I want to give a special thanks to Elly for letting us spotlight her this month! After reading her story you will see how special she is and how privileged we are to have her in the industry!
They say a Woman’s Place is in the kitchen… Well, I believe “A Woman’s Place is in Her Union!” Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cooking up a feast just like any other woman, but also love my new found joy of Carpentry.
Hey everyone in the Construction industry; My name is Elham (Elly) Besharatpour. I am just two checks away from becoming a second period apprentice carpenter in the Union for Local #217 in Foster City. Women still face substantial barriers to entering the construction field (and only fill 3% of the Construction Trade percentile total across the Nation). I am now part of that 3% that in 30 years has not increased according to a report of ‘National Women’s Law Center.’ Some of us were made for Home Economics, but there are a few of us that were built for something more challenging in life.
I always admired the craft of Carpentry. As a sophomore in high school, I was reluctant to enrolling in a class where an ‘egg’ or ‘doll’ represented your child and preparing myself to become a housewife was just not my cup of tea. At Hayward High School, I was given an opportunity to be in a Woodshop Class. My first, certainly not the last, time ever being the only girl in the group. My instructor was very helpful, and surprisingly, so were my classmates. I fell in love with Carpentry and enjoyed perfecting my work. Twelve years after graduation and being in business management I knew I wanted something different. College was an easy repetition of high school and I needed to just get out into the world and get my hands in some dirt, literally.
If you love your work, you never work a day in your life”
I didn't understand this until I started my new education at Job Train a vocational training program. My exceptional training rooted from a program named ‘Project Build.’ My instructor, Marty Mendibles, was determined to teach me what I needed to know about my tools, my trade skills and most importantly my math skills. I’m sure just the way I look at my finish work and proudly drive by yelling, "That’s my baby right theeeere!!!" is how proud my instructor might feel when his apprentices hit big-time on the field.“The three most important things I need you guys to remember is 1.FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS 2. BE ON TIME and 3. MEASURE TWICE & CUT ONCE” were three phrases he would repeat to us throughout our 17-week training program. I graduated Top 5 of 28 students and was indetured into my Union of Carpenters last year on July 29, 2014. I started my new four years Carpentry Academic at Pleasanton's Carpenters Training Center in Northern California. While attending a class for a week every quarter, I also started helping out on the “Handbill Line” for Carpenters Local #22 in the beautiful city of San Francisco. Waking up early morning to arrive to my location on time, building my strength by carrying sand bags throughout the day and assembling banner stands for Labor Dispute throughout the SF area while learning about our rights and outsourcing consequences was essential to my continued training. Peacefully and quietly passing out flyers with information to the public in front of some of the many NON UNION job sites was and continues to be an eye opening experience.
In the month of September I got my first call from my dispatch and field rep Jeff Sanders of Foster City's Local #217. “I have two questions for you. First question is, Can you pass a background check? Second, Can you pass a drug test?” Jeff said with the paternal concern rumbling through the line. With my two loud “Yes’s” I was dispatched to one of the Biggest Pour Sites in the entire world, The New Apple Campus ll in Cupertino working for Conco Companies building concrete form. As a woman in the 3% bracket, I was the only female carpenter on site. With the exception of one female Laborer, a mixed crowd of characters surrounded me every day. I couldn't help but smile every day and with those bright whites came the dreaded distraction of me. My foreman, Arturo, was like a father to me. Making sure I knew how to swing my hammer correctly depending on the task at hand. Be it soft hits for my chamfers in the form edges, to full arm swinging 16-penny nails into 2x4 across giant fencing. Guiding me through the giant circle of rebar and teaching me how not to fall and ensuring I understood why Safety is the number one priority. I loved how he would look left and right after an instructional to check the scene so no one would see how much he cared about me not looking like a twelve year old slap girl slap fight. Keeping hydrated was important and for someone that might have drank only one bottle of water a day to drinking around 12 was definitely different. My first job was a ten to twelve hour work day and could range from six to seven days a week.
