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Non-Union Apprenticeship Program in WA Shut Down for Discrimination Against Women

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In Washington state, a non-union International Electrical Contractors (IEC) apprenticeship program was recently shut down due to discrimination against women.  Nicole Grant, Executive Director of the Certified Electrical Workers of Washington and a Vice President of the Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO, wrote about the unfortunate news in The Stand:

…the Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council voted to shut down IEC Apprenticeship of Washington after finding them guilty of years of gender discrimination. The three-day hearing exposed the cynical way in which IEC signed women up, thus pleasing the agencies that monitor programs for discrimination, while offering them no real career opportunities.

In her moving testimony, apprentice electrician Johnee Guizzotti described how she was given a list of numbers by IEC to call to ask for a job. On one occasion a foreman called her back, seemingly eager to hire, but when he heard her voice and realized she was a woman, he changed his mind. When Johnee reported this to IEC they laughed at her.

An investigation into IEC by the Washington State Department of Labor and industries showed that only 33% of their electrical contractors hired women. With so few opportunities to work, many female apprentices wandered away and either found legitimate apprenticeships that would put them to work or left the industry altogether.

An upcoming construction boom could mean opportunities for women in the Washington trades will be at an all-time high.  To fully take advantage of this situation, however, attitudes must be changed by those who provide career guidance.  Grant continues:

With plenty of work for everyone, any apprentices displaced by IEC closing will be able to transfer into one of the many great electrical apprenticeships across the state.

As for the many women apprentices needed to bring balance to all construction crafts, there has never been a better time for a woman to join an apprenticeship. Sadly it seems as if it is up to the men and women enjoying careers in construction today to encourage the women in their networks to apply for these opportunities.

A 2013 study on women in apprenticeship reported that virtually no high school counselors are recommending apprenticeship as a career path for female students. Clearly cultures both inside and outside of the industry need to modernize and break down the barriers that prevent women from enjoying construction careers.

Union apprenticeship appears to be the obvious solution. The Building Trades unions and their signatory contractors, through collective bargaining, invest one billion dollars annually in apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship. Participants in union apprenticeship programs are 17 percent more likely to finish their program than their non-union counterparts. And perhaps most relevant to Grant’s concerns, union construction councils from California to New Jersey and back to Missouri are committing anew to bringing women and minorities into the fold. We can only hope non-union groups like IEC clean up their act and make similarly honest commitments.


One Comment on “Non-Union Apprenticeship Program in WA Shut Down for Discrimination Against Women”

  1. As a woman and now as a licensed journeyman electrician in Washington state, I am so thankful to the IBEW for the education and opportunities I have been given. You get out what you put in and the IBEW is invested in our future through a great apprenticeship program. 8000 hours on the job, and 1250 in the classroom. It takes commitment, but it’s worth it!

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