Vol. 6, No. 1
January 2019

Women's Work: An Interview with  
Journeywoman Plumber Cristina Barillas
by Jess Kozik
It's a man's world. That could be said about the world of trade jobs. According to the local nonprofit Chicago Women in Trades, "women constitute less than 3% of a workforce that numbers over 220,000 in Illinois" in the skilled trades. That, however, is in the process of evolving. I was able to talk to one of the few female plumbers in Chicago. Cristina Barillas began her apprenticeship to become a journeywoman plumber in 2000. She has been working at O'Hare International Airport on the maintenance side of plumbing for over a decade. It is a job she has a lot of love for. Barillas describes it as being gratifying to be "able to bring a service to people." Through the work, she is able to help bring something as essential as water to people. The creative aspect also speaks to her, "It's kind of gratifying just knowing that you can build something. And you're actually making something like physical, you know people need it."
Barillas is among few women that work in the male-dominated field, but there is proof that it's changing. Barillas is a part of Local 130, and over her time with the union she has seen the number of female members nearly double. They now have about 60 women total, including apprentices, journeywomen, and retirees. She feels that a change in leadership has helped change this and that now "it's up to us to mentor, support, and retain them, and that's what we work towards."
The "we" being Barillas, her sisterhood of trade women, the supportive brothers, and also the women of Chicago Women in Trade s, which Barillas, despite having found her own way into the trades, refers to as a "phenomenal organization." Chicago Women in Trades serves as an introduction into the world of trade jobs. Barillas volunteers for their technical opportunity program where they have classes to introduce people to different trades. Barillas states that "if any woman ever wants to join a trade or wants to know about it or is thinking about it, it's a great program to start to really learn. I mean they really give women all the tools on what they need to know and to get not only to know about the trade but to get into it, to get into any trade."
Along with the support of Chicago Women in Trades, Barillas believes in the power of her union. She is part of Local 130, and although mainly dominated by men, many have worked to create a support system guided by the oath they take as journeymen and women. There are still obstacles, though, that are faced by women, and gender nonconforming individuals in the trades
in regards to sexual harassment and stigma.  
Barillas has not only dealt with the stigma of being a woman in a man's world, but also being Hispanic. Barillas has been on the executive board of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) since 2014. LCLAA "represents Latinos through immigration issues and work issues like equal pay." LCLAA and Chicago Women in Trades are just a few of the organizations making trade jobs more accessible and welcoming to people of different genders and races.
Barillas ended our conversation with her advice for individuals interested in the trade industry by stating "Any trade is tough. I know it's a man's field but even for guys it can be tough. You have to have a thick skin and you have to be prepared and know that there's gonna be some really ugly days out there." And for women in particular, she adds, that the best advice she can give them "is to contact Chicago Women in Trades and really learn and really get that Chicago Women in Trades starts at sisterhood up. There's nothing like getting some support while you're getting in and that's very important." Within a sisterhood you can find a safe zone to find the answers you are looking for. They need to know that they are not alone.

Mother Jones a True American Hero!

by Joan Morris
Photo by Ken Morris

On Saturday, October 27th, at iBAM!, (Irish Books Arts & Music) at the Irish American Heritage Center, a special program on Mother Jones was presented by the Mother Jones Heritage Project. Margaret Fulkerson, Brigid Duffy and Elliott Gorn gave stirring presentations of the true Mother Jones (1837-1930).  
In 1867, Mother Jones (born Mary J. Harris), after the death of her husband and all four children from yellow fever, became a fearless labor organizer, agitator and radical activist rallying American workers to fight for better conditions. She took on the establishment and fought against child labor, long hours with little pay and extremely dangerous working conditions. During the coal, steel, railroad, textile, and brewery strikes, she took on the rich and powerful business owners, urging the workers to stay strong and strike. She was steadfastly unintimidated by the threat of job loss, prison, violence and death.
Fulkerson, Duffy and Gorn showed the importance and need for Mother Jones to be accurately portrayed in history not as a feisty matronly old woman, but as a courageous leader and pioneer in the American Labor Movement.
Margaret Fulkerson gave a moving reading from the book by R. M. Fox, Rebel Irish Women (1935): Mother Jones.
Brigid Duffy's portrayal of Mother Jones truly made her truly come alive, using Jones' own words from "Get Off Your Knees!" Mother Jones in Action, compiled from multiple Mother Jones' speeches by Rosemary Feurer for this occasion.
Elliott J. Gorn spoke about his biography, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America (2015).Gorn describes Mother Jones as a true American hero whose legacy has been "blunted" and sanitized along with "memories of America's radical tradition" and "working-class militancy." In the biography, Gorn argues that Mother Jones' experience, personal tragedy and early exposure to radical thinking, combined with nearly half a century of witnessing poor people's struggles, "energized the life of Mother Jones."  
The presentation of Mother Jones also energized and inspired the audience and showed her to be a true American hero.
(Margaret Fulkerson and Brigid Duffy are WWHP Board members and Elliot Gorn is a Professor at Loyola University of Chicago and the Joseph A. Gagliano Chair in American Urban History)

