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We'll Call You If We Need You

"For my very first day in union construction I was sent to a bank in downtown Boston where a journeyman needed a hand pulling wire. Arriving early with my new tools and pouch, I knocked on the glass door in the high-rise lobby and explained to the guard that I was a new apprentice working for the electrical contractor. He refused to let me in. So I sat down on the tile floor, my backpack and toolpouch beside me, and waited for the man whose name I had written down alongside the address and directions on a piece of paper: Dan. The guard explained to Dan later that he'd figured I was a terrorist planning to bomb the bank. In 1978, that seemed more likely than that I might actually be an apprentice electrician."Susan Eisenberg began her apprenticeship with Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1978, the year President Jimmy Carter set goals and timetables for the hiring of women on federally assisted construction projects and for the inclusion of women in apprenticeship programs. Eisenberg expected not only a challenging job and the camaraderie of a labor union but also the chance to be part of a historic transformation, social and economic, that would make the construction trades accessible to women.That transformation did not happen. In this book, full of the raw drama and humor found on a construction site, Eisenberg gracefully weaves the voices of thirty women who worked as carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, painters, and plumbers to examine why their numbers remained small. Speaking as if to a friend, women recall their decisions to enter the trades, their first days on the job, and their strategies to gain training and acceptance. They assess, with thought, passion, and twenty years' perspective, the affirmative action efforts. Eisenberg ends with a discussion of the practices and policies that would be required to uproot gender barriers where they are deeply embedded in the organization and culture of the workplace.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Footings PIONEERING 2. Doors, Windows, Locks 3. Crossing the Threshold: First Days 4. Ain't Got to Show You Shit 5. Marking Gender Boundaries: Porn, Piss, Power Tools 6. (and yet) Passions 7. Exceptional Men 8. Balancing Alone across an I-Beam SETTLING IN 9. Bucket or Bathroom? 10. Carrying Weight 11. Customized Treatment: Women of Color 12. Ceilings and Access Panels: Economics 13. Ceilings and Access Panels: Leadership 14. Expansion Joints 15. Punch List THE TRADESWOMEN Who's Where Record of Interviews


Eisenberg, a master electrician and poet, shattered more than one female stereotype when she began her apprenticeship with Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1978. Affirmative-action programs had been initiated, and it was thought that a historic transformation was beginning in the construction industry. But as evidenced by her interviews with 30 women carpenters, electricians, painters, plumbers, and ironworkers, the attitude of "Here comes another damn woman on the job" has remained intact. Eliciting gritty insights during her interviews, she reveals indignities and disillusion as well as the strategiesÄincluding humorÄthat women have used to survive on these jobs. She also discusses why change has not occurred and why women put up with the abuse: "I hated [the foreman]," says one woman, "I just kept my mouth shut because I needed the job." Eye-opening and often disturbing, this is a fine study on the limits of affirmative action that can be appreciated by lay readers and scholars alike.ÄKay Meredith Dusheck, Univ. of Iowa, Anamosa

"The unexpected book, about subjects neglected and out of fashion, is often the very book we had been hoping for, although we didn't know it. Such a book is We'll Call You if We Need You...This is an inspirational and life-affirming book... Eisenberg, who herself began an apprenticeship with Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1978, tells the story through interviews with 30 women-carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, painters, and plumbers... This book is constructed so skillfully that the reader is kept constantly engaged."-Samuel C. Florman, New York Times Book Review "Eye-opening and often disturbing, this is a fine study on the limits of affirmative action that can be appreciated by lay readers and scholars alike."-Library Journal "Eisenberg captures the strength and intelligence of tradeswomen through the simplest of devices-hanging back. She comes in only to introduce and frame their voices-with clarification, personal accounts, a bit of history or context... Eisenberg's book engenders a new respect for the women in the trades and the difficult work they do. To read this book is to never look at a building or a bridge the same way again; it is to realize that erecting the infrastructure of American society is not a job for wimps-especially when doing so requires you to go the extra mile working with men who don't want you there."-The Progressive "A frustrating, coming of age narrative about women still struggling to secure their place in the construction trades... The strength of We'll Call You If We Need You ... is the nuanced composite picture it assembles of tradeswomen's experiences... Eisenberg makes a persuasive case for beefing-up affirmative action guidelines and revising archaic union apprenticeship programs that were designed with 18-year old men in mind."-Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air "A splendid book that weaves together oral histories of thirty women from ten states plus the District of Columbia... At a time when affirmative action is practically an insult, Susan Eisenberg's book unashamedly demonstrates that 'affirmative action works, and more of it works better.'"-Pat Cooper, Women's Review of Books "A remarkable, riveting new book... It's a portrayal of indomitable courage and perseverance by women to overcome gender barriers and qualify for more interesting and rewarding work than traditionally female occupations provide. It's also a tribute to the 'exceptional men' in the trades who supported and assisted their efforts."-Juliet F. Brudney, Boston Globe "Susan Eisenberg's book We'll Call You If We Need You is her own anecdotal investigation into why women still don't typically enter the building trades. Her answers are eye opening."-Fine Homebuilding "Eisenberg interviewed 30 women, from Seattle to Boston, who were pioneers in the skilled trade fields... The book is told mostly in their eloquent words."-Jane Slaughter, Ithaca Times "We'll Call You if We Need You is a very personal book. Eisenberg records and shares the thoughts and feelings of a group of ordinary women in an extraordinary circumstance-working in the building and construction trades. Her book is a moving account of these women's individual challenges... A powerful story about gender."-Industrial and Labor Relations Review "The interviews with construction workers in We'll Call You If We Need You contain many telling anecdotes."-Feminist Collections "Susan Eisenberg's We'll Call You If We Need You is a page turner... This book is not just a good read; it is also the beginning of a history-the very important history of the initial entrance of women into the skilled construction trades."-Journal of American History "From fairly chilling tales of harassment and abuse to the joys of the job and the 'exceptional' men who helped along the way, We'll Call You If We Need You tells the inside, human story of pioneering in a male-dominated industry. It ends up being a story of courage and a real guide to what needs to change in order to extend equal opportunity to women in construction."-Bonnie Wells, Amherst Bulletin "A powerful volume. This book is superior in its organization, integrating a wide and diverse group of women's experience and moving thematically from the decision to enter the trade, through apprenticeship training into journey person status."-Elaine Bernard, Executive Director, Harvard Trade Union Program "This book is a pathbreaking account of an important group of women who responded to legally mandated opportunities in an important occupational category: construction. Eisenberg's expert oral interviews tell us about all aspects of the lives of women involved in construction trades, and her respect for her subjects comes through clearly on every page. The experience of reading the book is an elevating one not only because we are learning about an aspect of recent American history that is entirely new, but also because we are learning about human resilience and courage."-Kathryn Kish Sklar, State University of New York, Binghamton "Women in construction have had a lot of culture cracking to do. Society hates those of us who are charm school dropouts. Read about their battles and cheer!"-Pat Schroeder, President and CEO, Association of American Publishers

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