Tradeswomen Tuesday: Linda Oba, Journeyman Carpenter, Local 40, and Angela Bellamy, Apprentice Carpenter, Local 40, Boston

What is your trade, local, and where are you from?

Linda Oba is a union Journeyman carpenter and Angela Bellamy is a union apprentice carpenter in Local 40 in Boston.

What attracted you to the trade? How did you get your start?

Linda has been a carpenter for the last 16 years.  Her quiet confidence and her skill has likely inspired many tradeswomen who have crossed her path, not the least of whom is her niece, Angela Bellamy.  Bellamy is soft spoken, and her eyes light up when she talks about the skills she has learned and the confidence she has gained over her four years of apprenticeship. She will be graduating in June of 2017. The two women have only spent one day on the same worksite, but Oba's stories and experience are what prompted Bellamy to give construction a shot. “The fact that she was a woman in a man’s trade. She wasn't afraid to do what men do without being penalized for it. I thought: I can do this and I can excel at it,” Bellamy said.  As a teenager she preferred physical work and working with her hands, but if it wasn't for Oba she would not have thought of becoming a carpenter.

“She was a juvenile delinquent is what she was.”  Oba said of Bellamy in her younger days, “I was telling the guys on the job, I have this niece and she keeps getting into trouble, and they said, get her into Youth Build. So I did.”Bellamy completed the Youth Build program but continued to drag her feet in joining the Carpenters apprenticeship. “I didn't want to grow up.” She said. It wasn't until her mother suffered severe injuries in a car accident that Bellamy changed her mind. “I realized that it has always been me and her,” Bellamy said of her mother Lynnette, “I didn't want to drop the ball and she's sick, so I had to step up. ”Four years later she is glad she did, “I love it, I think it’s awesome,” she said.

Twelve years earlier it was the same practicality that prompted Oba to join the Carpenters. She was working at the Department of Motor Vehicles and her daughter was two years old at the time. She had just purchased a newly constructed home, much of the work was subpar and the contractor had moved on, so Oba started doing the work herself. “I'm fixing things and I'm like, 'Hey this is easy.' So I went down and I signed up myself,” she said.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Of course there is nothing easy about being a woman working in the trades.  Oba completed the four year apprenticeship program and several years into her career as a Journey worker, she landed a job with East Coast Interiors, a prized chance to do finish work.  Prized, because finish often means you are working inside during the harsh New England winter.

“It was me and one other guy from our local who just started that day,” Oba said, and although she had never hung cabinets before, she gave it a shot.  When she couldn't lift a large cabinet that was to be mounted over the fridge she looked it up online.  “I found this thing called a third-arm,” that holds that cabinet for you while you screw it off.  She went out that night and bought one.

Oba said that the first room looked great when it was done, even though it took her two days to finish.  “That was unacceptable,” Oba said, “[The foreman was] upset so he's telling me how women shouldn't be here and how they can't carry their weight.”  He gave her a second room and told her that if she couldn't finish it by the end of the day that was it, she was gone.

“So I went in there, and I got my third-arm, and that room was together before the day was done. They couldn't believe it.”  Oba had completed the work faster than anyone else and they weren't happy.  “So then they started to sabotage my work,” she said.

One guy borrowed the third arm and broke it. That evening she went back to the store and exchanged it. “So, I'm pumping out rooms and then they started to steal my lunch,” she said.  This went on for weeks, they would hide her lunch and take her tools. Eventually another guy on the job and the Carpenter's Steward stood up for her and let the owner of the company owner know what was going on. He put an end to the harassment and Oba stayed with the company.

The best part: “So now, three or four jobs down the line and this man (the foreman) had the nerve to request me on his job because when they meet the deadline they get a bonus. I told them, I'm not going, I will take my two checks.  But I was with them about five years,” Oba said.

Bellamy has learned from Oba's stories. “I know you have to be always professional when you are in situations when people are trying to put you down.  You have to hold your ground but still be respectful,” she said.

What do you love most about your trade and your job?

Bellamy has had some wonderful teachers and mentors during her time in. “Jim Perkins, he was my partner in my first year. He just made me so comfortable. You know your first job, you're nervous you don't know what to do, you don't want to make a bad impression.  He helped me to learn and grow.”  she said.

Bellamy and Perkins worked together on the Harvard Fogg museum doing general carpentry for the general contractor, Skanska.  “We did everything, building ramps, covering holes, building doors. Now you can put me anywhere, tell me to build a handrail, stairs, and I got it.  Figuring all the angles, he taught me how to do all of that,” Bellamy said, adding that she was the only apprentice in her class to ace her math exam and she learned it all in the field.

What advice would you give to other women interested in the trades?

Any willing Journeyman can teach an apprentice the skills they will need, and for women entering the trades sometimes it is the presence of a skilled Journeywoman that gives them the confidence to try. Oba is a quiet, sarcastic kind of inspiring. I know it because she was the first Journeywoman I ever worked under. I too am a carpenter, going into my ninth year. What I learned from watching her work can’t be taught. Construction is, perhaps more than other places these days, a white man’s world, yet watching Oba walk in it comfortably, with grace and gentleness and humor, showed me, Bellamy, and most likely a few other tradeswomen over the years, that there is a place in it for us as well.