Eff You Drywall.

So, turns out dropping a dozen sheets of drywall onto your own legs, being pinned to the ground in a crumpled mess underneath the near tonne of dead weight, finding yourself surrounded by people who panic with you, rush to your aid, get enough able bodies together to lift the sheets high enough for you to crawl out, and then discovering that you haven’t broken anything but your gonna have a great bruise and limp for a few weeks, is a great way to finally get the motivation together to write another blog post.

I’m laying on the couch at home after volunteering today with HEROWORKS, a nonprofit that renovates other nonprofits.  Today we were renovating the local food bank. I had gotten up off the floor earlier today, visited first aid, and iced my leg after the drywall incident.  I then puttered around the job site and tried my best to find something useful for me to do, even though I had crippled myself useless within the first 7 minutes of the day. I wiped down the lunch tables and filled the water glasses. I stripped 4 BX ends and stuck anti-shorts and connectors on the whips, caping the hots with a marette.  I was working next to a 70 year old man, the same man running the first job I volunteered with at Heroworks 4 years ago, listening to his stories of a lifetime of community service, survival, and rewards. He used my ladder all day, and when I told him it was mine, he greased the hinges so it wasnt so sticky.
 I was working with union organizers who understand that if unions have a future, we will have to rekindle the original idea behind why we made unions in the first place; to improve all our lives collectively.  I was working next to many female electricians, many of whom I had the pleasure of accompanying to a conference in Seattle called WOMEN BUILD NATIONS.

Now that I’m laid up on the couch I have some time to reflect.  This has been a busy month. Last weekend I boarded a bus heading to WBN, with 40 female identified trades workers from BC, and we drove across the border to join 2000 other trades women from all over the USA (as well as a few other nationalities).  Retention and recruitment of women into trades was the main theme of the conference.

It was incredible. To be surrounded for an entire weekend, by the fiercest possy of brazen ladies, each one their own stories of battling misogyny, scars to prove it.  We all want the sovereignty to choose our careers, to be trusted with skills and to not have to argue about our place among men or doing a mans job. To have dignity. It was a convergence of people that left feeling stronger, knowing the weight behind their asks was heavy, and their asks are not asking too much.  It’s a movement for future people in trades, continuing on the work of tradies past, enabling small lady balls to roll that will hopefully makes the lives of future tradies better. The labour movement really flourished once women started participating after all. It was beautiful and I dont think a single person left without a new vision.

I have a confession: I cried my guts out when I got home tonight after volunteering. I was crying because I felt so lucky to have been crushed and walked away. I was crying because my leg fucking hurt and all I wanted to do was walk the dogs, make food, and play in the garden and I was so angry and sad I couldn’t walk or stand without pain.  I cried my guts out because I had held it in all day. I didn’t want to ruin how positive the project was of fixing up the food bank with such an incredible group of people by admitting an embarrassing injury.

I’m crying now because I’m remembering hitch-hiking to seattle many years ago, to see a basement music show, with two friends and no more than probably 100$ between us.  I drank too much alcohol back then, a large motivator as to why I hardly drink now.  I’m crying now because it used to be me that got food at the food bank. I used to feel directionless, powerless, insecure. I was remembering the helplessness of working class oppression, opting for fleeting entertainment because it felt impossible to even begin trying to succeed at anything important and big, like saving money or the idea of meaningful employment. I had a thick cloud of depression, anxiety, and guilt following me around that took years of experimenting and learning to get to the point of clarity I am at today.  Carefree and dirt poor, my, my, I’ve come a long way. I was living in a closet in the basement of a house then, my room had no door and I paid 75$ a month for rent. Now I rent a whole house with my partner and we can afford it. I work full time as an electrician and feel that I am contributing to my community in a positive way. I can buy enough food for myself and my little family. I can save money on top of that without stressing too much. I’m crying now because I feel like I’m where I want to be and where I belong, and the journey and struggle was worth it. I am crying because I feel so blessed. And I know I truly am.

And I truly hate drywall the most.

