Oregon Tradeswomen recognizes staff union

Oregon Tradeswomen offers a pre-apprenticeship program that introduces women to a handful of skilled trades. | PHOTO BY COLIN STAUB


Fourteen workers at a Portland organization that helps women get into the skilled trades have unionized with Machinists District Lodge W24. Given Oregon Tradeswomen’s mission and close alliance with local unions, it may come as no surprise the nonprofit’s leadership wholeheartedly supported the union drive.

Oregon Tradeswomen has been bringing women into the building trades for 33 years. Its key training is the Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class, a 192-hour program that introduces women to a handful of skilled trades.

Mary Ann Naylor, communications manager for Oregon Tradeswomen, said workers have discussed unionizing several times over the last six or seven years. It’s a logical topic, since Oregon Tradeswomen strongly supports local trade unions: Nearly 80% of its pre-apprenticeship graduates are placed in registered union apprenticeships in the construction trades.

In recent weeks, a campaign with District Lodge W24 came together quickly, assisted by Machinists organizer Jessica Deming. She got a call from a worker, asking whether Machinists would be interested in the campaign. As a former apprentice who knows the experience well, she was immediately excited about the campaign.

“I was like, ‘Ladies, I am an Oregon tradeswoman!’” Deming said.

Within days, 85% of workers signed cards and they filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Feb. 10.

Kelly Kupcak, executive director of Oregon Tradeswomen, says the union drive is an opportunity for the organization to live its own values out loud. 

“I had a lot of joy hanging up the notice in our break room this week,” she said. Seeing that the union had majority support, Kupcak signed paperwork voluntarily recognizing the union on Feb. 14, avoiding the need for an election.

Kupcak says Oregon Tradeswomen staff frequently meet to build consensus and make collective decisions, including on things like the health insurance workers receive. She sees unionizing as a continuance of that decision-making.

“We’re just continuing down that road and solidifying it and institutionalizing it for the future,” Kupcak said.

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