The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Dept. has added a sixth national standing committee. After two years in development, the Committee of Women in the Trades will join standing committees on apprenticeship, organizing, project labor agreements, health and safety and the general presidents. BCTD President Edward C. Sullivan announced formation of the panel at BCTD’s annual legislative conference in Washington, D.C., last month.

"It’s a great turning point; it’s historic," says Lauren Sugerman, president of Chicago Women in Trades and a founding member of the new standing committee.

Nancy Gentile, the painters’ union coordinator for academic affairs, co-chairs the committee with BCTD Secretary-Treasurer Joe Maloney. "We want to demonstrate that women’s issues are union issues. They are building trades issues. They are contractor issues," says Gentile. Panel members, representing all 15 construction crafts, hope the efforts will boost recruitment and retention of women in the trades.

One of the committee’s initial efforts will be to focus on leadership advancement for women. "People don’t just walk into leadership roles," says Sugerman. "They are groomed and mentored." The committee can institutionalize this nationally and serve as a model for the regional and state levels, she adds.

Gentile says that most women enter the trades through apprenticeships. The panel wants to increase resources for these women, particularly if one should be the only woman in a program. Other goals include finding strategies to address concerns about sexual harassment and the lack of separate sanitary facilities on a jobsite.