Fighting for Women's Equality

Tradeswomen Tuesday: Saadia Walters, Carpenter, Local 157 New York City

October 26, 2015 | by

October 30th is Latina Equal Pay Day.  On this day, the average Latina finally makes the same amount the average white man did the year before.

Today’s Tradeswoman Tuesday is a born and raised New Yorker and Latina whose family is originally from Puerto Rico. This week marks her 10th year as a union carpenter.

In her own words:

Saadia and sonMy name is Saadia Walters, I am a NYC union carpenter. On October 26, 2015 I will have been in the union for 10 years. I am proud to say that my son, Darius John Ortiz, has followed in my footsteps and is a third year apprentice carpenter. I am so very blessed, my cup runneth over.

What kind of work do you do?

Over the years I have worked indoors doing layout, framing, sheet rocking, core board, ceilings, and anything else my bosses ask me to do. I have worked outdoors doing concrete high rise buildings. I’ve done concrete work on the George Washington Bridge and the High Bridge in the Bronx. I also worked concrete on the Willis Ave Bridge. I just finished doing concrete curbs, steps, and sidewalks for the Freedom Tower site right outside of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub including the Oculus structure. I work with all types of tools, hammers, screw guns, snips, clamps, lasers, compound miter saws, worm drives, wrenches, ratchets, speed squares, levels, chalk boxes, framing squares, or nails and screws. 

How did you decide to become a carpenter?

I joined the trade in October of 2005 and it has changed my life exponentially. I had been working at the Olive Garden in Times Square as a cook making $13.25 an hour and surviving as a single parent. Thank God I only had one child. When I approached my manager to ask for my next raise he offered me 35 cents an hour. The male cooks were making $19.  I knew I had to find a better way. Then I found NEW, Nontraditional Employment for Women.  They introduced me to the trades. As a first year apprentice I was already earning $16.50 PLUS benefits. I had never been able to afford benefits before.  

What do you enjoy most about your trade?Saadia at work

What I love about my trade is the feeling of accomplishment you get when you see your work come to fruition. I love hard work!

I love the EQUAL pay for us women because we do the same work.

I love the many famous and beautiful job sites I’ve been on. I love building and rebuilding the city I was born and raised in. I love the camaraderie when you have a good crew to work with. I’ve been on the World Trade Center site on several different jobs and I’ve been proud of myself and my work. 

 What challenges have you faced as a tradeswoman?

I broke 3 bones in my ankle on the job as a third year apprentice, had two surgeries, and still came back to the work I love, and thrived! 

What do you think is needed to be successful in the trades?

I am a very active union member and that’s one of the things that helps make you successful in this business. You also need to have a good attitude, be skillful at what you do, keep learning new things, always be on time, work well with others, and help those who need to learn.

I am on the New York City District Council of Carpenters (NYCDCC) Women’s Steering Committee. I am a NYCDCC Political Action Captain. I teach a sexual harassment class at the NYCDCC Labor Technical College to apprentices and shop stewards. I am an acting shop steward on many of the jobs that I work on. I also am an instructor at NEW, where I teach pre-apprentice women of all ages basic carpentry and the skills they will need to make it on job sites and in different trades.

What is your vision for the future for women in the trades?

saadia sparksMy vision for the future of women in the trades is to see a spike in women joining. I would love to see 50% of women on construction jobs instead of the less than 4% that we have now. I would love to see more retention!!!! A lot of women get in, but then in a couple of years you don’t see them anymore. I wish to see more female foremen. We desperately need much more FEMALE LEADERSHIP in my trade. Soon I plan on running for delegate – I need to get this ball rolling.

In closing, I would like to say that I’ve been doing better and better every year since I joined the Carpenter’s Union. I go on a few vacations a year. I can afford all the things I want and need. I am happy! I am blessed! Most importantly now I can pay things forward. I am truly thankful.


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