Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hard Hatted Women hopes to snag jobs from Obama construction program




Hard Hatted Women hopes to snag jobs from Obama construction program
by Alison Grant/Plain Dealer Reporter
Saturday December 06, 2008, 4:03 PM


John Kuntz/The Plain Dealer

Carpenter Rocky Hwasta, president of Allied Cleveland Tradeswomen, works Friday at the construction site of the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center in Cleveland.The poor economy and a loss of private donations are battering Hard Hatted Women, an organization that promotes women in high-wage, blue-collar careers.



The group is bracing to lose as much as $225,000 in funding next year, chopping 40 percent off its 2008 budget of $550,000. It's cutting employees and has no money for pre-apprenticeship training.


But Hard Hatted Women is hardly laying down the tool belt.


The Cleveland organization is expanding a pilot project to consult on diversity and sexual-harassment at construction sites. A partnership with the Ohio Department of Transportation helps place skilled tradeswomen in highway construction jobs. And the non-profit group has snagged a coveted federal grant.


Now it's watching for an even bigger prize to emerge -- a New Deal-style, explosion of public construction work proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.


"That's where we want to connect the dots," Executive Director Terri Burgess Sandu said. "How do we get women and girls into those jobs?"


Obama has outlined a plan to rebuild roads and bridges and modernize schools while developing alternative energy sources and more efficient cars. The economic recovery plan aims to create 2.5 million jobs by January 2011.


It's important for women to get a foothold in such federal enterprises from the outset, Sandu said. When construction gets an infusion of public dollars, the mechanism for women and minorities to get in on the action has to be in place at the beginning -- when terms of the work are nailed down, studies show.


Elaine Bernard, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said any massive undertaking will face the stubborn question of how many women are in the pipeline. Traditionally, it has been few. Women represent about 3 percent of the workers on construction sites nationwide.


"Women in the trades will be hired like anybody else," Bernard said. "The issue is who's coming into the skilled trades?"


Sandu said Hard Hatted Women is slashing expenses so it can survive and continue helping women into non-traditional occupations.


It's laying off three of five staff members and moved out of a restored mansion on Superior Avenue to plainer digs a mile away in the one-time hall of Laborers Local 860 on Prospect Avenue. The move will save about $80,000 in rent over five years.


The budget cuts are meant to make the group viable without foundation support, even though Sandu will submit grant proposals as usual.


"It's not a desperate plea, 'Please give us money or we'll close,' " she said. "We really want to be able to say that we're on ethical and fiscally responsible ground and anything that our foundation partners can give will allow us to build more."


Hard Hatted Women had several tumultuous years after founding Director Kathy Augustine was ousted amid claims that the group's finances were in disarray and it was losing focus as a champion of tradeswomen.


The group on its Web site describes the discord as the growing pains of a grassroots collective evolving into a more mainstream, professional organization.


Hard Hatted Women has hung onto outside support even as other donors have faded away.
In 2007, it was one of three groups nationwide to win a two-year Department of Labor grant -- $300,000 -- for a "women in non-traditional occupations" program.


This year, it was one of 21 new recipients of United Way funding in Greater Cleveland. It was awarded $60,000 annually for three years to support training of low-income women.


"They have encountered some bumps along the way," said United Way Executive Vice President Bill Plato. "But they have a generally good track record."


http://www.cleveland.com/news/index.ssf/2008/12/hard_hatted_women_hopes_to_sna.html

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