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Union Helps Produce Women Workers

January 21, 2010 - 3:15pm

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At the Community Environmental Center in Long Island City, N.Y. — and across the country — you don’t always see a lot of women in the construction business. Locating experienced female weatherization technicians to recruit had proven difficult for CEC, but 30-year-old Tahlia Williams is the beginning of a new era in the clean energy economy.

“Construction is something I had wanted to do for a long time,” Tahlia says. “I had no way of knowing how to get into this field because I always heard it was a man’s world. I wanted in.”

When the Recovery Act passed, providing more funding than ever to weatherize an unprecedented number of homes, CEC needed to train and hire more workers quickly without sacrificing quality. The Laborers’ International Union of North America stepped in with its local chapter and offered to take on CEC’s workers as members and train them last August. Of the 15 trainees in the initial LIUNA Weatherization Training Program, two women, including Tahlia, were hired afterward.

“Before I started doing weatherization work, I was struggling day-to-day to make ends meet,” she says.

Now Tahlia installs windows, doors, insulation and other energy-efficiency measures in the homes of New Yorkers, and she will learn to do solar panel installation in the near future.

“I am the first female on the job, which was a little bit intimidating — but it worked out,” Tahlia says. “It was a bit of a challenge getting into the industry, but I like a challenge — I have always enjoyed doing handy work.”

Tahlia now has a steady job and health benefits, which help her support herself and her three-year-old son.

Officials at CEC say the center was founded on the principles of diversity and inclusion, and as it plans to hire 25 more workers with additional stimulus funds, there just might be more women weatherization workers on the way.

CEC is the largest not-for-profit organization to provide energy conservation for low- and middle-income residents in New York. LIUNA is a half-million-strong labor union for construction workers — including weatherization workers — that advocates for benefits and opportunities on behalf of its members.

Update - As of July 2010, Community Environmental Center in Long Island City, N.Y has hired 5 additional workers.

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