It's 4:30 a.m., and Ana Taveras is starting her day by flying up the New Jersey Turnpike, likely above the speed limit, to reach the local office of a laborers' union some 75 miles north. There, she officially begins a day of shuttling to meetings and construction sites as a regional labor organizing coordinator.

RESULTS Ana Taveras, once told she didnt belong here, is now a rising laborers union regional organizer.
Graphic by Justin Reynolds
A special feature in ENR.

Hopefully, says the single mom of two teenage daughters, she will make it home by 9 p.m. Hard work and long days don't bother Taveras, who grew up on a farm in the Dominican Republic and entered the U.S. at age 14 speaking no English. However, she is bothered by a lack of respect from those she encounters in the industry.

“Being a woman of color with an accent were three strikes against me,” says Taveras. “But I knew I was there to do a job. I'm a doer.”

Taveras has plenty to do in running organizing efforts for a 10-county region that includes 2,500 workers, five organizers, four business agents, supervisory duties at two New Jersey locals and a burst of area construction. “She just wants results,” says Henry Herrarte, a regional organizer. “She's a great boss.”

Taveras joined the union in the 1990s after graduating from Non-Traditional Employment for Women (NEW), a New York City pre-apprentice craft training program inaugurated in 1978 to help unions and contractors meet a new federal mandate for women to represent 6.9% of their ranks. Family issues had forced her to withdraw from college.

“I had to do what I had to do,” she says. Taveras recalls becoming a shop steward “by accident.” Since then, she has sought new training and responsibility.

Taveras was chosen for union leadership training at Cornell University and is gaining an online degree at the AFL-CIO national college.

But degrees only go so far on jobsites.

“I'm a link between the old and new membership,” says Taveras, Noting the down economy, she cites her ability as a woman to empathize with struggling members' situations. But Taveras must administer the occasional tough love. “I can't please everyone, but they respect what I do. There's a lot of ground to cover.”

Taveras cites a union push to staff a construction boom in Newark, N.J., that could total $1.7 billion through 2012, say published reports.