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How To Spot The Workplace Gossip, And How To Avoid Being Gossip

I scored myself a chance for a trial at a great maintenance job.  So far im 6 months in, I get a service van and I help maintain the electrical components in hundred of buildings for the federal government.  Its a legit job and I get taken seriously and I love it. But I’m not a permanent employee, which means I could be let go if for some reason they dont want me.  What I have learned is a few tricks for staying on while others are let go.

There was a jobsight gossip reaping havok at my great new maintenance job.  They spread rumours about people, threw coworkers under the bus when it made themself look good, and they didn’t do the basic good employee things like actually do your work, show up ready to work, and be professional.  It was no surprise to many that they were let go when the time came, and others who had performed in the basic good employee areas were kept on. I was one of the lucky people who were kept on.

I’m gonna change the subject for a while, but don’t worry it’s a related tale.  I can remember my first workplace gossip encounter. I was working one-on-one with a coworker, and we were working away and chatting about our personal lives to get to know each other.  They were asking more and more personal questions, and I made the mistake of trusting them with my answers, assuming they were just interested in getting to know me. A few days later, I heard rumours about me, that could only have come from the information I fed this person.  I was mortified.

My personal information given in confidence to another person I thought I trusted turned into workplace gossip being strewn about lunch tables like dirty napkins folded as paper swans meant to entertain. I managed to calm my livid betrayal into a promise I made to myself.  Don’t trust people with personal stories about yourself that you wouldn’t mind hearing other people say about you. I finally understood why guys on jobsites brag about themselves even though we know their full of shit. Its because they know a portion of the bullshit will just be taken as fact and turned into workplace entertainment.

I decided I had to filter the stuff I said about myself to make myself appear completely professional so no one would doubt my integrity.   I would use my best tact and manners so that there was never any question that I belonged there and appreciated the position. I would be true to my word, and honest in such a way that no one was thrown under the bus.   I had to create a barrier between my life experience and personal life, and my profession. It would give me a sense of control where being workplace gossip made me feel helplessly embarrassed.  

This takes us back to: How To Spot The Gossip.

  • A gossip might ask you questions about yourself that are unrelated to the work you are doing.  I have been asked really weird questions about what I wear outside of work, what my room looks like, what my parents are like. Etc.  
  • Gossips usually will not offer too much in return except to make it sound like you have a lot in common to keep you at ease and chatting.
  • they might prompt you with questions about your prefered employment future in front of bosses and coworkers who would make the honest answer awkward, with the intention of putting you on the spot.
  • they will generally be fishing for information to pull you down in order to bring themselves up, potentially cataloging to use against you at a later time.
  • Gossips are not only coworkers, but also roommates, so-called friends, sometimes family.  They are usually not malicious particularly but have low self esteem and havn’t figured out yet that you don’t have to go the sociopathic route to get ahead and feel better about yourself.

Wiseup:

  • don’t fall for the lures.
  • beware being friends with gossips, they will eventually gossip about you.
  • if you like your job and want to keep it, keep your head down, eyes forward on the prize, and filter your oversharing to work or whatever gossip you want spread about you on purpose, like how good you are at your job.

Good luck.

 

Mental Health and Addiction In The Trades

I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health and addiction in the trades these days. So much so that I frequent the Centre For Disease Control and World Health Organization websites looking for interesting articles and statistics regarding construction workers and their overall relationship to mental health and addiction. I have heard that rates of mental health problems and addiction are reported to be much higher amongst construction workers than other areas of employment. And I believe it. I believe that people who are prone to or lack the skills to deal with mental health and addiction would be drawn to trades as a means of employment because of the nature of construction trades transitory/impermanent nature. I also believe that there are certain cultural attitudes, workplace practices, and norms that contribute to worker mental health problems and addiction.

