A career in the union-building trades provides world-class job training, a lifelong career, job stability, and excellent benefits. I joined as a third-generation pipefitter, following my grandfather and my father into the trades. I’ve had the chance to help build universities, power plants, and cutting-edge medical labs with a great team.
That’s in large part because Locals like mine have committed to creating space and opportunities for women. Pipefitters Local 537 has been nothing but supportive of me. They are 100% behind anyone who shows up wanting to do the job. In fact, Local 537 is a regional leader in promoting diversity and equality in the building trades. In 2019, we welcomed an apprentice class with 60% more women than the year before. Many efforts drove this tremendous growth, including the Local’s outreach at job fairs and partnerships with programs like Building Pathways, which offers career opportunities in the construction trades to women and people of color.
More women are seeing and reaping the benefits of equal pay in the union building trades, too. March 24, Equal Pay Day, symbolizes how far into the year many women must work to earn what men earned the previous year — roughly 81.1 percent of what men earn. Being a union pipefitter, welder, or HVAC-R technician makes a big difference though. Collective bargaining ensures that everyone doing the same job gets paid the same amount. So all members receive the same wages and benefits — no matter their race, gender, or zip code. I’m not worried about not making my bill payments or saving for retirement. Equal Pay Day is just another day on the job.
Union tradeswomen are continuing to strengthen our bonds of sisterhood and encourage even more women to join. With my two Sisters, Jane Walsh and Savy Francis, we founded the Women’s Committee for Local 537 to help build a network of women within our Local and give back to 537. I’ve been fortunate to hear from many other women who describe their experiences in a similar way. When you get to learn a new trade, apply your hard-earned skills every day, and thrive in a career that lets you support your family, the opportunities are endless.
Right now, many women feel stuck in their careers or disappointed by the choices or lack of opportunity they see before them. If you’re willing to put in the work and show up on time every day, you already have everything you need to succeed in the building trades. You don’t need any experience; you get on-the-job training. I’m here to tell other women: doors in the trades are open, and there are non-traditional opportunities within the union building trades. The future for women in the trades is bright, and it’s yours for the taking.
Julie Hemingway is a resident of Carver, Mass. and a member of Pipefitters Local 537. Headquartered in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Local 537 represents over 3,000 pipefitters, welders, and HVAC refrigeration technicians across New England.