I’m A Woman In Construction And Being A Single Mom Just Makes It Harder
By Megan Kinch
PHOTO © shironosov/Getty Images
Mar 6, 2020
In that time of morning that seems like the dead of night, I quietly get dressed. My six-year-old stirs and I ask her to climb onto my back — which she does while still basically asleep — like a tiny monkey. I leave my apartment unit and carry her downstairs to another unit where my neighbour is waiting.
Settling her into sleep on the couch, I thank her caregiver and rush back upstairs. Then I’m out the door to get to my job as a construction electrician in downtown Toronto.
It's so early and I’m so tired and my day has just begun.
Who was this system designed for, and who is it working for?
Why does the school day start at 9 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. if no one works those hours?
"I have to prove over and over again that I can lift things, that I know electrical, that I’m capable of using power tools ...."
Why is there absolutely no before-school care available that matches the hours of the construction industry? How am I supposed to handle the childcare gap between 5 and 9 a.m. when school finally starts? And even though I have some of the earliest hours in the city, it's still a struggle to make it to after-school pickup when I’m done at 2:45 p.m. and have to race through traffic to pick her up in time.
People say it's my fault that I work construction. That construction is not compatible with being a single mom or a primary caregiver in a relationship (I’ve been both), but what industry is? Lawyers work long hours. Doctors and nurses deal with rotating shift work. Customer service workers get random hours that change every week.
It's supposedly industry-specific, but it's everywhere.
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"Why don’t you negotiate flexible hours?"
Just as a woman, I’m already in a terribly precarious position at work.
When I show up to a worksite having been dispatched by my union, I feel like Anne of Green Gables, with the foreman silently conveying, "We clearly requested a boy." I have to prove over and over again that I can lift things, that I know electrical, that I’m capable of using power tools — and even then, I'm only sometimes given that opportunity. But I’m never in a position to ask to leave early to pick up my kid from school, or to take the day off because there’s a PA day.
"In an industry where people can be laid off at any time (and are), asking for childcare accommodations is asking to get laid off due to 'shortage of work.'"
I have to use up most of my energy just getting access to a bathroom and being permitted to do my job when people are trying to “help” me lift a bundle of conduit I’ve lifted hundreds of times before. Or “protect” me by not letting me use power tools that I’ve been successfully using for five years without cutting my fingers off. In an industry where people can be laid off at any time (and are), asking for childcare accommodations is asking to get laid off due to “shortage of work."
One of my co-workers, another electrician, was a dad of three kids when his wife died. He negotiated slightly different hours with his employer so he could drop his daughters off to school, but his union rep said that violated the terms of his contract. He had to give up electrical work for a decade and do renovations because there was no way he could make his schedule work as a widowed dad.
At the same time, I have stable dental coverage for the first time in my life, so my daughter and I can go to the dentist regularly — which seems an impossible luxury. If I do get laid off, the union will eventually find me another job. I can tell my daughter I have a cool job as an electrician doing important work building homes for people or landmark historical sites. I make enough to actually provide a life for the two of us.
When I tell her that women can do any job, I mean it.
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Women in trades make up an extreme minority, in my trade we are around 3 per cent of the workforce. It's already so hard, and being a mother makes it harder. But this kind of work and these kind of hours see all of us losing out on time. There are the partners of construction workers taking the hit to their careers to accommodate the school day because their better half can't. There are dads who want to be more involved, but their job makes it almost impossible.
"I wish I had more energy and time to play, read and make better meals."
Yes, my job provides for my family, but it also takes emotional and physical resources, on top of time I need to be a good mom to my kid.
Why are trades moms, like me, and all parents who bear the primary burden of caregiving put in these impossible situations? I wish I had more energy and time to play, read and make better meals. But being a good mom is also about keeping a roof over our heads, food on our plates and setting an example by doing something challenging but rewarding.
I kiss my sleeping child on the forehead as I leave for work in the early morning dark, and hope that it's enough.
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