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Decline of Women in the Construction Trades
By Chris the Abducted Alien
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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Highlighted Points in the Findings
Commentary by Chris L. Joanet, Carpenter Local 250
Posted October 28, 2009

The validity of what I and others have been writing and stating for years has been validated in numerous studies by people and organizations for decades...or has it? The Federal, State and local governments throughout this country including some of our unions and contractors have not been fully, if at all, supporting women in the construction trades, with or without the Federal, State or Local Affirmative Action laws in place...


The United States has a long history of battles over racial equity in public education. But it also has had a long history civil rights discrimination, period, throughout history. The debate in 1996 was centered on affirmative action in higher education only, with a special focus on reverse discrimination with Prop 209.


As universities craft admissions policies, much attention was given to what types of policies will stand up to legal challenges. This calculus on the part of university administrators exemplifies how judicial decisions and legislative mandates can affect bureaucratic decision making and public policy. The study examined the effect that these decisions and mandates have had on policy outcomes, namely, minority representation of black and Latino undergraduate students.  The analysis was conducted using state and university level data, collected from the US Department of Education.


Nothing on women in the construction trades, regardless of race. They were left out of these studies completely.




In 1996, when California passed Proposition 209 to end affirmative action programs in hiring, public college and university admissions, and contracting, many predicted that hard-fought gains for equal job opportunities for women and people of color would be jeopardized. They were correct!


In this study, the Discrimination Research Center (DRC) and Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) have examined the history of women in the construction industry, where the number of tradeswomen has been extremely low due to discriminatory hiring and recruiting and a male-dominated culture. This report evaluates data sets produced by local, state and federal labor agencies and the Bureau of the Census for a quantitative analysis of women’s participation in the construction trades. This study also provides a qualitative analysis through the expertise and insights gained from interviews of workers and leaders in the trades, community advocates and government officials.


Affirmative action requirements had begun to open the construction industry to carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other tradeswomen. After the passage of Proposition 209, the number of women in the construction trades declined, and in many cases the trend toward increasing representation of women has been reversed. Although the total number of available jobs in California’s construction industry has increased, these jobs have gone almost entirely to men. Since 1995, the number of men employed in California’s construction industry has increased by 23.7%, while the number of women employed in this industry has held relatively constant.


Women’s participation in apprenticeship programs, where the future workers of the industry are trained, has undergone its steepest decreases since the prohibition of affirmative action in 1996. Given these lower numbers of women in the pipeline, gender disparities in California construction will only get worse in the absence of affirmative action.


DRC and ERA, based upon this research and testimony from people knowledgeable about the construction industry, from tradeswomen and tradeswomen advocates to government officials and employers, recommend steps that should be taken to improve women’s representation in these well-paid jobs such as increased recruitment.


Increased support of women apprentices, increased retention, and increased government oversight and enforcement of contractual obligations. Even if all of these reforms are put into place, however, unless Proposition 209 is repealed, women will still find the construction industry’s gate closed to them. – “The Discrimination Research Center & Equal Rights Advocates”


We are just talking about California, here, not ALL States...

On 27 November 1996, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson blocked enforcement of the proposition. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently overturned that ruling. Proposition 209 has been the subject of many lawsuits in state courts since its passage, even today.


Although Proposition 209 makes it unlawful for the state to grant “preferential treatment” to any indi­vidual or group based on the above characteristics, it does not ban all affirmative action employment pro­grams in California or the other remaining forty-nine states.


Passed in 1996, Proposition 209 ended most forms of traditional affirmative action in public education, employment, and contracting. The Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice (HCSJ) at the UC Berkeley School of Law investigated trends in public employment since 1990, in order to analyze the impact of Proposition 209 on workforce diversity in public employment. Little research completed examined public employment in the wake of Proposition 209, a vital area given its relationship to individual wealth as well as to the state economy.  Berkeley Law, University of California


Now we are talking ALL States...

In 1978, Department of Labor (DOL) revised its regulations governing registered apprenticeship programs to establish specific affirmative standards for women. DOL explained that affirmative steps were necessary because women represented less than 5% of apprentices overall, and only between 1% and 3% of apprentices in the skilled construction trades.


The regulations required apprenticeship programs to set goals for women’s participation, and specified that in the first twelve months under the regulations the goal should generally be no less than 50% of women’s share of the overall labor force. DOL explained that this goal was not a quota and that programs that made good faith efforts would not be penalized for failing to meet the goal.


