Thirty-five years ago on April 7, President Carter issued federal regulations that opened construction jobs and trade apprenticeships to women. Carter laid out a path that should have led to women holding 25 percent of the construction jobs by now. But we've barely gained a toehold.

Only 1.6 percent of carpenters, 1.8 percent of electricians, 1.3 percent of operating engineers, 2.9 percent of construction laborers and 2.5 percent of the overall trades work force are female, according to the latest reports from the Department of Labor.

Women like myself who entered apprenticeships in 1978 remember the robust recruitment, training and government oversight that made unions and contractors take us seriously. We believed the Department of Labor's "There's a future in it!" posters advertising apprenticeships to women, and we believed the government had our backs.

Then President Reagan reversed that momentum. His administration cut full-time employees at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs by one-third and made it known that excluding women from a fair shot at careers in the trades carried little consequence. The effects are still felt today, as the compliance oversight agency operates with half the staffing that it had under Carter.

A woman walking onto a construction jobsite today may find herself time-traveled back to 1963, when it was legal to discriminate in hiring, promotion and layoffs.

It is not uncommon to hear of women who are carpenters or line workers being told on their first day by the foreman, "I will run you off of this job before this week is over."

The stories are remarkably similar across the country.

Tradeswomen have been locked in a porta-potty (or in an electric closet).

They have been "counted" in an apprenticeship program but not given adequate training -- or sometimes not even sent out to a job.

Biased evaluations have derailed hard-earned careers.

Unsafe assignments intended to scare women into quitting have led to serious injuries or fatalities.

Tradeswomen have faced sexual assaults and even rapes on the job, and then have been advised to "forget about it" by a training director or business manager.

An industry that depends on the infusion of public dollars, tax breaks and other accommodations needs to practice fair employment, even when the perpetrator of discrimination and abuse is someone's friend or brother-in-law or long-term employee.

Recently, the construction industry has been adding new jobs at an accelerating rate -- 150,000 in the past five months.

For women to share in these good jobs, actions need to be taken.

Two-tier training systems need to be combined into one that trains all apprentices for careers. This could be tracked by counting apprentices and journey-level workers as separate occupations.

Project Labor Agreements that ensure prevailing wages for workers need to include funded plans for fair hiring.

Job foremen and union stewards -- not the victims -- need to be responsible for ending discrimination on job sites.

The 1978 regulations need to be updated to match today's work force. New regulations, expected two years ago, are now expected in October.

We've been waiting a long time for fairness on the construction site. President Obama, where do you stand?

Susan Eisenberg ( directs the On Equal Terms Project at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center. Her touring mixed media art installation, "On Equal Terms," will exhibit Sept. 22-Oct. 20 at the Clemente Soto Velez Center in New York City. She can be reached at

You can read more pieces from The Progressive Media Project by clicking here.


Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project