persevered, learned their trades, and in the process prevailed. Eisenberg allows their voices to speak directly to the reader, intertwining interviews with her own observations on topics ranging from job training to sexual harassment. The 30 women represented here speak with passion and humor about their lives as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, using 20 years of experience to evaluate what feminism and affirmative action have achieved--as well as what they have not.

About the Author:

Susan Eisenberg is a poet, visual artist, oral historian, licensed electrician, and Resident Artist/Scholar at the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She is also curator of the online exhibition, On Equal Terms: gender and solidarity. Her most recent book Stanley’s Girl: Poems. Visit susaneisenberg.com for more information.

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