In my random research I found a study that was investigating how mental distress was related to pain and injuries amongst construction workers. The study found that 9 out of 10 workers in the study fulfilled the criteria for a mental disorder, and that substantial mental distress was associated with the injury rate and pain. The study concluded there was a need for rigorous studies on construction worker mental health and how it affects their work and well-being. (Jacobsen-HB; Caban-Martinez-A; Onyebeke-LC; Sorensen-G; Dennerlein-JT; Reme-SE, source: J Occup Environ Med 2013 Oct; 55(10):1197-1204, link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0b013e31829c76b3)

Another study found When accounting for alcohol consumption, older construction workers were 1.7 times more likely to have been diagnosed with an emotional problem than other older blue-collar workers. Nonsmoking older construction workers were 3.2 times more likely to have chronic lung disease than their nonsmoking blue-collar counterparts. The high rate of chronic lung disease is most likely related to on-the-job dust exposure, while the increased risk of emotional disorders might be due to the dynamics of the construction labor market. (Petersen-JS; Zwerling-C, source: Am J Ind Med 1998 Sep, 34(3):280-287, link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1097-0274(199809)34:3<280::AID-AJIM11>3.0.CO;2-Q)

Yet another study on women in trades; results from a telephone survey with 211 female laborers indicated that having responsibility for others’ safety and having support from supervisors and male coworkers was related to greater job satisfaction. Increased reported psychological symptoms were also related to increased responsibility, as well as skill underutilization, experience sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination from supervisors and coworkers, and having to overcompensate at work. Perceptions of overcompensation at work and job uncertainty were positively associated with self-reports of insomnia. Finally, sexual harassment and gender discrimination were positively related to reports of increased nausea and headaches. (Goldenhar-LM; Swanson-NG; Hurrell-JJ Jr.; Ruder-A; Deddens-J, source: J Occup Health Psychol 1998 Jan; 3(1):19-32, link: http://www.apa.org)

This study speaks for itself: Occupational health and safety concerns of tradeswomen employed in the construction industry or closely related trades were determined. The study group was based on purposeful, rather than random, sampling; trades groups that were represented included carpenters, welders, electricians, plumbers, laborers, mechanics and millworkers. Data was collected via focus groups, in depth interviews, and open ended self administered questionnaires. The total sample size was 51 respondents. Major categories of concern that were identified included: exposure to chemical and physical agents; injuries from lifting, bending, twisting, falling, and lacerations; lack of proper education and training; and health and safety risks related specifically to tradeswomen (inadequate protective clothing and tools; overcompensation for gender; unsatisfactory restroom facilities; and psychosocial stressors). The authors conclude that many of these concerns are amenable to change through engineering, behavioral, and/or administrative interventions; appropriate changes should help to make the construction site a healthier and safer place for workers of both genders. (Tradeswomen’s perspectives on occupational health and safety: a qualitative investigation, Goldenhar-LM; Sweeney-MH, source: Am J Ind Med 1996 May; 29(5):516-520, link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1097-0274(199605)29:5<516::AID-AJIM11>3.0.CO;2-3)

To conclude, I found an article with statistics made by a SAMHSA survey on drug and alcohol abuse in the USA. It found that between 8.7 and 9.5% of US workers overall aged 18-64 reportedly used drugs and alcohol heavily, while 14.3% of construction workers reportedly used drug and alcohol heavily. I am concluding after reading that study that there is a higher than average rate of substance abuse amongst construction workers in the USA. (https://www.samhsa.gov/)

This topic is important to me because I have experienced mental health and addiction while working as an electrician. I developed a problem with alcohol that I have since learned to control through abstaining. I experienced bullying, various forms of harassment, and exclusion that had me experience two mental breakdowns during my 7 year career as an electrician, and led me to understand and become fascinated with workplace culture. I have learned about masculine and feminine cultures and how they play out in the workplace, how unions have and continue to take control over the push to improve workplaces though many forms of safety agendas, and I have learned some skills in navigating my place at work and how to shut down opposition to my presence.  I have also learned how racism, sexism, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, play out and intersect in workplaces, and I think it’s fair to note I have experienced privileges in having worked as a white women, and noticed the difference as to when I was seen as gay compared to when I was seen as straight.  And what I mean is I have noticed the priviledges associated with being in those demographics, as well as the disadvantages.

