The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 29, 2006

Madame President - Local 58's president breaks gender barrier

By The Building Tradesman

Construction is still very much a man's world, with women workers comprising less than three percent of the industry's workforce. There aren't any statistics on the percentage of building trades women who hold union office, but they are rare.

One of those rarities is Elaine Crawford who was elected president of IBEW Local 58 on June 23. Winning the election with 1,393 votes to her opponent's 1,128, Crawford, who was appointed in July 2005, continues to hold her position.

Crawford is the first woman president of IBEW Local 58 - one of the largest construction locals in the state - and is, quite possibly, the first elected or appointed woman president of any construction union in Michigan. (Feel free to correct us if we're wrong.)

Although they are probably more common in the Electrical Workers than in other unions, women construction union presidents are unusual in the U.S. An informal review of IBEW inside local unions in North America finds seven women presidents, and four of them hail from Canada.

Local 58 is a union of more than 6,000 members, and about 300 are women. Two other women also won election to local union office: Susan McCormick is the new Recording Secretary and Kathy Devlin won re-election to the local's Examining Board.

Married with a daughter and granddaughter, Crawford is a long-time resident of the City of Detroit. Reflecting upon the recent election, Crawford, a 28-year member of Local 58, said, "I wasn't elected because they needed a woman officer. I was elected because the membership wants the job done."

A progression of elected positions and appointments put Crawford into the local's presidency. She has served on the local's Examining Board, as a trustee on the SUB Fund and the Pension/Annuity Funds, and on the Executive Board.

When former Local 58 Business Manager Jeff Radjewski accepted a position with the International Union in July 2005, Local 58's Executive Board voted to move Joe Abdoo from union president into the business manager's position, and they elected Crawford to become the local's president. Both Abdoo and Crawford won three-year terms of office in the June 23 election.

In addition to chairing union meetings, the president is responsible for many things. "Much of my time is spent promoting member involvement," she said. Crawford's responsibilities include all local union committees and trust funds. She is a liaison to the Metro AFL-CIO, the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Advisory Committee, and other community groups. The business manager has also given her the responsibility to develop union education initiatives. She represents the local at various public functions when the business manager isn't available.

Abdoo said that it was obvious to him, when he worked with Crawford during her years on the E-Board, that she is an independent thinker. "Elaine is intelligent, industrious, and always does her due diligence with issues that come before her," said Abdoo. "She has a lot of great ideas." He added, "She is a very progressive president, but she is certainly not a rubber-stamp president. We don't always agree, but we work through our disagreements."

Crawford said she received a number of phone calls and cards from her union brothers and sisters after the local's election, "which meant a lot to me."

Abdoo said in the weeks Crawford's election, her gender has become a non-issue among members and contractors. "I can't speak for the entire industry, but I can say that at Local 58 we have a great resource of women electricians who do their work, do it well, and make our local better. I think Elaine, in her position, personifies their progressive attitude."