SM Local 56 (Nova Scotia) roofer Alexis Lynk enjoys working with her hands. Even before she became a union roofer, she was no stranger to hands-on labor, serving customers and navigating hectic, fast-paced work situations in the service industry.

“I worked at McDonald’s for nine years,” Lynk said. “But I wasn’t making ends meet with the wages I had.”

The subpar pay led her to enroll in a trade apprenticeship through Women Unlimited, a program that introduces women to various trades via practical experience. Through that process, Lynk found her niche in roofing. And while the Women Unlimited program wasn’t her first encounter with the trades — her father was a tradesperson, and she dabbled in some trades work in high school — the mentorship and learning model cemented the union roofing industry as her new career path.

“When I come to work and I’m scared to do something, I have people to guide me,” Lynk explained. “They don’t just do it for me, they go through it with me step-by-step, so later I can do it on my own.”

Now, she is back at a McDonald’s — but this time as a roofer, working on top of the building rather than within it.

As the only female roofer on the jobsite, Lynk recalled feeling slightly nervous during her first days at work. She worried how people would perceive her skill set on the job. However, her nerves quickly abated as she found fellow brothers and sisters in the union roofing industry who supported her.

“A lot of the time, [even if] I don’t believe in myself, these people believe in me,” she said. Now, she is confident in her ability. The knowledge she learned through the apprenticeship program has given her skills to take on a variety of jobs, and as her confidence has grown, so has her feeling of belonging at the worksite. In five years, Lynk has no doubt she will be a Red Seal roofer. With her apprenticeship completed, the sky is truly the limit.

“When you say ‘yes’ to opportunities, pathways open and things are more accessible,” Lynk concluded. “I know it’s easy to say, ‘just jump in and do it.’ But if you put in yourself first, you’re going to go far.”

SMART Local 20 (Indianapolis, Ind.) sister Tori Barth has been working in sheet metal for 10 years, with the last four spent as a union welder and fabricator. She looks forward to all the places the union sheet metal trade will take her in the future, she says – and she can’t wait to advance her skill set along the way. Learn more in her sister story.

Local 20 member Tori Barth welding.

What unique strengths do you bring to your trade?

I’m always willing/wanting to learn more, and I am determined to do my best while learning new skills.

What do you love to do when you are not at work?

Spend time with my kids and family, as much as possible.

Goals in the future — any ambitions or changes to your career, growth or education?

Starting classes to become a journeyperson and learning more in this trade as a sheet metal worker.

What surprised you about your trade?

How capable I am in a field that is still majority men.

What do you find frustrating about your job/trade?

There will always be men that don’t think you belong and don’t want you to be successful. So the hardest part is having to prove myself when I know I’m capable but others don’t think that.

How did you get into SMART?

I joined the union because my old boss left my last job, and I followed him for a better opportunity.

Tool you can’t live without?

Vise grips.

What do you think about Tradeswomen Build Nations?

I think it’s needed. Yes, places are more diverse than ever – but they can always be better. Showing women in the trades and women being successful is only going to help this cause

The SMART Women’s Committee works to recruit, retain and promote women in our trade and ensure women have support networks that empower them to reach their fullest potential. This work is especially vital as SMART continues to strengthen and grow our union, and it requires all hands on deck.

“People of organized union labor have made enormous progress in wages, working conditions, benefits, job security and human rights,” the SMART Women’s Committee website reads. “If working women are to gain equality, they must work with and through their unions.”

In 2023, following yet another successful Tradeswomen Build Nations conference in 2022, the Women’s Committee expanded its ranks by adding three SMART sisters. Meet the new committee members:

Amy Carr

SMART Women's Committee member Amy Carr

Amy is a member of SMART Local 276 in Victoria, British Columbia, specializing in HVAC and welded grease duct systems for Lewis Sheet Metal. She recently became a part-time instructor at Camosun College, teaching sheet metal to first-year students and trade sampler programs; she also promotes her craft to school district programs across Victoria.

Amy has served on many governance committees over the years. She was a founding member of the B.C. Centre for Women in the Trades, a director at-large for the B.C. Tradeswomen Society and worked with the B.C. Construction Association, creating the “Don’t Be a Tool” program. You will often hear Amy say: “If there aren’t enough seats at the table, we will build a bigger one!”

Annet Del Rosario

SMART Women's Committee member Annet Del Rosario

Annet Del Rosario was born in Orange County, California, and has spent most of her life in San Diego. She began her career in the sheet metal trade in 2002 and later attended the SMART apprenticeship program from 2004–08. Annet’s determination and hard work earned her the position of shop foreperson/supervisor for Able Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc. in 2010 — a position she holds to this day.

Annet’s passion for the unionized construction industry is evident in how actively she works to promote the trades. Annet currently serves as a vice president and E-board member for SMART Local 206 (San Diego). Even beyond her local, though, Annet saw the need for additional support for tradeswomen, and in 2017, she created Building Trade Sisters (BTS): a local group supporting women across the industry. BTS meets monthly and works collectively towards advancing the presence of women in construction, along with improving work experiences for women in the trades. Annet was honored in July 2022 with the NABTU Tradeswomen Heroes award, and she continues to fight for equality for women across the industry.

