Tina Burd, like a lot of women in the building trades, isn't used to seeing other women on a job site. So it was a bit of a culture shock when she showed up to the area's first-ever "She Build" event where everyone on the crew was a woman.
"I've never seen so many women working together," said the Peoria, Ill., Local 34 member. "The sisterhood of the day was really wonderful."
She Build's all-women crew was part of Peoria's Rebuilding Together Day where members of different building trades team up to do repairs in the community. The event, which took place on Sept. 25, included nine construction projects, on homes and community buildings. And one all-women crew.
Burd was joined by women from a multitude of other crafts including insulators, carpenters, masons, painters and more to repair the home of an older disabled couple, who had union roots of their own. The husband was a Teamster.
"It's nice to know there are so many other women in the trades out there," Burd said. "And it's great to be able to help a family in need."
For her part, Burd replaced a receptacle and two very old lights with LEDs, and updated some similarly old wiring.
"One of the lights almost fell apart in my hands," she said.
Burd, who will get her 15-year member pin this year, also helped replace a drop ceiling and pitched in on some much-needed yard work as well.
"Most of us were winging it, but we got it done," Burd said. "Everybody was laughing and having a good time. It was a really good day."
The all-women crew came about after a group of tradeswomen attended the Women Build Nations conference in Minneapolis in 2019, said Sharon Williams, who works for the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council and heads up the Union Sisters of Central Illinois, which helped put on the She Build event. Upon returning home, the women got together to create a local group to keep up the momentum of the conference and give tradeswomen a chance to get together.
"Many of these women go to work every day and never see another woman on their projects. This group has given them an opportunity to network and talk about challenges, as well as meet women from other trades," Williams said.
As for the inaugural day, which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Williams says it was a success.
"This was one of the best-run projects I have seen," Williams said. "These women know their stuff. It was great to see them working together as a team to complete these much-needed repairs."
The day went so well, in fact, that the women decided to make it an annual event, and they may even have enough women for two teams next year.
"We got tons of publicity and since the news reports ran, we've had a lot of contact from women who want to help on the next project," Williams said.
Burd and Williams both noted the added benefit of an all-women crew as a recruiting tool to bring more women into the construction industry.
"Part of bringing these women together is to promote women in the trades," Williams said. "We have several who attend events at high school career fairs just to put a face out there for girls to see. They want to promote the fact that these are great middle-class jobs with great benefits and that women can, in fact, do these jobs."
The women aren't waiting for the next Rebuilding Together Day either. Williams says they've got two other volunteer projects lined up. One involves installing new bike racks at area parks and the other is the installation of a monument for the Moffatt Cemetery Freedom and Remembrance Memorial Park.
"I have been given a wonderful opportunity to work with some amazing women in the trades," said Williams, who is a member of the Communications Workers of America and runs the building trades newspaper. "These women go to work every day to provide for their families and work in some very dangerous situations. They are highly skilled, organized and work for the betterment of the construction industry. I am proud to know every one of them."