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 Island 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 first 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 knowing my father, that little girl who was timid and did not want to be alive,” Cassidy recalled.
As a teenager, she dreamed of being a lawyer, but when her grandmother died, taking away her only source of financial support as a teenager, Cassidy adjusted her plans.
At the time, the 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 than five feet now, so I could have been shorter then and I was 110 pounds so they questioned 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 university and I really liked fixing stuff.
“I ended up getting into the plumbing course, one of three girls in a school full of men.”
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 first year of a two-year course, Cassidy got married and at the insistence of her husband moved to New York, where for the first few months she did jobs as a baby-sitter, house-keeper or nanny, the type of work typically available to immigrants at the time.
She talked about her studies to be a plumber and her dreams with family, friends, and neighbours. It was a neighbour, who was part of a pro-black employment coalition at the time, who got her the first plumbing job in the city.
“The coalition 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 at 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 walking away. She returned the next day and the day after that.
At first, she would be sent for coffee, although 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 construction or any particular trade. You are considered green when you don’t know anything. But I had training. They would send me for stuff like an elbow, a cast iron and I could bring it back. Some of the men didn’t have a clue.
“I kept showing up and I think the consistency of always showing up, when it was freezing or when it was hot, I went to work still, that consistency changed the way a lot of the 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 construction site as a non-union worker, 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 unionised, Cassidy included.
“I was the only woman and when I went to the office 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. Unions 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 first 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 officer 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-profit organisation called Tools and Tiara’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 confidence,” she said.
“I’m a girly girl. A lot of people have an image of construction women as being manly. I wear construction boots on a site and love to dress up when I go out.
“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 a shadow of a doubt I am a very good 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.” Source: Trinidad Guardian
T&T news blog
The intent of this blog is to bring some news from home and other fun items. If you enjoy what you read, please leave us a comment..