'I'm in Local 79, I Love the Solidarity': 20 Questions for Women in Construction

By Avian Perez

Hard Hats. Strong Women. Building the Future.

Follow our blog to hear the stories of women working in construction in New York City at every level as we ask 20 questions to women working in construction.

Avian Perez, Laborer, Construction & General Building Laborers Local 79

What was your first job in construction?
My first job was building a new school in Bayridge. I was there with Hunter Roberts for the general construction (GC).

What job do you want in the future?
I actually want to have my chance in everything. I would love to be a foreman; I haven't met a female one yet, and then become a shop steward, and eventually a teacher at my union's school. I love teaching and I love my union so what better job than combining them.

Are you in a union? What is the best part of being in a union?
I'm in Local 79, I love the solidarity. I love how you are part of a team, or a family. I love walking in the street and seeing a fellow brother or sister with our logo on and just giving a nod to each other and knowing "yeah, that's my people."

Why did you choose construction? What led you to construction?
I think little signs pushed me. While working at Lowes Home Improvement, I had to get the orders ready for deliveries. Guys would buy things and I never really knew what they were. I asked so many questions, and I wanted to use them myself. When I got laid off, I kept seeing the NEW posters in the train... it was like a sign... I had to call.

Is there someone in particular in your life that led you to this career?
My grandmother was a superintendant for many buildings and could fix a boiler in no time, my father, who passed away when I was a newborn, also a super and handyman... so I like to say it was in my blood and I never knew it.

Who inspires you?
Everyone I see on the job, every trade amazes me. I want to do it all. I can stand and watch people for hours doing their job. I love how everything comes together to make something grand.

What has been the most surprising part of being a woman working in construction?
How nice the guys can be. They are willing to show you things and help you out. You become like a little sister whereever you go. I have about 19 big "brothers" who got my back already.

What is your favorite part of your career?
That one day you can be sweeping a hall, the next day cutting down pipes to putting out sparks with a water hose. We are never stuck in a rut because we are doing so much.

What is your most memorable moment working in construction?
I don't have just one. From being high up on the Empire State Building to down in the morgue in Saint Vincent's... I cherish it all.

What is your favorite project you have worked on?
It would be a tie between PS264 and St. Vincent's Hospital -- one building going up, the other coming down -- I learned so much between those two sites.

What is the biggest challenge of being a woman working in construction?
Sometimes you will meet someone who really doesn't want you there and you could feel it. Or they think just because you are a girl that you are weaker. However once you show you can do the work, things change... you just have to work harder to prove yourself.

What advice would you give someone starting out?
Work hard; don't expect someone to do the work for you. If you don't know something ask -- they would rather you ask then do something wrong that could hurt you or others.

What is your favorite tool?
The sawzall, I love that tool. I want one for my house. I got addicted to cutting pipes up.

What is your favorite hard hat sticker?
My local 79 one. I make sure I have one on all my hardhats.

What is your most valuable certification? What was the most challenging?
I would say my firewatch is my most valuable. I got it one day and the next day was given that job on the site. I enjoyed that position because it taught me a lot. Most challenging would be the 32hr scaffold; I'm not too fond of heights. I had great instructors and classmates help me through that.

Avian Perez is a graduate of Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW). Support NEW and tradeswomen.