Subrina Sandefur

SMART Women's Committee member Subrina Sandefur

Subrina Sandefur began her sheet metal career in 2000 for SMART Local 20 (Indianapolis, Ind.). She worked at Tarpenning Laffollette Company, where her first position was cleaning the shop. Subrina advanced her skills by learning how to run and maintain machines and equipment in her shop, including C3000 Turret, Mororun2548 Turret and Mazek Laser, and she became the leader of the cabinet and rad door department for 10 years, making herself valuable by being a person everyone could count on.

Subrina prides herself on having a solution or answer to problems, being energetic and being highly efficient at her job. In August 2022, Subrina was the first woman in Local 20 to win the SMACNA Excellence Award. Subrina’s hard work has led her to the foreperson position at her shop. She is a driven advocate for women and serves as chair of the Local 20 Women’s Committee.

March 6-11 was Women in Construction Week – an annual celebration of women in the industry and, for SMART, the sisters who strengthen our union. With two profile videos, a photo contest, a kids art contest and a happy hour at the end of the week, SMART spent Women in Construction Week 2023 highlighting the achievements of women in the unionized sheet metal industry and showcasing the life-changing careers available to women across the United States and Canada.

“Women in Construction Week is a great opportunity to get more women members connected each year and more involved with their union,” SMART Women’s Committee Chair Vanessa Carman (Local 66) told SMART News. “It was great to see new sisters and allies attend and show their support.”

Watch: SMART sisters discuss Women in Construction Week.

SMART News interviewed sisters Korri Bus of Local 16 (Portland, Ore.) and Tatjana Sebro of Local 206 (San Diego, Calif.) about their personal experiences with Women in Construction Week and the union. For Bus, Women in Construction Week plays an important role in showing tradeswomen that even if they’re the only woman on the jobsite, they’re never alone.

“It highlights all the other women who have blazed the trail for us,” she said. “Growing up in the trades, when I was a baby apprentice, I didn’t have other women that I worked around, so I didn’t really get to connect with any of them, learn from them, be mentored by any of them, understand any of the struggles that they were also dealing with. So I think it’s really neat that we all get to come together and be celebrated … knowing that there are other women in our trade kicking butt and taking names.”

Two such trailblazing women, Shamaiah Turner of Local 17 (Boston) and Leah Rambo of Local 28 (New York City), earned the spotlight for new career advancements. Turner recently transitioned from the field into union representation, becoming a business development representative for the SMART Northeast Regional Council. And in March, Rambo retired from Local 28 to become deputy director of the executive team of the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. Both women provide a strong example for the union sheet metal workers of the future.

Providing opportunity for women in construction

For unions like SMART, part of the aim of Women in Construction Week is to promote the value of entering the union building trades. Numerous studies demonstrate that unionized women earn better pay and benefits than their nonunion counterparts. For that reason, it’s important to increase awareness of the unionized sheet metal trade and how women can get involved. Sebro emphasized that Women in Construction Week helps expand knowledge of the role women play in our union and our trade, as well as the obstacles many face in their journey.

“Sometimes people don’t really understand some of the struggles and the barriers that we go through as women in the trades, so to be able to have a whole week highlighted is definitely liberating for me,” she said.

The SMART sisters of Local 206 participated in a photoshoot with fellow trades sisters, sponsored by the IBEW Local 569 and hosted at the Ironworkers Local 229 union hall. For Sebro, that represented the type of sisterhood and solidarity that has helped her throughout her career – and that, as a new journeyperson, she hopes to pass on to the next generation.

“I want to continue to move mountains and to just keep rising and to bring people with me,” she declared.

Each year, Women’s Equal Pay Day recognizes and raises awareness around gender pay inequality. SMART released the following statement on Women’s Equal Pay Day 2023:

“Today is Women’s Equal Pay Day – the date that symbolizes the ongoing state of the gender pay gap. On average, full-time women workers earn 84 cents for every dollar earned by a white man; that number drops to 77 cents when part-time and seasonal workers are included. Asian American and Pacific Islander women, Black women, Latinas and Native American women earn 80 cents, 64 cents, 54 cents and 51 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned (full time and part time) by white men.

“Such pay disparities run counter to the core principles of the labor movement, and unionizing is one of the primary ways we can fight against them. As union members, SMART workers stand together for fair pay and stronger protections on the job. Union women workers make 22% more on average than nonunion women do, along with stronger workplace protections, retirement and healthcare benefits, and more – all won through the power of collective bargaining.

“SMART sisters strengthen our union, and unions strengthen women’s pay and protections – on and off the job. We at SMART will continue our work to recruit, retain and empower women in our union as we organize for a better and more equitable future.”

In late June, 21 high school girls convened in Washington, D.C. to participate in WTS International and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) annual D.C. Youth Summit. Participants met with senior federal transportation officials and toured some of the capitol’s transportation facilities. The event is offered as part of Transportation YOU, a mentorship program created by WTS and USDOT that aims to build awareness of transportation-related careers to girls between the ages of 13 and 18.

Launched in 2011, Transportation YOU involves connecting women who have successful careers in transportation fields with girls who have an interest in obtaining engineering- or transportation-related degrees. WTS members recruit Transportation YOU participants by using their connections with school districts officials, teachers, Girl Scouts and local Boys and Girls Club chapters.

Read the complete story at Progressive Railroading.