Originally from Dallas, Texas, Tarita Ventura understands the importance of good jobs. Growing up in state that lacked union jobs or many worker protections, her father, a general contractor, often found himself out of work. Tarita and her family, who are Creek Indians, spent many bouts of her childhood homeless, forced to camp and fish to survive.
For almost a decade, she struggled to make ends meet for her four children as a single mom in the construction industry. She tried working everything from roofing, to laying concrete, and plumbing. Not a “school person”, at one point, she worked for years in minimum wage, back breaking construction jobs. For a short period, she even sent her kids to live with her family in order to work and save money. And at one point, she even had to turn to food stamps and Medi-Cal just to feed her children.
A window opened for Tarita when Women in Non-Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER), an organization that provides support to women interested in the construction industry, introduced her to the career opportunities available through union apprentice programs. She has now found her home as a first-year apprentice in the Sheet Metal Workers International Organization Local 105 apprentice program. She gets pleasure in envisioning how to build complex structures and then being able to use her hands to build them. Although she is the only woman apprentice in a class of 75, Tarita has found strength, passion, and empowerment doing what she loves. Says Tarita, “As a female, to succeed in this field, you have [to have] the desire to work here!”
At 43 years old and in one of the highest- paid craft trades, as an apprentice she has already been able to purchase a home in Rosemead, have a savings account, and most importantly, provide for her children. Her boyfriend and children are proud of her and she feels good as both a mother and a worker being able to support her kids and have a skilled career. She wants to be an example to other women looking for opportunities in the construction industry by continuing to encourage her female friends to join the trades.
Luis Jaimes understands how jobs can really affect one’s quality of life. The third generation South Los Angeles resident came of age during the 1992 riots and a lack of good jobs in his community. Luis saw his community torn apart by gangs, poverty, and segregation.
Raised by a single mother who had to work long hours to support her son, Luis struggled to find direction. He never finished high school, lacked skills, and only worked in minimum wage jobs like retail and tow truck driving. He became interested in working in the construction field first through the two month Century Community Training program.
The Century program then referred him to the Ironworkers Local 416 apprenticeship program. Now a fourth year apprentice, he has had numerous jobs building developments like LA Live and mixed use developments over the years. Though the job was very physically demanding, he was willing to make sacrifices for his family. Says Luis, “If I wasn’t in the program, I’d probably be financially unstable and be going from low-wage job to low-wage job, without a chance for a career.”
Health insurance is one of the most important benefits to Luis and his family as he became a proud father about a year ago. None of his previous jobs provided benefits like health insurance or overtime. Luis’s son has had health issues like getting fevers and had to be taken to a doctor. Yet without the insurance, he would have faced large bills that would have “put a deep hole” in his pocket.
But at 26 years old, Luis now has a solid career that makes his mother and girlfriend proud. He is strongly connected to community. Over the past year, he has also regularly run half-marathons against Multiple Sclerosis, in support of family members who have the disease. There is also a new meaning to brotherhood and solidarity for him. A shy guy, Luis typically spends most of his free time with his family, but has found community in his fellow ironworker apprentices. Luis describes the natural camaraderie of working in the trades this way: “It’s the kind of work that builds trust, you really need to depend on each other to do the kind of work we do.”
At twenty-one years old, Stephanie is well on her way towards achieving her goal of a career in engineering and construction. As a member of La Causa’s Youth Build program, Stephanie has been training for almost a year in subjects such as communications, engineering, and construction. She says that the program is extremely hands-on and that she is passionate about the subject matter.
Stephanie has faced obstacles in her career as a student, but she feels that the La Causa Youth Program has assisted her in pursuing her goals. Stephanie dropped out of high school to help her mother raise her younger brother after he was diagnosed with bone cancer. Her mother was soon diagnosed with cancer, as well, which provided Stephanie with further incentive to remain at home and tend to her family. Eventually, Stephanie’s mother regained enough strength to care for herself and her brother. During this time, Stephanie discovered a flyer for the La Causa program and leapt at the opportunity. She told herself, “This is a sign for me to go to school.”
The program prepared Stephanie using practical and hands-on training. Stephanie initially worked with her mentors to renovate various houses belonging to low-income owners. After observing a real-life situation, Stephanie learned to mimic the work that her mentors performed for the homeowners.
Now that she is immersed in the field of renovating homes, Stephanie experiences constant rewards for her work. She currently installs solar panels on and stabilizes low-income homes to prevent earthquake damage. “I can see that [the homeowners] really appreciate it,” she says, “because the past 4 houses that we’ve been at, they gave us pizza, they gave us food, they gave us, like, drinks, sodas, water, whatever we needed.” The solar panels dramatically cut energy expenses for homeowners, so the work that Stephanie is involved with is tremendously beneficial.
Stephanie continues to educate herself in the hopes of gaining status in the world of engineering and construction. She will graduate this summer and looks forward to the experience. She encourages young women who share her passion for construction to pursue their dreams in spite of common stereotypes. “Don’t be shy because other people say it’s for boys,” she says. Though Stephanie felt pressure avoid construction, she is proud of her decision to pursue it.
Though his dreams of playing college football were short-lived, Jabari’s career as an electrician has aided him throughout his adult life. As a young man, Jabari attended high school with dreams of playing professional sports. These dreams were sadly limited after he suffered a significant injury and was forced to take a more traditional career path. Jabari temporarily worked at the concessions stand at a movie theater, but felt that the work was unrewarding. It was just a short lived job, while he was looking for a long-lasting career. His cousin, John, introduced Jabari to the journeyman electrician program. John’s convincing words encouraged Jabari to eventually enter the program himself, in which he found a promising opportunity and a stable career.
In addition to finding personal satisfaction in his work, Jabari strives to help his community. Using his electrician skills, he currently strives to renovate the Martin Luther King Jr. hospital and to prepare other workers for their job ahead. While his work is gratifying, it has also presented challenges. Jabari trained for five years as an apprentice at his union, the IBEW, constantly working to gain respect and experience in his field.
“It’s intense,” he says. “They don’t cut you [any] slack. But there’s a reason for it.”
Through the experience, Jabari has found much incentive to continue in his work, first and foremost being his growing family. Jabari and his long-time girlfriend, who is a nurse, are raising their four year old son, Jaden, and awaiting the arrival of a new baby that is due in fall.
“Right now, the union makes it easy for me to be a parent because they provide the benefits,” says Jabari. “They provide necessities that I need to help take care of my son…It would be real tough if I didn’t have those things.”
Jabari encourages young people who are searching for work to investigate the journeyman program that has made a tremendous difference in his life, just as his cousin encouraged him. His explanation is clear: “It’s the difference between a job and a career.”