Carpenter, CU Local 1596
President, Missouri Women in Trades
“This trade has transformed my life in every way,” says Beth Barton, a carpenter with 11 years of experience and the board president of Missouri Women in Trades (MOWIT). “It allowed me to escape the desperation of poverty, and it’s given me wisdom and courage…and muscles.” A determined tradeswoman and advocate, Beth is an example of how the high-wage careers in the construction trades can create opportunities for women.
“I was afraid of what would happen to me if I didn’t get a well-paying job,” says Beth about what drew her to the construction trades. She was a single mother and facing the many challenges that came with her job in healthcare not paying a sustainable living wage. Beth looked at jobs as an automotive mechanic, but those opportunities needed further education. Instead, she started calling construction companies in the phone book, telling the managers, “I grew up on a farm, and I’m a hard worker.” Eventually, one of them told her the steps of reaching out to the union and preparing to enter an apprenticeship program.
From the start, Beth was amazed by the financial stability that her new career afforded. “When I got my first paycheck, I was stupefied,” she says about her disbelief at the time that a single paycheck as an apprentice could fully pay for her needs, like quality childcare and her car payment. These great wages were hard earned, though. The career was hard, due not only to the physical nature of the work, but also to the obstacles placed in her way from discrimination and harassment. In one instance, Beth showed up at a homebuilder’s office at 5:00 AM three weeks in a row hoping to get hired on a project. The first week, she watched as the men before her and after her in line were hired. The next week, she confronted the hiring boss, and they talked for a while. After discovering that they were from the same town, he told her to come back the next week. When she did, he finally told her, “I’m sorry, but we’re never going to hire a woman.” Beth says that he went on to explain that he wanted to protect her from the harassment to which he knew she’d be subjected. “He knew he couldn’t change the circumstances that I’d be entering.”
Beth was eventually given a chance by the husband of the director of her son’s daycare. This fateful opportunity not only led to a job framing houses for over two years, but also allowed her to meet her husband, who is also a carpenter. Together, they have five children, who are all feminists. Beth says, “They’ve been trained by me and call out sexism and injustices that most people don’t see.” Her children picked this up by spending time with Beth in her role as a volunteer and Board President of MOWIT. This organization, dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in construction and building trades, was founded just three years into Beth’s career, and she jumped in to help grow it. “It’s been such a blessing for me to share the trades with other women.”
Because her trade has been so transformative in lifting her out of poverty, Beth is excited about having more women join her. “I don’t understand why there aren't more women. So many people take it for granted that women aren’t in these jobs, but I know so many strong, capable, intelligent women who would be a perfect fit.”