I am hoping this passion doesn’t take me too far away from working in the electrical trade, but this year I have found I am having an easier time finding work and energy for the helping fields than trades. I’m currently seeking an amazing electrical job, the dream is that it will be a permanent union site, probably as a maintenance electrician. I have been taking steps to get an FSR B ticket, so I can pull permits and have my own company. I have been doing some work as a union salter, trying to expand the electrical unions reach. The more electricians we have under one union, the stronger our bargaining power is and the higher our standards for health, safety, wage, retirement etc for our industry.

I am tired of fighting to prove myself and have noticed significant stagnation in my careers development since acquiring a red seal journey ticket. I am making a move to take other job opportunities presented to me; this winter I will be working as homeless shelter outreach staff. I am certain there will be a percentage of construction workers in attendance at the shelter. I am also taking a volunteer counsellor training program to learn how to be a volunteer counsellor at a counselling centre in the city I live in. I hope to continue to work as both an electrician and mental health worker, and look forward to seeing how the future developes.

Trade Comics Display

Screenshot_2017-09-28-20-14-08

There is a mid block alley between Blanchard St and Douglas St in downtown Victoria BC  that you can take a short cut from Yates St to Johnson St. On one of the walls in this alley, there is a display case that The Ministry Of Casual Living art collective runs as a gallery space.  From September 28th, 2017 to October 12th,  I’m pleased to announce there will be some trade comics on display. Check them out if you’re in the area!20170928_185958

Unions, Get In One and Get Off Your Butt. A Trade Workers Perspective.

 An electrician’s perspective on why joining a union as a tradesperson is the smartest thing you’ll ever do, and why just paying your dues isn’t good enough.

What’s a union?  A labour union is a group of workers who group themselves together to bargain with governments, industry and employers to improve working conditions.  Its me, you, and your foreman. But it’s us together being a part of an organization that’s bigger than our little fishbowl lives that will improve all the fishbowls. In our current global market it’s even more relevant to make the conscious decision to become a part of a group of organized labour, because if we can’t make our own communities better, how can we make our international community of workers lives better.  Yes, I’m talking about the countries where slavery is still legal, and children are still working 16 hour days, and people are held at gunpoint to work their jobs.  Change happens when groups of people demand it, and we need to be organized.

Why should electricians care about being a part of a union?

Money:  Union electricians don’t have to fight or negotiate their income.  They get paid by the hour, they get overtime and scheduled breaks, and their union negotiates the wages, benefits, pensions for them and group rates on insurances etc.   All you have to do is show up to work, be a good worker, and think about ways you can give back to your union and community because hot damn you appreciate your great life so much.  You have time to do the job right in a way that will last for decades to come. You don’t have to bring your own power tools and the company includes the cost of power tools in the bid for the jobs.

Yeah, but don’t unions take off some of my money in dues? Well do you think it’s cheap going through all the avenues of bureaucracy to make agreements with companies and governments,  so you can afford to feed and house your family?  Unions have come a long way and have had to get a lot smarter from the early days of throwing money in a hat on the lunch table to help your co-worker pay for their sick childs’ medication.  The money goes towards legal fees, training, and member upkeep, because we’re at a time currently where union members have forgotten all about the sacrifices that got them so comfortable. And you still make more money on your paycheque than none-union people.

Whether or not you are in a union, unions are fighting court battles, battle with companies who are unfair,  battle with politicians that would rather see everyone else suffer while they line their pockets with golden tinsel.  Or even worse, battles with fellow workers who would under sell their own trade skills just to steal work from other workers.

None-union electricians fight over shitty contracts. They under bid each other just to get the work.  This is called a race to the bottom. Sure the principals of electrical work are the same, but if your company is pitted against another company and you don’t have an agreement between your companies that you will not work for less than a certain pre-determined base amount, you start to have to really pinch on quality to save money.  You have to bid on the contract lower than the other guy to get the bid.  This means you’re requiring the people in your company to get more done in less time, high stress for all. You’ll have to buy shittyer products, hire less qualified staff, have less time to properly train staff, work over time you won’t get paid for because you didn’t bid over time into the job. Your work will barely meet electrical code, and even if it does, the electrical inspector will say that if you’re just meeting electrical code, you’re doing mediocre electrical work. You have no long term retirement plans because you have no pension, you’d be lucky if you’re getting  health and dental benefits.

