Meet Donna Burke, a third-year apprentice taking Local 1556 by storm! Read all about how this Texas native found herself training to be a dockbuilder in the big city!
What led you to the union?
I was working in an office at first. The money was awful. I was struggling to pay bills. Being a homeowner or retiring weren’t options for me. One day I just quit. I spent a few years working odd jobs trying to find some direction. I told some family that I wished I could join a trade union, and then I realized nothing was stopping me. My grandfather was a union plumber, and the job provided for him and his family. I started looking for pathways into the union and found out about Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) and applied. I completed the program and then waited in line for an apprentice application. I didn’t get it the first try, but I don’t regret trying! A few months later NEW reached out and set me up an interview with the dockbuilders. I was accepted and finally got into the union.
How did you pick your trade?
I learned about a bunch of different trades in NEW. I realized I wanted to work on the heavier end of construction. A tour of the Training Center made me realize I wanted to be a specialty carpenter, and what’s more of a specialty field than dock building?
How has the union impacted your life?
Oh, in ways I didn’t even think possible! I learn new skills every day in this business. I leave the job every day feeling fulfilled. I’m also, for the first time ever, financially secure and planning for the future. I’ll be closing on a house soon, and I never thought that was possible for me. I also feel supported everyday by my brothers and sisters in Local 1556.
Have there been any challenges you’ve faced in this male dominated field?
I do need to compensate for being smaller than the males, especially when working with certain tools. But other than that, I’ve had few challenges.
Are you involved with Sisters in The Brotherhood?
Yes, I think it’s a great group and very important for the women in our union. I try and make it to every meeting. I cherish the times spent with my fellow sisters.
What piece of advice would you give to women considering a career in the carpenters union?
Its okay if you don’t know how to do something. That’s what the apprenticeship is for. Just have a willingness to learn.