March 6-11 was Women in Construction Week – an annual celebration of women in the industry and, for SMART, the sisters who strengthen our union. With two profile videos, a photo contest, a kids art contest and a happy hour at the end of the week, SMART spent Women in Construction Week 2023 highlighting the achievements of women in the unionized sheet metal industry and showcasing the life-changing careers available to women across the United States and Canada.
“Women in Construction Week is a great opportunity to get more women members connected each year and more involved with their union,” SMART Women’s Committee Chair Vanessa Carman (Local 66) told SMART News. “It was great to see new sisters and allies attend and show their support.”
SMART News interviewed sisters Korri Bus of Local 16 (Portland, Ore.) and Tatjana Sebro of Local 206 (San Diego, Calif.) about their personal experiences with Women in Construction Week and the union. For Bus, Women in Construction Week plays an important role in showing tradeswomen that even if they’re the only woman on the jobsite, they’re never alone.
“It highlights all the other women who have blazed the trail for us,” she said. “Growing up in the trades, when I was a baby apprentice, I didn’t have other women that I worked around, so I didn’t really get to connect with any of them, learn from them, be mentored by any of them, understand any of the struggles that they were also dealing with. So I think it’s really neat that we all get to come together and be celebrated … knowing that there are other women in our trade kicking butt and taking names.”
Two such trailblazing women, Shamaiah Turner of Local 17 (Boston) and Leah Rambo of Local 28 (New York City), earned the spotlight for new career advancements. Turner recently transitioned from the field into union representation, becoming a business development representative for the SMART Northeast Regional Council. And in March, Rambo retired from Local 28 to become deputy director of the executive team of the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. Both women provide a strong example for the union sheet metal workers of the future.
Providing opportunity for women in construction
For unions like SMART, part of the aim of Women in Construction Week is to promote the value of entering the union building trades. Numerous studies demonstrate that unionized women earn better pay and benefits than their nonunion counterparts. For that reason, it’s important to increase awareness of the unionized sheet metal trade and how women can get involved. Sebro emphasized that Women in Construction Week helps expand knowledge of the role women play in our union and our trade, as well as the obstacles many face in their journey.
“Sometimes people don’t really understand some of the struggles and the barriers that we go through as women in the trades, so to be able to have a whole week highlighted is definitely liberating for me,” she said.
The SMART sisters of Local 206 participated in a photoshoot with fellow trades sisters, sponsored by the IBEW Local 569 and hosted at the Ironworkers Local 229 union hall. For Sebro, that represented the type of sisterhood and solidarity that has helped her throughout her career – and that, as a new journeyperson, she hopes to pass on to the next generation.
“I want to continue to move mountains and to just keep rising and to bring people with me,” she declared.