A woman in a yellow vest, hard hat and red glasses under her safety goggles smiles at the camera, with her arm resting on the hood of a pickup truck.
Media Caption
Andrea Ornelas works on the Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension.

Women power progress on Sound Transit job sites

This week is Women In Construction Week.

Publish Date

March is Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating the women changing the face of our region’s construction workforce and transportation system.

In 2020, Sound Transit projects had around 4.1 million labor hours. More than 590 women worked more than 274,750 of those hours.

The apprentice level is the fastest growing segment, with 16 percent of all apprentice hours being worked by women. 

Sound Transit is supporting the job training programs that will continue to train the diverse workforce needed in the future.

We recently partnered with the City of Seattle and Port of Seattle to invest $1.75 million to provide long-lasting construction careers for historically underserved communities, including people of color and women. 

March 7-13 is Women in Construction Week. This year’s theme is  “Connect, Collaborate, Construct" and last year's was "Paving New Roads to Construction."

If you’re interested in a career in the trades, scroll to the bottom of this article for resources!

Construction in the time of COVID

After completing the 16-week Trades Relation Apprenticeship Coaching (TRAC) pre-apprenticeship program, Christina Tierce joined Laborers Local 252 and was brought on to Sound Transit's Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension project. 

She found the opportunity through a virtual Sound Transit hiring fair, and said she is grateful to the advocates who guided her through the job application process - from her program instructors to Sound Transit's Labor Relations team.

Cristina Tierce wears a yellow jacket, hard hat and face covering while working on the Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension.
"I really enjoy it. The only problem is that I want to learn everything in one day," Christina Tierce said of her construction career.

Tierce, a mother of five, said that she grew up around the construction industry, as her dad and uncles did drywall. But she hadn't considered it for herself. 

"The biggest barrier is that people say it’s a 'man’s job,'" she said. "But my eyes weren't really open to [the trades] until I started to see more women doing it."

Now, her 16-year-old son wants to follow in her footsteps. Tierce said she would recommend the construction industry for anyone looking to make a change - and that it comes with unexpected benefits. 

"I’m very active. I like hard work," she said. "And I don’t have to work out after work anymore; it’s all in one."

*Editor's note: The rest of this article was published on March 3, 2020. The photos were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.

A career with mobility

Andrea Ornelas was working as a pharmacy assistant and watching her husband’s career in the construction industry progress when she decided to become part of it.

"He looked like he was doing something worth doing," she said.

The mother of five decided to enroll in the ANEW pre-apprenticeship program before joining Laborers’ Local 242, Walsh Construction and Sound Transit’s Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension.

Two men and one woman in vests, gloves, hard hats and work boots sit on the back bumper of a pickup truck.
Andrea Ornelas and her erosion control crew.

Women have a lot of value. It’s not just about being strong. It’s about your attitude and mindset.

There, she went from working as an apprentice to journeying out and, a few weeks ago, being promoted to foreman.

"It’s a little different because now I’m above the guys," she said. "But they’ve had my back, and we try to make decisions together."

She said that joining the construction industry has taught her how to change the conversation, even if she can’t change everyone’s opinions.

"Women have a lot of value," she said. "It’s not just about being strong. It’s about your attitude and mindset."

Putting work into the community

For Latraia (Trai) Daniel, an electrician with IBEW Local 46 and Kiewit (one of the contractors for Sound Transit’s East Link Extension), getting into construction was a “life-changing opportunity.”

She also did the ANEW program, seeing construction not only as a chance for financial stability, but also to be part of something that will have a positive impact on future generations.

She now wants to wants to introduce members of her church and others in African American community to careers in the trades.

A woman in a yellow jacket, safety goggles and blue hard hat smiles, with construction trucks and equipment in the background.
Trai Daniel smiles in front of the Mount Baker Tunnel.

In her other job as a basketball referee, she's used to working in a male-dominated industry. She said that by having a good work ethic, she quickly earned the respect of her fellow crew members on the job site.

Kiewit’s contract covers 6.9 miles – from International District/Chinatown Station (IDS) in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to the East Channel Bridge. It includes the new Judkins Park and Mercer Island stations, as well as the I-90 floating bridge.

Trai has worked on almost every piece, laying conduit for the wires that will eventually power trains to reach the Eastside.

A better future

Alisha (Ali) Crespo was at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women when she decided to take a chance with the TRAC pre-apprenticeship program.

She decided to become a cement mason because she’s a "hard worker and also very artistic." She joined Local 528 and was hired by Kiewit.

She wants to get into the creative aspects of masonry later in her career, but right now, she’s happy to be working on the East Link Extension and “doing something that’s part of the bigger picture.”  

A woman with gloves, a yellow vest and hard hat kneels down to measure a length of cement underneath a rail.
Ali Crespo works on a segment of rail in Seattle.

She said she’s had great mentors in the industry, and is developing the skills that will help her succeed in this fast-growing field, defying her previous expectations for her life.

"I grew up thinking that I had to attend a college or know someone in a business to have a career," she said. 

Pathways to the trades

Sound Transit works with organizations like ANEW, TRAC and more throughout the region to make sure our job sites have the skilled labor needed to expand your mass transit system over the next 25 years.

The agency is invested in several construction training programs around the Puget Sound, including those that serve women, people of color and other diverse groups. 

Sound Transit’s voter-approved multi-billion dollar investment in expanding the region’s transit system will bring job opportunities throughout Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

For more information about getting your start as a skilled construction tradesperson, check out these useful links. 

•    Apprenticeship programs recognized by the Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council

•    ANEW - Apprenticeship and nontraditional employment

•    Seattle Vocational Institute – PACT

•    Ironworkers Local 86 pre-apprenticeship program

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