Quality of life:

Union electricians get a higher quality of life bargained for them. This is very related to money, and is also related to forcing the construction industry standards to be raised in health and safety.  Unions are responsible for pushing safety on all construction job sites ( union and none union) so that everyone goes home at the end of the day healthy and able bodied.  Unions are currently working very hard to make further improvements to construction industry, that will in turn improve the lives of anyone who works in or even lives near construction.  For instance: asbestos is a cancer causing product still being imported and used in canadian products, and unions are lobbying for its ban, training and controls of its use to render it a none issue. https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/hazards-exposures/asbestos    Silica dust from concrete is another one.  In none union, it’s every person for themselves.

Living with integrity

I am aware that just because you join a union doesn’t meant you live and work with integrity.   It is now common for union workers to be seen as lazy, unproductive slackers.  This is in part due to workers getting into long term employment positions and thinking that they can slack off because the union will protect them and they can never get fired.  This is outrageous. A union is representing workers, essentially selling their skilled workers to employers and they have to sell them as better, more productive, and smarter.  It is imperative that a union worker and its union  represent themselves professionally in order to make a clean case that union workers are actually the better hire.  This means ensuring training is top notch in safety, in expertise, as well as worker moral and ethics.  No time theft, no poor workmanship, no disrespecting each other, no pipe bending apprenticeships.

Living with integrity means living your life according to your own moral honest principals.  The under valuing ourselves has got to stop.   The treating people and ourselves as though they’re disposable, has got to stop. I hate when I see people risking their lives to get jobs done, because I have seen some workplace accidents that would have you regretting even the little risks.  Standing on the top of a ladder for instance, yeah sure you can reach now without getting a taller ladder, but if you fall you are not covered by your worksafe coverage because you knew the risk and took it anyways.  You can bet your employer is not coming to your house to carry you up the stairs and wipe your butt with your broken bones either.   It’s a cowboy mentality left over from the old days and is not a required mentality to get work done efficiently.  It is no longer acceptable to bully and harass your co-workers and there is now legislation protecting workers from these things thanks in part to unions. As well, there is always the right ladder for the job.

For those not in a union frustrated that the union isn’t letting them in:

It’s a shame to feel a camaraderie with other none-union coworkers, over how we all know we are being taken advantage of.  We laugh bitterly at how useful a union would be to us, but many who have tried to ask for help from the union have had their hopeful expectations slapped.  They’re not accepting new members because they have no work for their current members.  Hmm, why could that be? Perhaps because the none union companies are underbidding, under valueing their skilled work, willing to sell themselves as less than just to get the work.  

Well here is some news. A union will not save you. A union is you. It is a group of workers that is only powerful when the group works as a group. Go get a none union job and unionize the company.  That is something a union will never say no to helping with if they have a hope in hell of continuing to function as a union.  

 If you are asking to join a union because you want a free ride, or you have been in a union your whole life and don’t know anything other than the free ride, here’s a reality bite for you.  You are not understanding the full picture.  We have a long way to go before we are all treated equally with respect and dignity.  Look at our population of down and outs grow, all of them our fellow workers, our neighbors, our family.  Our happy middle class is falling into the lower class because we stopped trying to bring everyone up, we just left half the workforce un unionized.  Denmark is a great example of a country that has done well with organizing their workforce. ⅔ of the population is in a union, that’s massive! Dishwashers, managers, executives, bankers, programmers, and electricians, there’s a union for everyone. And Denmark is well known as a country that is one of the most successful and progressive countries of the world.