Recently, the DOL Women’s Bureau reported that “only 3% of all newly registered and active apprentices in construction occupations are women.”


After working in the Apprenticeship for twenty-one years, our enrollment was consistently under the quota by DOL. Constant pandering to the old excuses as to why women could not do construction work as set forth for decades by the all-male dominated tradesmen...


In the hard economic times of today, we will see far lower numbers of women succeeding in the trades because of the lack of support from our government and our union(s). Hopefully this will change with all of us helping to fight all forms of discrimination and civil/equal rights for ALL...not just the privileged.


The exclusion of women from the construction trades contributes to lowering the income of women as a group, as well as limiting women’s access to job security, health benefits, and a career ladder. Today, notwithstanding advances in women’s educational achievement, women still earn less than men. In the first quarter of this year, median weekly earnings for women who worked full time were 78.9% of the median for men.


Under President Barack Obama, there is now an opportunity to explore new approaches to this challenge. One starting point may simply be an investigation into the reasons why prior affirmative policies adopted by DOL have so completely and utterly failed to improve women’s access to jobs in the construction trades.


I have included the highlighted portions of the research on “The Decline of Women in the Construction Trades,” below.



The relevant portion of Proposition 209 reads: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”


According to the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW), critical and accurate information about women is no longer available from the federal government. For example, the removal of 25 fact sheets from the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau website denies “women and researcher’s critical information on everything from staffing to pay equity to child care to issues of specific importance to black and Latina women and women business owners.” National Council for Research on Women, Press Release, April 28, 2004,


The BLS provides a perspective on otherwise limited data regarding women in the construction trades. A representative from the BLS cautions, however, that smaller estimates for detailed occupations, such as the numbers for women in the construction trades, may have large standard errors associated with them.


DRC examined these crafts because they reflect occupations within the industry that employ higher numbers of women and because their titles remained relatively consistent between the 1980, 1990 and 2000 Census Bureau surveys. Laborers may have slightly higher numbers because the designation “laborer” encompasses workers performing a broader range of tasks than those in the other trades. Furthermore, laborers often perform less specialized tasks. Some of the other trades have higher numbers of women as a result of affirmative action injunctive relief gained through litigation. For the 1990 data, the numbers for carpenters, except apprentices, electricians, apprentices, and plumbers, except apprentices were combined, respectively, with their apprentice counterparts (i.e., “carpenters with apprentices,” etc.) to provide the closest comparison with 2000 data. This increase is most likely due to the Carpenters’ Union’s court-imposed affirmative action policy.


The data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau are produced every ten years and are not available for the years in between.


Many contractors have agreed, either through collective bargaining or informal agreements, to hire only union referrals; therefore, union membership is often a requirement for getting a job. Testing often places groups that were previously excluded from the trades at a disadvantage because they are often unfamiliar with the common terminology used in the industry and their test answers are often deemed “less satisfactory.” Many times, apprenticeship opening dates are communicated through informal networks. Because many women are not aware of or are excluded from these networks, they are often unaware of openings.


In the past twenty to thirty years, affirmative action policies have resulted in huge gains for men of color in the construction industry, while tradeswomen have benefited much less from these laws. Until the mid-1960s, nepotism in the construction industry even excluded many white men. Skills and union membership were passed from father to son.


A 1991 survey of female apprentices and journeywomen by the Joint Committee of the California Apprenticeship Council Standing Committee On Equal Opportunity In Apprenticeship and The Chief’s Advisory Committee on Women In Apprenticeship found that, more than any other variable, employers’ resistance to hiring women explains the low numbers of female apprentices. When asked if they had experienced hostility from other workers, 64.3% answered in the affirmative, only 9.1% reported that they had experienced no hostility. Significant numbers (31.5%) reported that they received fewer jobs than men and 23.1 % encountered resistance from contractors when they were dispatched to a jobsite.


Legal Attacks on PROP 209 Ongoing Even Today 2009


In Eldredge v. Carpenters 46 Northern Cal. Counties Joint Apprenticeship & Training Comm., the Ninth Circuit held that the appropriate injunctive relief for women applicants who had been adversely affected by a carpentry apprenticeship program’s admission procedures was implementation of a system requiring that at least one of every five applicants dispatched from the referral list is a woman.


Has this really occurred at any time you, as a woman, has been in a trade apprenticeship?


Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448 (1980) (an affirmative action program requiring that 10% of federal funds granted to local public works projects be used to procure services or supplies from minority owned business was upheld); United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO-CLC v. Weber, 443 U.S. 193 (1979) (affirmative action plan collectively bargained by an employer and a union reserving 50% of the openings in a training program for black craft workers was valid); Johnson v. Transp. Agency, Santa Clara County, Cal., et al., 480 U.S. 616 (county affirmative action plan that was promulgated to remedy past discrimination was valid);


This is only a very small sampling...has it really changed anything? 230 years and counting...


Hi-Voltage Wire Works, Inc. v. City of San Jose, 84 Cal.Rptr.2d 885 (1999), aff’d, 101 Cal.Rptr.2d 653 (2000) (a contractor successfully challenged a city policy requiring contractors to either meet goals for minority and women participation or demonstrate that they had not engaged in discrimination as volatile of Proposition 209).


In order for any person that is not white male to be treated as an equal in this country, you must sue for your rights under the civil rights laws currently passed by our Federal, State or Local governments. That is if the law has not been repealed by that government. How many woman will or can afford to do this? How many of your brothers in the trades will or have assisted you in protecting your civil rights on a jobsite or your trade union?


Does the Constitution of the United States really mean what is written, “All MEN are created equal”...

Does it state anywhere in the Constitution that “MEN” is defined as a person regardless of sex?


From Encarta Dictionary, the new meanings of MAN or MEN...

1          a person(s), regardless of sex or age (often considered offensive)

2          human race in general (often considered offensive)

3          an employee or worker of either sex (often considered offensive)

4          the personification of qualities traditionally associated with the male sex, including courage, strength, and             aggression, or somebody with such qualities.

5          a term of address to a person of either sex (often considered offensive)

6          as a or one man unanimously or without exception (often considered offensive if used of women)


The Constitution was ratified and passed in all states in 1787 and would not have passed if the mention of woman/women or even a person of color was included in its writing...


What if we just amend the U.S. Constitution to include Equality for ALL...regardless of their gender, race, age, sexual preference or ethnicity? Think maybe that would eliminate all the expense, time and single pieces of legislation that has tried to force others to see everyone as equal in this country for over two hundred years?


The Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times since 1787; the first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.


Before you answer, remember, that Equal Rights Amendment still has not been ratified in seven states. There was no timeline included in the original proposal for the states to ratify ERA. The states involved in not ratifying the ERA, are the same ones that do not want HEALTH CARE or Options.


Who are these legislators that are continuing to pass down non-progressive legislation that will benefit all citizens, decade after decade?

In 1985, Republican President Ronald Reagan described comparable worth as a "cockamamie idea."

Equal pay has been the law since 1963. But today, nearly 45 years later, women are still paid less than men—even with similar education, skills and experience.

In 2007, women were paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Economist Evelyn Murphy, president and founder of The WAGE Project, estimates the wage gap costs the average full-time U.S. woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her work life.

These figures are even worse for women of color. African American women earn only 72 cents and Latinas 60 cents for every dollar that men earn. Asian American and Pacific Islander American women earn less, too. Their pay inequality is less severe than for women as a whole, but they still earned only 88 cents for every dollar that men earned in 2000.

To make matters worse, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it harder for women to prove they are the victims of pay inequality. The High Court ruled in May 2007 that women who believe they are being denied equal pay must file suit within 180 days after the discrimination occurs. – AFL-CIO

It took President Barack Obama to sign the first piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, to make it easier for people to get the pay they deserve -- regardless of their gender, race, or age.

The key word here is easier...but will this really change anything in the individual states that continue to discriminate, no matter the laws or legislation passed. No is my verdict, something else must be done...

Obama’s words after signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009

"Ultimately, equal pay isn't just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it's a question of who we are -- and whether we're truly living up to our fundamental ideals," President Obama said. "Whether we'll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure those words put on paper some 200 years ago really mean something -- to breathe new life into them with a more enlightened understanding that is appropriate for our time.” – President Barack Obama

Our trade unions have found a way around this too, since union scale is the same for both male and female...

Contractors have only been hiring women for the length of time they need to fill their quotas...if at all!

Back to our Equal Rights History on Women in the Construction Trades

Although opponents of affirmative action gained passage of anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives in California and Washington State, they have not achieved the same level of success with state legislative campaigns. Of the 94 bills and resolutions that have been introduced since 1997, only six have been enacted.


