1) What brought you to the sisterhood and choose to be a union carpenter?
I was a college grad working retail back in 2011 and hating every minute of it. During my job hunt, I saw an ad in the paper for apprenticeship applications for the local carpenter’s union (then Trenton’s 31). I instantly knew I had to join, because I was always someone who took pride in the work I could see and feel. To spend my time building things that society needed and to learn a skill I could use for myself suited my personality and my life goals.
2) What was your favorite project or worksite?
Probably my third job in the union, which was at Rutger’s campus in New Brunswick. And it was my favorite because it was the first time I saw real comradery amongst a tight knit group of workers. All the guys knew each other, worked well together, ate break and lunch together, and immediately made sure I was a part of the crew. My foreman took extra care to make sure I was learning my trade from a skilled journeyman, and I found out that a job site could be fun, even funny, while getting serious work done.
My other favorite was a cabinet job in Parsippany, which was in my second year of my apprenticeship. Again, I got to work with and get to know a bunch of guys from my local who took their role of teaching me everything they could quite seriously. I also had a foreman who trusted me enough to give me a brief rundown on how to read their prints, then left me alone to get my work done. But most significantly, it was the first time I got to work with a fellow female carpenter, and she was part of overseeing the cabinet installation. We’ve stayed friends ever since then, and have gone out to the Vegas Training Center together as well.
3) Who was your inspiration growing up?
Well, it has to be my parents, right? My dad should have been a carpenter, but even though he wasn’t in the trades, he had enough knowledge and skills to do all his home repair. As soon as I was old enough to climb a ladder – which was when I was FOUR – I became my dad’s helper. He taught me how to use my first tools, how to paint, how to look at a problem and come up with a solution. I got my first little tool set when I was seven, and I still have that tiny hammer and screwdriver somewhere.
As for my mom, it was the lessons of sticking to my guns and not backing down from what I wanted or knew was right. I was always sort of doing my own thing, and she helped instill the confidence to do so. She taught me I could always find a way to reach my goals, and to value both my intelligence and my willingness to work hard.
4) What advice would you tell young women looking to pursue a career in the trades?
Prepare yourself for blood, sweat, and tears, and don’t let anyone make you think this isn’t hard work. Start a work out regiment for yourself. Start saving the money you make as soon as you begin working, and make sure you have a reliable vehicle. Know that you will work with people who are thrilled to have you in the union, but also people who are not. That’s the reality of becoming part of a male dominated field, your presence will not always be welcome. But if you learn your trade, apply yourself thoroughly, go to your meetings, and make yourself known as a reliable worker, the people who matter will notice. And make sure you do you job so that you can be proud of your work at the end of each day.
5) What do you like best about being a member of Local 254 and a union carpenter?
I’ve always felt that my BA’s and reps had my back. I’ve never personally experienced anything but encouragement from my leadership, and I appreciate that their support for women in the local isn’t just lip service. It has tangible, measurable effects, and I am thankful for that. As a union carpenter in general, the work that I do and the opportunities I have are second to none. Without Local 254, and in particular without Pala, the company I’ve been working for, I wouldn’t have my house, or the quality of life I enjoy. I also value the independence of my skills, so that I can work on my own home to my satisfaction and I don’t have to pay anyone else to do it for me. I’ve said it over and over, joining the union was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
-Katy Kidell, Journeyman in Local 254