So what i’m trying to tell you, is joining a union and getting active in your union means trying to understand your place in the bigger picture.  A union can get you a better life, and why stop there? Live with integrity and aim to bring everyone else up with you.   Its sacrificing todays income for tomorrow’s long term goal of long term improvements for more people.  We’re up against government, corporations, even other workers who do not want this goal, and who are better at organizing than us. People sacrificed their lives to get you a minimum wage folks, and others are still risking their lives for worker rights all around the world. Why would they do that? Because they know it’s the right thing to do, d’uh. It would be nice if you could stop yelling at your union organizers and show them some appreciation, maybe offer to volunteer your time with a solution to your problem instead of complaining about your self centered problems.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. (r) Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead 

I Was A Pain In The Ass Apprentice.

I was a pain in the ass apprentice.
Not so long ago I was an electrical apprentice.  It took me 6 years to complete the 6000 hours of workplace experience and 40 weeks of schooling.  I had good days and bad days, and made some friends along the way.  I also met some people I could’ve lived without knowing.

I was such a pain in the ass, I was seen as a burden being the only female on site.  No one knew how to talk around me, they would go silent and avoid eye contact, fake laugh at my attempt at jokes, and sometimes cringe when they were sent to work with me. I was extremely nervous and anxious at first and can remember doing some stupid newby things.  

On my first job I remember a guy my age who was my journeyman telling me to pull this data wire from this square in the ceiling to this other ceiling tile.  So I went up the ladder and threw it across and cut it.  My journeyman came back and I reported the task finished.  He was outraged that I had cut the wire, because A) I hadn’t tied it to the ceiling at all, it was just flopped on the ceiling tiles, B)  I had pulled it diagonally, and we always try to match the cable pulls perpendicular to the tiles so it looks nice, and C) it was too short to be tied up properly now so the cable was wasted.

In this I learned two things: I had to ask more questions, and if you admit it’s all your fault other people that were responsible for showing you what to do will have no problem making you look bad.  I had my first experience of being thrown under the bus here, as when the foreman came over to ask why the cable was wasted, my journeyman that was supposed to be teaching me how to do things told him I had fucked up and insinuated I was not cut out for this work. He washed his hands of all responsibility and I let him do it. This same journeyman a few days later told me he had turned off the power in a cable I was to splice, but had forgotten a neutral wire was shared with a line that was still turned on, so I got electrocuted for the first time.  This was another lesson: never trust anyone, especially not with your life.

My favourite memories are when old men would apologise for swearing in front of me, and I would get to re-buttle with a comment about my virgin ears ringing. Or being called sweety or hun, and asked ‘what would people think if I let you carry all this by yourself?’  I of course acted as any pain in the ass millennial would, never wanting to be told how to do something but always wanting a task I could control. The anger would rise too quickly when someone would take the tools out of my hand while I was working, and sometimes this gained me respect, other times lost some. I sometimes would argue to do it a way that to me seemed easier and quicker, when in hindsight I should have just shut my mouth and done the task.  

I was such a pain in the ass, that when a woman my age became my journeywoman and told me (her apprentice) that she didn’t know how to build cable tray (which was our task for the day), I lectured her about how we would just figure it out and it would be a good learning experience.  I was upset because A) she was one of my first female mentors telling me she couldn’t teach me how to do something, B) I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible in my apprenticeship and felt ripped off every time a journeyperson wasn’t performing as teacher, C) didn’t she realize that to survive in this industry you were expected to lie when you didn’t know how to do something and figure it out pretending you knew all along how to do it?!  It was embarrassing to me, when I realized our foreman had heard me tell her: ‘well I guess this will be a good learning experience’.  He came over to us, pointed to me and said: ‘so you’re the apprentice, and she is the journeyman, right?’  I think this was to set us both straight in case we were considering collaborating instead of accepting the power structure the industry thrives on.  I realize now that I was trying to fit into the masculine culture I was a part of and had missed an opportunity to figure out a task the feminine way at that time, where we can admit when we don’t know something and still figure it out and get the job done.