No matter how much I tried to stay quiet, I was approached and stared at least ten times a day. I had to learn to explain to my peers that we are in a fish bowl and the only one that stands out in a conversation at work is me. So not to be rude and hope they understood it was time to work and not waste the company's time. Dealing with sexual glares and advancements was not going to be easy but that sensitive girl had to stay at home every day. Not having transportation was the main cause of losing my job, but a month later I was given the opportunity to work for Pacific Structures under the watch of Bob Figone, The Superintendent for the Indigo Project. After four months of the best hands on training I could have ever received, unfortunately my body caught up to me too soon. Usually a carpenter's time in the trade varies from twenty to thirty years before retiring. So, my first year I already pushed myself so hard and developed arthritis in my legs. My knees were the first to swell followed by my ankles,calves, thighs, and feet. I was missing too much work and the medication would cause me to be tardy from sleeping through alarms. Carrying heavy mains and going up and down those stairs with heavy bags on my harness did affect me.
My pride as a woman kept me from asking for help, or taking my bags off and sitting during my breaks. Everyone there treated me as a true ‘Sister in The Brotherhood.’ I understand how having me on site missing work and injured is a Safety hazard and unacceptable. So, determined to get better I have been going to physical therapy and rehabilitating myself to help get back in action. Attending the Women in The Trade Conference in Los Angeles California was an eye opening experience that shows how skilled and adaptable women can become in all trades. My lovely and history making Mentors, Susie (on the board of trustees) from Carpenters Local #217, Audrie and Kandy (famous Pile Drivers) have taken me under their wing to ensure I do not fail and most importantly understand my rights as a woman in the field. I appreciate all the knowledge and am proud to pass it on to the future apprentices and do the same for the new future female Apprentices that will hopefully continue to increase in numbers. Learning how to deal with the men on site was going to be a challenge but "it is what it is," as we say in Cali. Knowing that there are hundreds of highly trained Carpenters out there that are willing to take time out of there always busy schedule to make sure we are being treated with respect and ethically is so reassuring to me. I never knew there were so many resources and programs to help the female population in the already man made trade of Carpentry. When all hope is lost don’t give up because there will always be an eager apprentice waiting to take your spot at the gate. When faced with danger or a challenge, women should rise to the occasion but never forget to put the pride and sensitivity away. Beauty is a curse believe it or not. I could wear a moomoo to work and would still somehow be considered a distraction. “Keep your head down and work at your own pace.” is what my former Foreman, Noel Ramos used to holler from the fly tables on top floor.
All this is just a mere glimpse of all the adventures and tribulations I go through daily. From attending city council meetings with the CIA (Carpenters In Action), to working on setting elevations, plumbing posts and marking layout with Foreman's I realize that my spontaneous new life in Carpentry will never be the same. That lonely two-hour speed walk through San Mateo to arrive late to a union meeting just to try and pass a motion to attend a Union Conference after working my first 12-hour day in the sun was not unheard of. No worries though, because the motion was already passed by my sister in the UB, Susan. Funny thing is, that secret little black book I keep reading and that Curvy non-bolt busting bridge I tend to cross was constructed by the ambitious women before me that paved the way for my mistakes. The feeling of being the only woman on a job site, while trying so hard to maintain stability in my personal life will hopefully get better for the sake of my son. Women need to learn to uplift one another and be there for each other just as the men do. Learning to be “One” is detrimental in this “Union” because together anything is possible. Without the hard work and respect of our brothers and sisters, the construction of our Nation and Safety of the people passing through our works of art would be just an idea. As a single mother of a quickly growing ten year old son, Jonathan Sebastian, I understand the difficulties we face in any man made trade when you are your own best friend. When a woman faced with a challenge or the safety of her family is on a scale, she is capable of anything and will go as far as throwing some coveralls on and building your city the right way. Knowing that my son is going to be well taken care of and fully insured is a load off my back. I am grateful and proud to be an Apprentice Carpenter in our Union and learn from all the great masters of our time.
I wanted to throw a big high five and thanks to Dan Henrie for allowing me to tell you guys about my first half of Carpenter mania. Carpenters would like to say thank you to all the Brothers and Sisters that cared about my safety and taught me the secrets to succeed in this trade. I would like to thank God for always keeping me safe in his light and to all my instructors and Mentors that made sure I retained their knowledge and better myself as a female carpenter while overcoming any obstacle. Most importantly, I want to say thank you to the officers, delegates, and members at my local #217 & local #22 that made sure I never gave up or as they say “Threw in the towel/hammer!” With integrity and excellent work ethics accompanied by my determination to reach my goals, I will succeed knowing that one day I will own my own Construction Company that will stream across the world and uplift our men and women as equals because United we Stand as One! I believe.... That’s all Folks!
"The Best Revenge is Success"
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