Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Women Buck Trend in Predominantly Male Construction Industry

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Women Buck Trend in Predominantly Male Construction Industry

Article excerpt

Tina Phinney, a second-year Kansas City apprentice iron worker, chose construction for one reason: "Money."

It's a common incentive for women to join the predominantly white male field.

Pay for journeymen construction workers far exceeds most traditional women's jobs. Phinney, like other women apprentices, is already earning more than she did in previous jobs, even at 50 percent of journeyman wages. She formerly worked in accounting in a construction office.

"I got tired of being inside," she said. "This is where the money is."

To thrive in the field, she and other women apprentices say it helps to have a streak of stubbornness, physical stamina and a willingness to push aside snide remarks.

Dorreen Kunkel was turned away by the first union she approached because she was older than 30. The iron workers accepted her, and she's now in her first-year apprenticeship at age 32. In the past, she worked as a "flag girl" in construction and as a machine operator in a cookie factory.

"Already the pay and benefits are better," she said. "It's hard work and a lot of hours on your feet."

For the most part, treatment is fair, a group of four women iron worker apprentices said. A few male colleagues harangue them about "taking away a man's job."

"But you get harassment on any job," Kunkel said.

The women are bucking a trend of declining numbers of women and minorities in construction trades. After progress in the 1970s, today's participation nationally is actually no better than a decade ago. Nationally, women held 1.9 percent of all construction jobs in 1992.

Several veteran women construction workers say the low numbers reflect the continual harassment and discrimination at job sites by a minority of coworkers. Journeyman iron worker Carol Joyce said she works only two or three days a week, less than similarly trained white men. She supplements her construction income with Mary Kay cosmetic sales.

The irregular work means she must pay for a full week's child care for her two children, even though she may only work several days. In her 10 years on the job, she said, she has repeatedly encountered both racial and sexual discrimination, but "I just try to remove myself as much as possible. …

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