IUEC Supports Women Elevator Constructors at NABTU Tradeswomen Build Nations Conference

For 13 years, North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) has been bringing together women who work in the building trades through the Tradeswomen Build Nations Conference – now recognized as “the largest gathering of tradeswomen in the world”.

According to a recent news release from the International Union of Elevator Constructors’ Elevator Constructor Journal, over 100 sisters from the U.S. and Canada, along with allies in the trade, traveled to the United States capitol to represent the IUEC at the Tradeswomen Build Nations Conference. They were joined by General President Frank Christensen, Assistant General President (ret.) Jim Bender, General Secretary-Treasurer Larry McGann, and newly appointed Assistant General President Jim Chapman.

“I’ve been attending this conference since 2010, when it was named Women Build California,” said Carisa Barrett, National Coordinator for the Elevator Industry Work Preservation Fund (EIWPF). “That year, there were three other women elevator constructors in attendance – two were retired, and one was working in the field. In 2011, the year it became a national conference, IUEC president Frank Christensen appointed me to the NABTU Tradeswomen Committee. I am proud to be a part of the committee that puts this conference on each year – and I’m proud to say that the elevator constructors’ attendance breaks records every single year.”

She continued, “what started with just a few women elevator constructors has increased to over 100, along with men from the elevator trade who support us. IUEC leadership, EIWPF, NEIEP, Local Business Managers, and field brothers were all representing the IUEC this year. I’ve worked hard to get the information out to as many sisters as I can find, and to encourage each IUEC local to support their women who attend. I couldn’t be more proud of our leadership who support us and the women who are in our trade – they are some of the smartest, hardest-working women I’ve ever met. It takes a lot of courage and strength for women to make it in this industry, and we’ve got some of the best.”

This year’s conference featured presentations from some of North America’s most prominent labor leaders. Keynote speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House Speaker Emerita and a longtime supporter of working people and the union building trades, brought the crowd to a standing ovation during her keynote speech as she exclaimed, “We don’t agonize – we organize, we unionize!”

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, who has been a part of the conference since its inception, described how its reach has grown exponentially through the years. “I was reflecting back and I have been a part of this event, like many of you, since it was in a small conference room at a hotel in California. And we didn’t have a parade route. We didn’t need a megaphone because we could just talk to each other in that room. We dreamed about filling a ballroom like this,” she said. “We have increased our numbers and our power, and what a testament that is to every single one of you who went back home from one of those conferences and brought someone else with you.”

NABTU President Sean McGarvey was also a featured speaker. “You are trailblazers and role models, and reflect what we honor and love about our unions,” he began, before going on to speak about new infrastructure developments in the union construction industry that will have a positive impact on women in the building trades.

McGarvey also talked about NABTU’s Tradeswomen Heroes program, which recognizes outstanding workers with strong leadership skills across the building trades. Since 2020, this award has highlighted the professionalism of many IUEC elevator constructors, including Carisa Barrett (Local 19 / EIWPF National Coordinator), Erin Hansen (Local 25), Aimee Paquette (Local 9 / NEIEP Area Coordinator), Yvonne White (Local 25), Bethany Wilson (Local 44), Blanca Rios (Local 133 / NEIEP Area Coordinator), Katy Grace Roper (Local 37), Lindsay Labrosse (Local 19), Nicole Wiet (Local 82), Tiffaney King (Local 140), and Ciara Mackrell (Local 1).

“I was really inspired by Sean McGarvey and the work that he’s done to bring the building and trades and the tradeswomen together, utilizing the resources that he has to build our infrastructure and to give opportunities to all,” said IUEC Assistant General President Jim Chapman.

In addition to the speakers, the conference also provided opportunities for networking and connection between women in the building trades and allies who support them, and hosted workshops on important issues including mentoring, federal policies, jobsite safety, childcare, improving communication on the jobsite, and financial management.

“So many things happen at this conference. For the newcomers, it’s a sense of empowerment and sisterhood and belonging that they get, when maybe it’s the first time they’ve ever met another woman in the trade – or they get built up by the different keynote speakers. Maybe they make friends with mentors, or lifetime co-workers across the nation, and/or other countries, that they can connect with when they’re working out there and need a good support system, said Kristi Savala, a National Coordinator for EIWPF.

Sarah Caughey, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the National Elevator Industry Educational Program (NEIEP), shared a similar point of view. “This gives them the opportunity to see that there’s a whole lot of women out there that are in the trades and there’s a sisterhood, and I think this is a great opportunity for everyone to come together and realize that and feel stronger than they would otherwise on the jobsite,” she said.

Recently retired IUEC Assistant General President Jim Bender emphasized how the networking opportunities the conference provides are an important part of getting the word out to women that there are opportunities for rewarding careers in the union building trades. “It’s a great income, great benefits. It’s just a great living in the building trades. (They) pay well, you have a union representation – those are the most important things I think for them to get that message out to other women.” This is especially true in the union elevator trade, where the IUEC benefits plans in the United States and Canada are among the most comprehensive in North America.

It wasn’t just IUEC sisters from the U.S. who attended; IUEC members from Canadian Locals traveled across the border to the conference in Washington, D.C., as well. IUEC Local 50, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada was represented by several sisters. “We both work for Local 50 and we actually work together,” said Cindy-Sue Beauregard, who spoke to ElevatorInfo along with fellow IUEC Local 50 sister Tamara Fernandez. “We’re the first all-female new construction team.”

Helmets to Hardhats, a nonprofit organization that helps military Veterans transition to careers in the building trades, hosted an information booth at the conference to connect with women who could benefit from the services H2H provides. “We recruit service members and in the military there’s a lot of females specific to this event,” said Martin Helms, the organization’s Executive Director. “There are great candidates, we need women involved in the trades and this is a great source to let them know that we’re a program that’s out there.”

“All three of the general officers of the IUEC are at this conference this year which is a real affirmation of the importance of this issue, the importance of women, the importance of diversity, the importance of lifting everybody up who is a member of the IUEC and a future member of the IUEC,” said Jennifer Simon, an attorney with O’Donoghue & O’Donoghue who has for years provided legal counsel for the IUEC and related entities. “The leadership of this organization I believe has moved the IUEC forward in so many ways already, and recognizes that there is so much important work to still do.”

“We have women coming in, they’re going to be instructors, they’re going to be presidents, they’re going to be directors,” said NEIEP Area Coordinator Aimee Paquette, a member of IUEC Local 9 with 26 years’ experience in the elevator trade. “17 years ago when I started teaching, I thought I was going to be the only one forever. So we’ve come a long way.”