Ironworkers, pro-worker contractors OK paid maternity leave

SAN DIEGO –In a groundbreaking development for the building trades, the Ironworkers and their allied group of pro-union contractors will implement paid maternity leave for union members.

The announcement, at the union’s joint conference with the contractors in late March in San Diego, builds on a previous summit on fostering diversity — including gender diversity — in the construction trades. That January summit not only included the 130,000-member union but other building trades officials. The pro-worker Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (Impact) reported on both the summit and the maternity leave decision.

Until now, paid maternity leave has occurred either through union contracts or through state action. Arizona and Oregon became the two latest states to institute paid sick and maternity leave for most workers, in January. Paid leave in contracts is negotiated, union by union and company by company.

Congress’ ruling Republicans have stalled federal paid leave legislation for years. Impact is the first building trades contractors group to unveil “a generous paid maternity leave benefit”  — up to six months of pay pre-delivery and six to eight weeks of pay post-delivery — the union said in a statement from San Diego.

The Ironworkers called providing paid maternity leave “laudable, considering…most industries in the country do not offer adequate paid maternity leave. It’s virtually unheard of in the building trades.” And “the challenges of physical work associated with the ironworking trade create unique health challenges that can jeopardize a pregnancy,” the union noted.

Ironworker rep Vicki O’Leary, who announced the new policy, said she’s “extremely excited” about it and that it would “help with retention of Ironworker women and encourage them to build a career. It’s one more step in achieving greater diversity in our trade.”

“It’s a relief to know that female Ironworkers don’t have to choose between work and family anymore,” added Blue Coble, of Local 75 in Phoenix.

“We are very proud to be the first to introduce a paid maternity program in the building trades,” said Iron Workers President Eric Dean. “It’s about time we make our industry a level playing field for women and make diversity and inclusion a priority.”

Impact Co-chair Bill Brown, CEO of Ben Hur Construction of St. Louis, added the contractors were unsure at first about how to set up the paid maternity leave program and what it would cost. “But we realized that it’s an investment because we want our well-trained Ironworker women to come back to work,” he said in the joint union-Impact statement.

The paid maternity leave announcement came two months after a diversity summit of Ironworkers, other building trades union leaders and contractors, in D.C. That summit, Impact said, focused on how to attract and retain more women and minorities in the building trades. Women make up only 2.6 percent of all construction workers.

“It’s critical to examine assumptions about dominant culture vs. underrepresented groups and promote gender and culturally sensitive employment practices,” Lauren Sugarman of Chicago Women in Trades told one panel then. She also said there “must be a critical mass of initiatives that are rigorously monitored and driven through” to encourage women in trades. “In other words, we must walk the talk and make diversity and inclusion part of the culture.”

That summit led to toolkits on how to recruit women and minorities into trades and also to retain them. Elizabeth Skidmore of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters said that while pre-apprenticeships bring women into the trades, placements are not enough.

“Having multi-stakeholder involvement is vital in improving retention” of women in trades, so “it is important to bring contractors to the table and include them in the conversation,” Skidmore said.

Source: PAI