Advocating for Women's Rights in the Ironworkers Union
Ironworkers typically end up plying their trade at the very top of under-construction buildings, notes Eric Dean, adding, “And the view from the top is pretty good.”
The International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers (IW) union is on top in establishing a maternity-leave policy for women ironworkers. At its annual conference in March 2017, the IW and the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) announced a groundbreaking move that officials hope will boost recruitment and retention of women workers. The program gives qualified pregnant ironworkers up to six months of paid leave and up to six weeks postpartum.
Eric M. Dean
ENR 4/3/17 p. 12
Launched a groundbreaking maternity-leave program for women ironworkers.
The impetus came after Dean, general president of IW, attended a “Women Build Nations” conference. One ironworker related how she had miscarried due to continuing to work on the job in order to comply with the work quota. That inspired Dean and Bill Brown, CEO of Ben Hur Construction Co. and co-chair of IMPACT, to confer with female colleagues and draw up a plan modeled after an existing off-the-job accident-benefits plan. Brown presented the plan to the board as a good business case, noting that losing a female ironworker means losing at least $32,000 spent on her four-year apprenticeship.
“General President Dean listened and immediately acted to do the right thing to keep members safe during pregnancy,” says Vicki O’Leary, whom Dean hired to serve as diversity chair for IW. “Now, no female ironworker will ever have to choose between work and having a family.”
For Dean, that’s just the first step. “I’ve asked Vicki to look at all inclusivity perspectives. The maternity program was a big step for female workers, but we are now looking at other initiatives” to recruit other minorities, he says. “I’m proud our union is being a change agent.”