Mary Bonnett and Jackie Kirley Receive WECE Award   
Mary Bonnett, co-founder and artistic director of Her Story Theater, and Jackie Kirley, president of Working Women's History Project, received "Purple with a Passion" awards from Women Empowered for Civic Engagement (WECE) on December 1, 2018 at the Harborside International Golf Course in Chicago. They were honored for their work promoting the importance of voting in the spring of 2018. On three successive Saturday afternoons at DANK Haus they staged a play written by Mary Bonnett, Radical Ideas! Women and the Vote! Each performance was followed by a panel of women from a variety of community organizations speaking about their work in promoting voting. Panelists included Joyce Chapman, founder and president of WECE, and women from organizations such as Chicago Women Take Action, Common Cause, Indivisible Illinois, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and Operation Push. The Chicago branch of the League of Women Voters co-sponsored and Marianna Buchwald of the Culture Bridge Gallery hosted.
Mary Bonnett has written performance pieces for WWHP and as the artistic director of Her Story Theater, has written plays focusing on homelessness, domestic sex-trafficking and violence. Like the pieces she has written for WWHP, these plays are based on interviews. At WWHP, Jackie Kirley has worked tirelessly to support WWHP's mission to make connections between the stories of yesterday and today. WWHP collects stories of Chicago women, who have struggled to achieve rights and benefits for women in the workplace and in other social arenas. Some of the stories collected include those of child care workers, women activists and women who have worked to address the concerns of Chicago's working women. WWHP produces performance pieces telling their stories and presents them at a variety of venues, including schools, unions, arts festivals, and on CAN television.
WECE's mission is to empower women in their communities and to enlist stakeholders in a dialogue about economic development, education, faith-based efforts, health, housing, and public safety, especially in the Chicago neighborhoods of Pullman, Rosemoor, and Roseland. Mac-Z Zurawski, a member of WECE and of the WWHP advisory board, welcomed attendees to WECE's 2nd annual award ceremony that honored women in politics, in education, and in community activity. She recounted WECE's activities, their community impact, and the resulting institutional support that have made WECE a recognized, positive force in Chicago.
For Mary Bonnett and Jackie Kirley, the WECE Award is a well-deserved honor.

Katie Jordan Recognized in 2018

by Helen Ramirez-Odell et al
Katie Jordan was the recipient of two prestigious awards in the fall of 2018. She was given the "Charlene Mitchell Human Rights Award" on September 22nd by Willie Williamson, co-chair of the 45th Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression  dinner committee.  
Katie was chosen for the award in recognition of her leadership in the struggles to secure justice and human rights.  She spoke passionately about her commitments and the continued work that needs to be done , the importance of listening to young leadership , and sharing lessons learned from past struggles.
The  Illinois Labor History Society inducted Katie Jordan into the ILHS Hall of Honor at their 50th anniversary dinner on November 30th. President Larry Spivack recognized her experience, leadership, caring and charismatic personality, and her willingness to help with work others are not able or willing to do. Over the past several decades she has broken through racist and sexist barriers as a worker and a unionist. At this event, too, Katie spoke powerfully about the need to organize and to inspire others in the struggle for equality. She continues to be a tireless fighter against discrimination.   
We are proud that Katie continues to serve on the board of the Working Women's History Project.

FYI: This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed by former President Barack Obama on January 29, 2009.

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