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Where else except the plumbing industry can a “4-foot 11-inch, black immigrant woman without a college degree earn six figures, plus get a pension, 401k and great benefits?”
That’s what Judaline Cassidy asked us after her presentation at the Women in Energy meeting, Aug. 14 at the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen in Manhattan.
Cassidy, a union plumber in New York City, is the answer to her own question.
“The only difference between a male plumber and a female plumber is opportunity,” she says.
Cassidy outlined for the crowd how she came to be part of the plumbing profession, and how she’s passing on her passion for the work through a nonprofit she started to teach building trades skills to girls and women ages 6 to 19.
Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Cassidy struggled to find work that would pay the bills and provide a good life. She dreamed of being a lawyer. Thought about going to culinary school. And worked as a nanny – until stumbling upon the building trades, choosing plumbing over electrical.
“I had two choices: Get wet or get shocked,” she said. “I chose getting wet.”
Cassidy started her career as one of the first of three women enrolled in the plumbing program at a technical institute, which is now part of the University of Trinidad and Tobago.
She eventually moved to New York City, and when she tried to join the local plumbers union in 1994, she was told to “go home and do the dishes.” She adds that she was admitted after a male colleague advocated for her a year later.
“I was working as a babysitter,” she told us later, “but my neighbor knew I had gone to trade school.”
She ultimately became the first woman to be accepted into the Plumbers Local Union No. 371 in Staten Island and the first woman elected to the Examining Board of Plumbers Local Union No. 1.
Tools & Tiaras
But it wasn’t just her professional accomplishments on display that night. Cassidy also discussed Tools & Tiaras, the organization she started recently – even funding it from the start with part of her plumber’s paycheck
Cassidy has made it her mission to teach the next generation of girls, especially girls of color, that the trades offer an alternative they may have never considered.
At its monthly workshops, conferences and a summer camp, Tools & Tiaras exposes elementary, middle and high school girls to hands-on projects in plumbing, electrical, carpentry and automotive repair.
"Girls are truly excited and ready to work with their hands," she said. "Some are intimidated at the beginning, but with the guidance and encouragement that they receive from my fellow trades sisters, it quickly becomes, 'I did it!'"
Cassidy first presented the idea for Tools & Tiaras at the 2017 Makers Conference, a three-day annual event designed to set the agenda for advancing women in the workplace.
“Hand girls a tool and a tiara and you are handing out confidence, independence and most of all power,” Cassidy adds.
Cassidy says she’s always looking for volunteers and donations to help the group grow.
“Most people only want to fund programs related to STEM, not realizing that careers in construction represent the 'EM' in STEM,” Cassidy explains.
That’s one reason she started her own acronym, MITT, which stands for “Mechanical, Industrial, Technical, Trades.”
“I wish that our educators and leaders would recognize that bringing back the trades in schools is equally important, vital, and essential to our country,” Cassidy adds. “All of us should be grateful for the workmanship of trade workers who build the structures we inhabit daily.”
For more information, go to www.toolsandtiaras.com.
The Women In Energy holds a number of events like this one throughout the year. The group will also hold its 4th Annual WE Conference, May 19-20, in conjunction with the Eastern Energy Expo, May 19-22, Hershey, Pennsylvania.
For more information about this and other events and benefits, log onto www.wewomeninenergy.com.