Electrician (not-active), IBEW Local 302
Executive Director, Tradeswomen, Inc.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Meg Vasey of her 35-year career as an electrician, compliance officer, and Executive Director of Tradeswomen, Inc. First attracted to the trades to earn equal pay for equal work, Meg is a trailblazer for women in non-traditional employment and works every day to build a more equitable industry for future tradeswomen. “I want our daughters and granddaughters to be welcomed and included in the trades.”
Meg started working with tools in 1977, doing “hippie odd jobs” in Berkeley, California. She was drawn to construction through her enjoyment of working outdoors and with her hands. “I like seeing a concrete project at the end,” says Meg. Meg sought out Women in Apprenticeships, a pre-apprenticeship organization, for help in finding and applying to apprenticeship programs when she realized that she wanted good training to be skilled at her work. “I knew that the IBEW offered good training and union protection for equal pay. This was more of an issue at the time and was important to me.”
When Meg started working, the attitudes of the men on the job were not particularly favorable. “I had to prove myself over and over again. And I don’t think that’s changed much for women, or at least not as much as I’d like.” The challenging attitudes added to already difficult work. “You work hard, and you get laid off and get a break. Then you work hard again.” Meg succeeded by being stubborn and committed to the work. “I was a good ‘mechanic,’ and I made good money to raise my family and pay for childcare.” She says that the tough work environment requires tradeswomen to have a sense of humor to stand up to ribbing, and strategies to create bonds with their colleagues. For Meg, this meant learning a lot about sports. “You need something to talk about other than sex or guns over lunch, and sports gave me a common language to speak.”
Even with this smart strategy, Meg says that sometimes you have to take risks and hope that you can trust your union brothers. When she was pregnant with her first child, many of the jobs that were available were at local refineries. Not wanting to tell anyone she was pregnant yet, Meg passed on a few jobs and was in danger of being rolled off the books – and losing her health insurance. “I went to my business agent, even though I didn’t know if he’d be supportive. I explained my situation. He didn’t promise me anything, but I didn’t get rolled, and I got a call to show up at a job that wouldn’t have exposure to a toxic environment. You never know who will help if you ask.”
Although these strategies worked out for Meg, she is working to create an industry where women feel less isolated. “We’ve gotten better – women aren’t an oddity anymore, but it’s not at all what I’d envisioned when I started 35 years ago. I thought there would be more women, not just the 2-3%.” Since putting away her tools in 1998 and graduating from UC Berkeley School of Law in 2001, Meg has been working to address the endemic discrimination and growing gender gap in the construction industry. Visit Tradeswomen Tuesdays next week to learn about her work today and why she doesn’t want to be like Rosie the Riveter.
Tradeswomen’s Tuesday is a campaign to bring visibility to the nearly 200,000 women who are building our nation and breaking down barriers in construction trades. These women love what they do and want more women like them to enter their trades. Legal Momentum’s Equality Works project works with women like Meg to ensure that they will not have to face obstacles every day on the job. For more information on women in the trades, see Legal Momentum’s 2013 Report, “Still Excluded.”
If you're a tradeswoman who is interested in being featured in this series, contact Françoise Jacobsohn, Equality Works Project Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.