I  was a pain in the ass to myself because I was focused on whether the work I was doing was meaningful and every bad day would send me into existential crisis.  Why couldn’t I see my work as the reason to live like my old baby boomer journeymen.  They worked all the time and loved it, yet I felt I needed to have balance between work and play time to keep my head in the game. Why was I always struggling with how to achieve my future goals, and why couldn’t I appreciate the structure and current direction of my work the way my gen-X co-workers seemed to find satisfaction.  I now realize that the mentality of a Gen-Y worker bee is what I was experiencing.  There are a lot of articles on the internet detailing how being born in a certain generation can affect your attitude towards work and communication style.  It’s quite an eye opener when you end up on sites with a variety of ages, and see how the older guys compared to the younger guys view their jobs and how they share their knowledge and information. We have different generations with different political and social expectations, and when we learn to understand the motivation behind them we can better navigate in our workplaces.

Since coming to terms with how much of a pain in the ass apprentice I was, as a Gen-Y millennial, as well as an out gendered worker bee,  I have come across a good book I would like to recommend to other women in male dominated industries to better understand and cope with what you are experiencing.  It’s called: RULES OF THE GAME, women in masculine industries by Teagan Dowler.  Its great and it’s the handbook we’ve all been waiting for! I bought it online here: Rules Of The Game Book

rules of the game
So yeah, I was a pain in the ass, Gen-Y millennial, entitled, hard ass, feminist apprentice.  And now I’m a pain in the ass, Gen-Y millennial, entitled, hard ass, feminist journey women.  Why change a good thing?

Trade Comic Book, For Construction Trade Workers

I have completed a comic book! So very excited to announce the publication of my comics as a 75 page perfect bound comic book. Its called TRADE COMICS For Construction Trade Workers and is now available for order on etsy:
HERE!

Frequency

     I would like to take a moment to discuss frequency.  In electrical, frequency is defined as the number of cycles per second that an alternating current will change direction (measured as a Hertz, the symbol used is HZ, and is named after German physicist Heinrich Hertz, the first to broadcast and receive radio waves). It is an international unit of measure where 1 hertz is equal to 1 cycle per second.  In Canada, our electrical power is set to run at 60 HZ per second, and thus, all the things we plug in and use are set to run at 60 HZ too. Just imagine the electrons darting back and forth on the copper conductor 60 times per second, ultimately trying to find ground, and the only thing stopping it is the insulator covering that conductor.

     Some countries run at 50 HZ.  There’s a full list of the frequencies each country uses as well as the standard voltages. Table of Voltages and Frequencies from Around the World Ever wonder why some countries you have visited require an adapter for your plug in stuff? Well that’s why.  

     There are actually many common frequency ranges in electricity, used for a variety of applications.  The equipment and circuits can be designed to operate at fixed or variable frequency, which means sometimes it okay for the frequency to change but sometimes not. For instance some electrical motors can either slow down or speed up with the frequency change, and this is by design.  Here are some frequency variety examples:

  • Power line frequency (normally 50 Hz or 60 Hz). This is what comes out your plugs in your houses.
  • Variable-frequency drives, which normally use a 1-20 kilohertz (kHz) carrier frequency. used in electro-mechanical drive systems to control AC motor speed and torque by varying motor input frequency and voltage.
  • Audio frequency: 15 Hz to 20 kHz (the range of human hearing).
  • Radio frequency: 30-300 kHz. suitable for use in telecommunications.  Radio waves travel at one cycle per second (1 Hz). (Similarly, a clock ticks at 1 Hz.)
  • Low frequency: 300 kHz to 3 megahertz (MHz). also radio. Doesnt travel far though.
  • Medium frequency: 3-30 MHz. AM radio.
  • High frequency: 30-300 MHz. shortwave radio.

     The word frequency can also be described as the rate at which something occurs or is repeated over a particular period of time or in a given sample.  The frequency in which one practices an action, will find the practicing individual an inevitable improvement of that action.  This is true of what we think, do, how we play, even how we love.  How we build our strengths and our weaknesses.  The frequency of what we choose to practice determines what we become good at, to our detriment or to our benefit.  What I’m trying to say is, if you want to be good at something you will need to practice. I think we can agree that people get good through repetition. And no matter what you choose to do, if you do it frequently it will shape who you are.  

