September 23, 2010 Articles
As We Celebrate OFCCP's 45th Anniversary, a Pioneer Reminisces About The Early Days of Women in Construction
In a June 1965 commencement address at Washington, DC’s Howard University, President Lyndon Johnson shared his strong belief in civil rights and nondiscriminatory practices when he said:
“Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”
On September 24, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Executive Order 11246, granting supervision of federal contract compliance to the Secretary of Labor, and creating the department’s first Office of Federal Contract Compliance. The EO ordered federal departments and agencies to impose non-discrimination and affirmative action rules in all federal contracts and federally- assisted construction projects. Later, on October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter consolidated all affirmative action enforcement actions into DOL by signing into law Executive Order 12086.
Today, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) not only enforces EO 11246, but also Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, both as amended. These laws prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in their employment practices on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and veteran status. “Nearly one in four American workers are employed by a company which receives federal funds for contracted work,” said OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu, “and taxpayer dollars should never be used for discrimination.” Shiu added “For the past 45 years, OFCCP has been on the front lines of protecting workers, promoting diversity and enforcing laws so that the reach for good jobs is truly within everyone’s grasp.”
Back in the early1970’s, it was difficult for women to get jobs in the construction trades, said Meg Vasey, a California native, who said she “liked working outside with my hands” and wanted to get a good paying job in those fields but was initially denied. Vasey remembers a woman who applied for a construction job and was selected for an interview “only because she hid her gender on her application.” Vasey herself was discouraged from applying for apprenticeship openings, often being told curtly “not open now, call back.” When she did finally land a construction apprenticeship, some men ostracized and even physically threatened her, but she endured. “I was stubborn and the pay was good,” she said, “I felt I was a trailblazer and couldn’t give up because of the people coming up behind me. I worked very hard to make sure others had a good chance at equality.”
Vasey said she knows it was OFCCP’s active enforcement of affirmative action goals for women and minorities that turned the tide in favor of her and thousands of others like her. Because of OFCCP “construction contractors were under pressure to find qualified women in construction and place women in apprenticeship programs,” she said.
Vasey is now executive director of Tradeswomen, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to outreach, recruitment, retention, and leadership development for women in non-traditional trades. She is also a member of the California State Bar.
Vasey said she was very grateful for OFCCP. “I owe my career and opportunity to feed my family, get health care and be successful with the tools” to the agency. As for OFCCP’s future, Vasey added “there is a role for the federal government to play in ensuring the rights of minorities and historically disadvantaged to have equal opportunities.”
Meet Meg Vasey
Meg Vasey is the Executive Director of Tradeswomen, a non-profit organization dedicated to outreach, recruitment, retention, and leadership development for women in non-traditional trades (http://www.tradeswomen.org/).
Meg has been a construction electrician for 30 years. She is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union 302, Martinez, California, and represents Local 302’s members as a retirement plan trustee. In 1998, Meg put down her tools to attend Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley, graduating and passing the California State Bar in 2001.
Using her legal and construction background, Meg worked with the East Bay Community Law Center and subsequently with the Port of Oakland to assist in the development and implementation of the Port’s project labor agreement with its ground-breaking social justice program. At the Port, Meg focused on assisting a dynamic coalition of local contractors, community groups, construction trade unions and Port staff to increase the participation of local residents on Port construction projects. She has served as a consultant with owners, community groups and labor to promote sustainable job opportunities in the construction industry. As Executive Director of Tradeswomen, Inc., Meg remains committed to furthering women’s opportunities in the non-traditional trades.