By Jane LaTour
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Sisters in the Brotherhoods
Photo by Jon Bloom
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On June 6, 1994, a photo of Ward at work on a stadium project in downtown St. Louis ran on the front page of the St.
Louis
Post-Dispatch. By that time, a well-publicized corruption scandal in New York City—the first in a series involving the
plumbers—had shown the elected leaders had sold out their members. Blacklisting of members was just one way that union
officials violated their obligations. After years of traveling, Ward returned to New York City, earned a master plumbing
license, and set up shop as an independent contractor. This is a strategy that appeals to ever-greater numbers of
tradeswomen, as the doors to employment and advancement remain stuck shut.
Elaine Ward saw a journeyman’s card as “a ticket to ride”—
a passport to a trade that would enable her to earn a good
living and to travel at the same time. As an applicant to the
apprenticeship program in 1985, she couldn’t foresee the
hardships she would undergo trying to find work as a member
of Manhattan-based Plumbers Local 2. The combination of
being blacklisted by union officials for testifying before the
New York City Commission on Human Rights and a severe
recession in the city’s construction industry forced Elaine to
take to the road in October 1992 to survive.
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Elaine Ward
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