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NEW Hosts Annual Equity Leadership Awards Luncheon

June 25, 2019

By Silver Krieger

NEW President Kathleen Culhane

New York, NY – Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) held its Annual Equity Leadership Awards Luncheon at the New York Hilton in midtown Manhattan on Thursday, June 20. Honorees included Jay Badame, AECOM Tishman, Laura Vulaj, SL Green Realty Corp., Lenny Legotte, International Union of Elevator Constructors, Local One, and Mellissa Brotherson, Plumbers Local Union No. 1. 

NEW prepares, trains, and places women in careers in the skilled construction, utility, and maintenance trades, helping women achieve economic independence and a secure future.  Founded in 1978, NEW primarily serves low-income women of color from all five boroughs in New York City and focuses on skilled, unionized jobs in the trades with starting wages averaging $18.50 per hour, benefits, and a path to higher-wage employment. Today, NEW graduates are working as carpenters, laborers, plumbers, electricians, bridge painters, ironworkers, sheet metal workers, porters, utility workers, and operating engineers. 

Each year, NEW honors industry leaders, labor leaders, and tradeswomen who are actively involved in changing the face of New York’s workforce by increasing the number of women in the skilled construction, utility, transportation and maintenance trades. 

Lenny Legotte, International Union of Elevator Constructors, Local One

The Luncheon highlighted NEW Signature Projects throughout the city that have employed NEW graduates over the past year. With 56 projects to date, the NEW Signature Projects program increases the utilization of tradeswomen on New York City construction projects, ensures that an adequate supply of skilled tradeswomen are prepared for the demands of the industry, and helps industry partners adopt best practices. 

Hundreds packed the Grand Ballroom, including tradespeople, politicians, industry leaders, and former NEW graduates. Sheri Best, of NEW’s Ambassador Council, and Nicky Heryet, of NEW’s Board of Directors, told LaborPress about the importance of getting people involved in the growth and leadership of NEW. 

“Placing and training women who have all the skills and no resources is life-changing for them,” said Best. [Previously to NEW they are making] minimum wage – that’s no way to make a living and provide for their families. They discover these trades and its extraordinary for them.” Nordise Bentick, a NEW graduate from 2005, said, “I’m here to support by not only keeping in contact, and propelling and elevating the program, but to make a powerful statement and show unity. Women in construction are not only as good as men, but maybe even better.” In a short film about NEW, graduate Shania Pelage shared the story of how fellow construction workers were there for her after the suicide of her best friend.

Upon receiving his award, Badame, a longtime champion of women in the industry, said, “Construction has a reputation as a tough workplace, especially for women. NEW provides overwhelming support and Camaraderie.”

Vulaj spoke about the “hard knocks” those in the program have overcome, and how it was their opportunity “when they were at the end of their ropes.” “This organization brings hope to so many women – keep the support coming,” she added.

Legotte thanked his mother and his wife, and accepted his award “on behalf of Elevator Constructors Local One,” as well as sharing a story that highlighted the fierce commitment his union has “to hiring minorities and women.”

Brotherson, a Journeywoman Plumber with UA Local Union 1, shared how her introduction to the trades came through her mother, a painter, who had the “courage to reject gender roles in that industry,” and how she found her way through the trades after other paths without upward mobility failed her. When she found NEW, she “found my home,” and says, “Nearly every woman I’ve met on a construction site has come from NEW.” Now, she herself can be a support for [them].”

The NEW community also celebrated the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC)’s increased goals for inclusion of women in apprenticeship. In 2018, BCTC Leadership set a new goal that 15% of incoming trades apprentices by trade be NEW Graduates. This is a historic increase from the previous 10% goal, which had stood since 2006. 

This year’s Event Committee Co-Chairs were Maureen Henegan, Chairman and CEO of Henegan Construction Co., Inc and Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. 

Honorary Event Committee Chairs who support NEW’s mission include notables such as Democratic Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, US Congressman Jerrold Nadler and US Congressman Adriano Espaillat, New York State Senators Diane Savino and Alessandra Biaggi, New York State Assembly Members Catalina Cruz, Nathalia Fern and Nicole Malliotakis, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and New York City Councilmembers Carlina Rivera and Jimmy Van Bramer.

June 25, 2019

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