The City of Fresno stopped collecting race and gender data upon repealing its affirmative action program even though Proposition 209 did not mandate that agencies cease data collection.


Federal law requires that sponsors of apprenticeship programs adopt a “written affirmative action plan.” 29 C.F.R. § 30.4(a) (2004). The California Apprenticeship Council (CAC), which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (BAT), registers apprenticeship programs. Department of Industrial Relations Bulletin Newsletters, Executive Order Reduces Affirmative Action Mandates (May/June 1995), available at


In order to comply with 29 C.F.R. § 30, CAC issued the California Plan for Equal Opportunity in Apprenticeship, which mandates that apprenticeship program sponsors comply with Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 30.


However, on March 31, 2004, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an Executive Order prohibiting “all state agencies, departments, boards, and commissions” from hiring and promotion practices that take into account race, ethnicity, national origin, color, ancestry, gender, and various other factors that are not job-related. EX. ORDER NO. S-6-04 (Mar. 31, 2004). The Order mentions no exceptions for federally mandated affirmative action, and therefore affirmative action opponents may use it to once again challenge affirmative action in construction trades and apprenticeship programs.


These legal attacks continue today in 2009.


The percentage of women in all apprenticeship programs in California declined significantly after the passage of 209. Women accounted for 10.8 % of all apprentices in 1995 and only 7.4 % by 2002, a 31% decline.


I dare say that the same or worse numbers would come out for every state in America even without Prop 209...that is if anyone bothered to find out or want the truth...


Of the agencies contacted, only the California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Apprenticeship Standards, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics maintained records for the requested time periods regarding the percentages of women in construction occupations in California. The California Employment Development Department’s Labor Market Information Division, the agency responsible for monitoring statewide data on industries, relies on the decennial U.S. Census Bureau reports for calculating gender- and race-based statistics for industries and occupations in California, including the construction trades.


The government agencies provided data regarding projects for which they had collected and maintained workforce data. Additional projects may have been contracted during the time period under study for which data was neither collected nor retained.


The time period studied for this project was not ideal for a number of reasons. First, its short span prevented DRC from firmly identifying the pattern of female participation before and after the passage of Proposition 209. DRC was precluded from examining data from a more comprehensive time period because many agencies only had records dating back to the early 1990s. Second, because some of the projects (notably those contracted by the Department of Public Works) were worked on both before and after the passage of Proposition 209, they each may have been influenced by some of the same social forces. For example, Proposition 209 may have had an influence upon employer behavior even prior to its passage, as employers believing the initiative would pass may have simply stopped engaging in affirmative action programs in the months leading up to the vote. Equally, although Proposition 209 was passed in November 1996, it did not take effect until August 1997, so some employers may have still been engaging in affirmative action programs after the initiative’s passage. Nonetheless, we chose to utilize November 1996 as the dividing date between the pre- and post-Proposition 209 time blocks as it was the month when Proposition 209 was passed.


Between the two agencies, the Redevelopment Agency kept more extensive records and its projects had higher numbers of hours worked by women. The Redevelopment Agency keeps summary reports covering entire projects while the Human Rights Commission only keeps limited monthly or weekly payroll tracking forms for each project. Furthermore, the Redevelopment Agency was more willing to offer researchers their records. While each agency provided data covering a comparable number of projects prior to the passage of Proposition 209 (6 jobs from the Redevelopment Agency and 7 jobs from the Department of Public Works), the Redevelopment Agency sent data covering nearly 12 times as many jobs as the Department of Public Works for the period following the passage of Proposition 209 (58 jobs compared with 5 jobs). The more comprehensive data kept by the Redevelopment Agency and the willingness of this agency to submit its data facilitates the monitoring of tradeswomen’s participation in the workforce.


Data was solicited from a number of other agencies in the initial stages of this project. These agencies were unable to furnish any payroll data either because they did not maintain such records themselves or because they simply did not respond to DRC’s request.


ERA is a part work of the California Tradeswomen Policy Committee...which has developed a similar list of recommendations that address some of the same challenges raised in this paper. A number of individuals who were interviewed for this project have also contributed to the work produced by this committee.





“Decline of Women in the Construction Trades “The Discrimination Research Center & Equal Rights Advocates” DOWNLOAD>








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