By Eve Mefferd

Work in the construction trades, with high wages and good benefits for union members, can be a promising path to economic security for women. However, the industry presents additional challenges for those with children. For the many parents who work in the trades— half of the 2,635 respondents to IWPR’s 2021 Tradeswomen’s Retention and Advancement Survey have children younger than 18 (forthcoming)— finding child care that covers construction hours can be difficult, since construction jobs often require workers to leave the house early in the morning before most child care centers open. To address this problem, IWPR got together with the National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues to host “Childcare Strategies that Work for Tradeswomen”  featuring three exciting programs which tackle child care issues in the trades.

Care That Works in Boston has started a three-year child care pilot offering early-morning child care for parents working in the trades. Liz Skidmore of the explained that the initiative connects parents in need of child care services with a network of state-licensed providers offering home-based care that starts as early as 5 am. All providers are members of SEIU Local 509, meaning they are protected by a union contract and have the higher wages associated with union bargaining power. The program also covers overtime compensation for child care workers. Funding for the pilot comes from a patchwork of investments from contractors, trade unions, and the City of Boston. While the scope and funding capabilities of the pilot program are limited for now, the Care That Works pilot is part of a larger effort to advocate for a comprehensive, publicly funded child care system shaped to empower those who are worst impacted by unaffordable care and underpaid care labor.

For pre-apprentices and apprentices, the prohibitive cost of child care is an additional road block. It can be hard to find financial support while pursuing a pre-apprenticeship, or while working through an apprenticeship before reaching journey-level pay. Jackie Whitt of Labor’s Community Service Agency (LCSA) in Portland, Oregon tells the story of Shakira, a single mom with two young children. Shakira turned to the trades after struggling to support her family on low-paying service sector jobs. She wanted to participate in a pre-apprenticeship program to kickstart her trades career and help her prepare for an apprenticeship, but she found herself in a double bind. Work in the trades would eventually provide her with financial security, but she couldn’t afford the child care services which would enable her to train in the meantime.

That’s where LCSA came in. The Agency’s one-on-one support for women entering pre-apprenticeship programs connects prospective tradeswomen with childcare subsidies and additional services to help them overcome the child care barrier. With LCSA’s help, Shakira was able to designate her sister as her childcare provider. Her sister, in turn, was able to become a registered child care provider and was paid for her time and labor. A similar process is also used to help apprentices find child care, leveraging federal highway funds to diversify the highway-related workforce. With this support, Shakira was able to complete her pre-apprenticeship and become an IBEW electrician apprentice. LCSA then connected her with a new provider which would offer her sliding-scale child care services throughout her apprenticeship.

In Biloxi, Mississippi, Moore Community House is an innovative organization which offers individualized case management and funding for childcare as part of its Women in Construction (WinC) and Early Head Start (EHS) programs. Carol Burnett explains that the organization was able to leverage state funding to offer these vital services to pre-apprentices, and has helped than 700 women graduate the program.

These three state-based examples offer a great blueprint for child care supports for tradespeople across the country. The speakers stressed that, in order to build a child care system which works for women in the trades, it will take investment in high-quality child care jobs that pay living wages and in subsidies that make the services accessible to working people.

For more information, see the webinar from IWPR and the Tradeswomen Taskforce“Childcare Strategies that Work for Tradeswomen.”