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Third annual awards ceremony celebrates women in the trades

WBS award-winners and guests

The winners of this year’s “Women Building Success Awards,” together with the honorable mention winners, posed for a photo with guest speakers Nancy Leppink, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (second from left) and Peggy Flanagan, Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor (third from left).

Adapted from the Minneapolis Labor Review, March 27, 2020

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS —Waiting for this year’s Women Building Success awards ceremony to begin, Sheet Metal Workers Local 10 member Cassie Stransky shared how joining a Building Trades union 20 years ago changed her life.

Back then, Stransky was working in retail sales. But a friend of her dad was in the Sheet Metal Workers union, along with his three sons, and she learned that the union was beginning to recruit women, too.

“I’m one of the three women who started the women’s committee for the Sheet Metal Workers,” she said. At that time, she recalled, the union had a dozen women members. Now, she said, the number has grown to 40-50.

“I’m a single mother,” Stransky shared. “I have my own mortgage I’m paying for. I can take vacations. I have good benefits. I’m not worried about being a single mother. I can provide for my child. I don’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck.”

A roomful of women with their own stories about finding their way into a career in the Building Trades gathered at Surly Brewing February 26 for the third annual Women Building Success awards.

This year’s call for nominations resulted in 36 nominees from 15 different unions — the most nominations so far.

“We were flooded with so many nomination letters,” said Tasha Lawrence, member of Plumbers Local 34 and Women Building Success board member. “This shows we have a lot of great women in the industry.”

Representatives of the nominating unions introduced the award-winners and shared some of each woman’s personal stories and accomplishments.

The winners:

• For “Apprentice of the Year,” Megan Ringwelski, Sprinkler Fitters Local 417. An honorable mention award was presented to Rachel Malmer, IBEW Local 110.

• For “Journey Worker of the Year,” Clara Schiller, Pipefitters-Steamfitters Local 455. An honorable mention award went to Derra Range, Laborers Local 563.

• For “Advocate of the Year,” Connie Smallman, Operating Engineers Local 49. An award for honorable mention was presented to Amy Peterson, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

This year’s event featured remarks by special guests Peggy Flanagan, Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor, and Nancy Leppink, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

“I do know what it’s like to be in a male-dominated field,” Flanagan confided.

“You are the right woman for the job, no matter what people say,” Flanagan emphasized. “I am here to say, keep going, we need you in this work. We need you to bring other women into this work.”

She added: “I firmly believe rooms like this are going to change the world.”

To contact Women Building Success for more information, send an e-mail to administrator@womenbuildingsuccess.org or visit womenbuildingsuccess.org

Megan Ringwelski

Left: Megan Ringwelski, Sprinkler Fitters Local 417, winner for “Apprentice of the Year.” Local 417 business manager Trinidad Uribe said of her: “From the first day she started as an apprentice, she was noticed for her hard work and positive attitude.” Uribe added that Ringwelski is “a definite future leader in our local.”

Clara Schiller Left: Clara Schiller, Pipefitters-Steamfitters Local 455, winner for “Journey Worker of the Year.” Jim Sloan, Local 455 business representative, said “Clara embodies what it means to be a tradeswoman.” Schiller told the crowd: “In a time like this when things can be difficult to talk about, remember your heart.”
Connie Smallman Left: Connie Smallman, Operating Engineers Local 49, winner for “Advocate of the Year.” She was a co-founder of the IUOE Local 49 women’s group — the first such group nationwide in IUOE. To the apprentices in the room, she said, “I’m proud of you and I want you to be the best damned journey worker you can be.”




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