Union tradeswomen celebrated the most badass among them at a spirited awards ceremony in Minneapolis last night.
Six women, selected from dozens of nominees for apprentice, journey worker and advocate of the year, took home honors at the Women Building Success Awards, presented annually by area Building and Construction Trades unions.
Two high-profile guests of honor handed out the awards: Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who encouraged tradeswomen in the room to continue building each other up, both on the job site and with events like the awards ceremony.
“Empowered women empower women,” Flanagan said.
Advocate of the Year
Connie Smallman, a member of Operating Engineers Local 49 in her 33rd year working construction, received Advocate of the Year honors. Smallman co-founded Local 49’s women’s group, the first of its kind among Operating Engineers locals. Since then, she has helped other unions across the country launch women’s groups of their own.
“I used to be the only girl on the job site,” Smallman said. “The last job I worked on, I had the pleasure of working with over 50 tradeswomen. How cool is that?”
Honorable mention in the category went to Amy Peterson, a member of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 82. Terry Nelson, the council’s business manager, said Peterson works as an apprenticeship instructor with the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest, and has trained hundreds of union apprentices in drywall finishing and thousands in workplace safety.
“She is always there to help other women,” Nelson said. “Amy has worked hard to get where she is, and she is always there for other women to help them make their way in the trade.”
Journey Worker of the Year
St. Paul Steamfitters-Pipefitters Local 455’s Clara Schiller took home Journey Worker of the Year honors. Jim Sloan, a business representative with the local, said Schiller “consistently proves to be one of our local’s most vocal and dedicated members.”
Schiller puts in extra time both with the local, as an apprenticeship instructor, and in the community, exposing underrepresented communities to opportunities in the union trades. “She embodies what it means to be a union tradeswoman,” Sloan said.
Schiller offered words of encouragement to union tradeswomen in the banquet room. “Remember your heart out there on the job,” she said. “Remember who you are.”
Honorable mention in the category went to Derra Range of LIUNA Laborers Local 563. Sixteen years after leaving her job as a hairstylist, Range now works as a foreman on the job site, Local 563 Business Manager Joe Fowler said.
Range told Fowler she earned the respect of her all-male crews the old fashioned way: “by working my ass off five times harder than most everyone else.”
Apprentice of the Year
Megan Ringwelski, in her fourth year of training with Sprinklerfitters Local 417, was named Apprentice of the Year. As an example of the dedication she brings to the craft, Local 417 Business Manager Trinidad Uribe III said Ringwelski recently continued working into the eighth month of her pregnancy.
“They literally had to pull her away from the tools,” Uribe said. “She’s a hard worker and dedicated, to say the least.”
Honorable mention in the category went to Rachel Malmer, a member of Local 110 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Local 110’s business manager, Jamie McNamara, said he nominated Malmer for the award, in part, because she has volunteered in support of the union’s political program – “phone banking, door knocking” – while simultaneously working toward her journey-level certification.