Women Building Success Presents Annual Awards to Women in the Trades
The 2023 Women Building Success award-winners. Back row, left to right, winning Honorable Mention: Rebecca Nohava (Bricklayers Local 1), Julia Kunze (Plumbers Local 34), Kateri Lemke (Sheet Metal Workers Local 10), Melissa Vandal (IUOE Local 49), Cat Lenander (IBEW Local 110), Nicole Belden (IUOE Local 49) and Mandy Reese (Carpenters Local 1382). Front row, left to right, are first-place winners: Johanna Heath (Ironworkers Local 512), Angela Sheehan (Heat & Frost Insulators Local 34), Sarah Arkeh (Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1).WHITE BEAR LAKE — Celebrating women who work in the building trades, Women Building Success presented its annual awards June 1 for Apprentice of the Year, Journey Worker of the Year and Women’s Advocate of the Year.
WHITE BEAR LAKE — Celebrating women who work in the building trades, Women Building Success presented its annual awards June 1 for Apprentice of the Year, Journey Worker of the Year and Women’s Advocate of the Year.
The event took place at Kellerman Event Center in White Bear Lake with about 250 people attending.
Women Building Success received a total of 40 nominations for this year’s awards.
Apprentice of the Year:
Johanna Heath, Ironworkers
Johanna Heath, member of Ironworkers Local 512, was named Apprentice of the Year. Honorable Mentions were presented to: Nicole Belden, Operating Engineers Local 49; Julia Kunze, Plumbers Local 34; and Kateri Lemke, Sheet Metal Workers Local 10.
Journey Worker of the Year:
Sarah Arkeh, Bricklayers
Sarah Arkeh, member of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, was named Journey Worker of the Year. Honorable Mentions were presented to Cat Lenander, IBEW Local 110, and Melissa Vandal, Operating Engineers Local 49.
Women’s Advocate of the Year:
Angela Sheehan, Insulators
Angela Sheehan, member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 34, was named Women’s Advocate of the Year. Honorable Mentions were presented to Rebecca Nohava, member of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, and Mandy Reese, member of Carpenters Local 1382.
For next year, Women Building Success plans to add another award category — Women in Leadership, to recognize the increasing number of women in leadership roles in their unions.
‘Looking for something better’
A few weeks after this year’s Women Building Success awards ceremony, the Labor Review interviewed two of this year’s award-winners, Johanna Heath and Angela Sheehan. They shared more about their careers and how their lives initially led them into the building trades.
Johanna Heath, Apprentice of the Year winner, is a third-year apprentice with Ironworkers Local 512.
Heath, Hastings, currently works for E & J Erectors. “I mainly work in re-bar but the avenue I’d like to pursue even more is called post-tension,” she related, which involves using cables instead of re-bar to strengthen buildings.
“I like the physical aspect of it, seeing a structure grow,” Heath said. She also enjoys solving unexpected challenges: “Sometimes something breaks and you need to figure out how to fix it.”
Heath, now 38, said “I got in late” to a career in the building trades.
“I’m a single mom and I have two kids,” she said. “I was working two to four jobs at a time trying to support them” before becoming an Ironworkers apprentice. “I met some Ironworkers through one of those jobs, bartending,” she related. “I applied. I did not get in the first time,” but, after gaining experience working in a steel mill, “I did get in the second time.”
Even as the number of women in the trades grows, Heath said, she usually finds herself the only woman on a jobsite.
But for Heath, “working with the guys created a real bond and created a sort of family, which is really unique.”
To a young woman considering a career in the building trades, Heath offered: “It’s going to be hard. It’s not going to be easy but it’s definitely going to be worth it… The rewards, the benefits, the pension and the skills you learn and the brotherhood far out-weigh any bad day.”
Those now-retired Ironworkers she met while bartending who encouraged her to join? “They knew I was hard-working and I like a challenge and I can give and take sarcasm and comments without getting upset.”
Angela Sheehan, Women’s Advocate of the Year winner, is a 10-year member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 34. In January of this year, she was elected as a Local 34 business agent and also serves as corresponding and recording secretary.
Sheehan, who lives in Harris, said the other women in the local “look up to me and call me… I’m kind of their go-to, especially the younger apprentices coming in.”
“I tried a lot of different things in my life; I didn’t start in the trade until I was 36,” Sheehan, now 46, reported.
“I had an aunt [Lisa Schmidt] who was in the trade. She suggested it and I loved it,” Sheehan said. “I got in and I found out this was what I wanted.”
Before joining the trade, Sheehan said she did “a little bit of everything,” including retail, waitressing, working as an aide in a nursing home. “I originally went to school to be a nurse but decided that’s not what I wanted to do.”
“I had babies so I didn’t work for a while,” Sheehan said. Her kids are now 20 and 26 and she has two grandchildren.
At Local 34, Sheehan said, what she likes most is “the camaraderie and the family they’ve built here. Everybody looks out for each other.”
In addition to her aunt, Sheehan has other family members who work in union trades — her sister Tamar Williams is a member of Elevator Constructors Local 9 while her brother-in-law Ben Sheehan is a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 10.
She encourages women to consider a union building trades career. “I run into a lot of ladies who are looking for something better,” she said, while acknowledging “it’s hard to recruit.” “I tell them what a good opportunity it is. We’re always fighting for a better wage… We’re always advocating for each other and our rights and making sure we have a good work environment… That’s the bonus of being in a union.”