Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 8th 2017 Contents "I think women should learn a trade. I started feeling
empowered. I felt like I could do anything.
My life changed when I started owning my
own power and walking on the job like I
belong. The minute I got tools in my hand
I felt empowered."
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Trini beats female stigma to become NY union boss
Motivated by poverty
There is a photo online, in the sea
of billions of photos, where a few
dozen white men, stand or sit, some
with smiles, some serious, with a
few darker faces sprinkled in between.
It's a photo of the leadership team of a
New York plumbers' union, the Staten Is-
land Plumbers' Local 371 and among the
four brown faces is one smiling woman,
Judaline Cassidy, a pint-sized T&T national
who has been making waves since she left
these shores more than 25 years ago.
Cassidy, an immigrant in the United
State who lived in Trinidad up the age of
19, has spent her life hearing the word
"no" and responding with a resolute "yes."
The irst black woman to be allowed
entry into the Plumbers' Union, and one
of the few women in general to make it to
a leadership position in the body, Cassidy
embodies the success story that forms part
of the American dream.
But Cassidy's dreams began at Covigne
Road, Diego Martin, in T&T. She grew up
with her grandmother, recalling that her
mother didn't want the responsibility of a
child and she didn't know her father.
"I didn't have a lot of self esteem, not
growing up with my mother and not know-
ing my father, that little girl who was timid
and did not want to be alive," Cassidy re-
As a teenager she dreamed of being a
lawyer, but when her grandmother died,
taking away her only source of inancial
support as a teenager, Cassidy adjusted
At the time, government had introduced
a plan for free access to education for
tradespeople, with classes taking place at
the John Donaldson Technical Institute in
Port-of-Spain. Cassidy applied and went to
the interview with the board.
"They took a look at me. I'm less then
ive feet now, so I could have been shorter
then and I was 110 pounds so they ques-
tioned me on whether I could even lift the
tools. I told them I wanted to learn a craft
because I had no way of paying for univer-
sity and I really liked ixing stuff.
"I ended up getting into the plumbing
course, one of three girls in a school full
She recalled dressing for school in Diego
Martin and leaving home with no money
hoping to get a drop to the capital by a
kind driver. Sometimes she walked.
"I was motivated to be better
than my circumstances."
At 19, after completing
the irst year of a two-year
course, Cassidy got married
and at the insistence of her
husband moved to New York,
where for the irst few months
she did jobs as a baby-sitter,
house-keeper or nanny, the
type of work typically available
to immigrants at the
and her dreams
friends and neigh-
bours. It was a
was part of a pro-
at the time, who
got her the irst
plumbing job in the
went to a job site and
told the owners they
had a plumber. They
didn't tell them it was
a woman. I showed up
in the construction site
in my jeep. I looked
really tall in the jeep
because of how high
the seats were. I got
out of the jeep and
they started snickering.
They said there was no
way this woman was the
plumber," she recalled.
She said the supervisor
told her to leave but she
had no intention of walk-
ing away. She returned
the next day and the day
At irst, she would
be sent for coffee, al-
though she was just
as skilled and in many cases more
skilled than her male counterparts.
"All the guys were green, they
didn't know anything about construc-
tion or any particular trade.
You are considered
green when you
don't know any-
thing. But I had
me for stuff
have a clue.
"I kept showing up
and I think the consist-
ency of always show-
ing up, when it was
freezing or when it
was hot, I went to
work still, that con-
men started treating
me. I was meticulous
about my job. I really
loved plumbing and I
was really good at it."
After a year of
working on that con-
struction site as a
the company decided
to hire some of the
workers. Cassidy was
one of the plumbers
hired. After a year,
the company sent
the workers to be
"I was the only
woman and when
I went to the of-
ice they said go
do the dishes,
get out of here.
I didn't cry there
but I cried in
my truck. I went
home then I
sucked it up and went back to work. One
of the guys who I was working with took
me under his wing and said he would
get me into the union."
For Cassidy, being a unionised
plumber meant better salaries, medical
and dental insurance and a change in
lifestyle for her family. It was something
she really wanted.
"It gives you a sense of security. Un-
ions create the middle class. Without
the unions there would be no middle
class," she told the Sunday Guardian.
"A black woman in America, we get 65
cents to the dollar for what a man gets
but not in construction and not in the
union. As a plumber I get equal play. I
was the irst black woman to join the
union a year later."
She added: "The same person who
laughed in my face and told me to go
do dishes became my biggest advocate.
He would always tell people that girl
was one of the best plumbers we had."
Today, Cassidy is the only woman of icer
in the union's leadership team.
"When I started I would be the only
woman on the construction site and no
one would talk to me. Now it's the best
feeling to be on a job and you aren't the
only one. I've been in jobs with other
female plumbers like apprentices and
helpers. I've been able to teach other
women the craft as apprentices."
Cassidy also recently started a non-
pro it organisation called Tools and Ti-
ara's (T&T for short) and teaches young
women trade work.
"I was trying to do this a long time.
God was pushing me to do it. If you give
a woman tools and a tiara you give her
con idence," she said.
"I'm a girly girl. A lot of people have
an image of construction women as
being manly. I wear construction boots
"I do monthly workshops where
we teach women plumbing, electrical
and carpentry. We have a strong team
who volunteers their services to teach
women and girls the craft.
"I think women should learn a trade.
I started feeling empowered. I felt like
I could do anything. I know without
plumber. My life changed when I started
owning my own power and walking on
the job like I belong.The minute I got
tools in my hand I felt empowered."
Judaline Cassidy, plumber and founder of
Tools and Tiaras, with a young apprentice.
founder of the
Tools and Tiaras
with her tools on
a job site in
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