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In February 2017, Outi Hicks, a 32-year-old union carpenter apprentice and single mother of three, was bludgeoned with a metal pipe by Aaron Lopez, a part-time nonunion worker at a biomass plant construction site in Fresno, Calif. He was still hitting her when workers reached them and pulled him off.
What other site workers or even Hicks’ union colleagues didn’t know was that Lopez, employed by the project scaffolding supplier, had harassed her for days. Hicks died, and Lopez was charged with first-degree murder, but he pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. With treatment since, he has been ruled competent for trial, but that may not occur in 2019, his attorney says.
“All tradeswomen were shaken to their absolute core the day that happened,” says Vicki L. O’Leary, a 30-plus-year union ironworker veteran who now is the international union’s general organizer for safety and diversity. She is also a high profile advocate for women in the North American Building Trades Unions as it and the industry address challenges in boosting their workforce numbers.
After Hicks’ murder, union women flocked to social media to share their fear and frustration. “Continuing on means being complicit with humiliation, discrimination and abuse. We’re at the mercy of the abusers and I can’t pretend it’s ok anymore,” said one boilermaker who quit construction after a decade of work.
“I realized then that every woman who has worked construction has been, at some time in her career, afraid. This fear isn’t about being injured during the work itself, but for her personal safety,” O'Leary says.
She and others wondered why “there couldn’t be that one guy” who could have prevented such a tragedy. That palpable concern led to a pilot program she conceived—Be That One Guy.
Some intervention efforts exist in building trade locals or on projects, but this one had strong buy-in from Ironworkers International General President Eric Dean, and now is being rolled out to all 130,000 union members to train those on site to be “upstanders” who can deflect or change the tone of a tough situation.
Continue reading story at https://www.enr.com/articles/46555-ironworkers-vicki-oleary-earns-enrs-2019-award-of-excellence
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