     That is why when we go to work at something everyday, we get good at it and start to call it a career.  If we do things we do not want to be good at, like watch tv, we might regret pouring so much time into watching tv.  To become a better ukulele player, you will have to practice your ukulele.  To become a better electrician, you will have to practice being an electrician.  Keep up with your code changes, and go over the forgotten or little used knowledge from school.  Try to learn new things at work as the field of electrical is vaste and will never cease to have new things for you to master.  Each day could be considered a cycle, where we practice waking, eating, surviving, thriving, sleeping.  Each of us mere electrons seeking ground, a tiny zing in the big scheme of the universe.

Electricians Without Borders Interview

     Nearly two months ago, an article in my union locals newsletter caught my eye about  a non-governmental organization called Electricians Without Borders. They are a group of volunteer electricians, paying their own travel to communities in need, to share their talents and time. This sounded awesome and I had to know more. I dug into their EWBUSA website and discovered this San Francisco based group has been running jobs since 2010 all around the world.  They work with The  Sextant Foundation, and Project Hope to build health care facilities in places like Haiti, Dominican Republic, The Philippines, Honduras, as well as close to home in the Bay Area with a Humanity project.

Check out their mission statement: To improve the quality of life in underserved communities around the world by bringing innovative and sustainable energy solutions within the healthcare sector.

I had the opportunity to correspond via facebook with Jeff Rodriguez, founder and CEO of EWBUSA.

KLA: Can you give me a brief history as to how you got started with Electricians Without Borders and when?

JEFF: EWBUSA started when a friend of mine that owns an electrical/mechanical design firm, who specializes in hospital design, whom I’ve worked with and known for 30 years was taken to Haiti after the earthquake in 2009 to evaluate health centers with Project Hope, Doctors Without Borders and another NGO.  When he returned he really wanted to help, but being a designer and not a construction person, he contacted me and asked if I would like to get involved.  Obviously, I said yes.  
There is a little hospital in Northern Haiti run by the Crudem Foundation, Hospital Socre Coure, that requested help with their electrical system.  They have no utility power in Haiti and the hospital limped along on two old generators.  They continuously were experiencing outages and fires at the connections on the poles.  
We did a survey and Mazzetti & Associates created a design to replace the existing electrical distribution system for free and I started gathering electricians.  
One of the big contractors in the San Francisco Bay Area contacted their distributors and requested donations of materials.  They collected over $150K worth of materials.  Someone donated a shipping container and we shipped it to the site.
This began a complete replacement of the electrical distribution system and replacement of all the electrical in the operating rooms, ICU and emergency areas of the hospital.  The replacement of the overhead feeders to underground.   It also include 20 KW of solar to offset the cost of fuel when running the generators and installation of two new generators over a five year period.  We went down twice a year for a month at a time with rotating crews of electricians.

KLA:How do you find gigs and how is it decided which ones to take on?

JEFF: Currently my friend Walt, who is the CEO of Mazzetti and founder of Sextant Foundation, goes all over the world and meets with different organizations, such as WHO, United Nations Foundation, Project Hope, and many more.  
Organizations contact me directly requesting help also.  If it involves healthcare, we collect the details.  
Most of what we do are electrical retrofits and solar.  If it fits what we can do, I usually travel to the site and design the project and scope out resources.  And put together a budget.  

KLA:What sort of installs do you do?

JEFF: Lately we have been installing solar a lot.  All of our work is in healthcare facilities.  One small site the helps a large number of people, mostly women and children.  We rebuild electrical distributions, upgrade lighting and other power needs.  But we have also rebuild small clinics including roofs, rainwater capture/water purification systems, and anything that is needed from construction oriented people.  Most people that go have a lot of other skills besides electrical.

KLA: Is volunteering open to union and non-union workers?

JEFF: Most of the team has been union electricians, mainly because I am a IBEW Local 6 member and so are two of my sons.  So most people that have gone so far are from there.  Anyone can be involved in our missions.  I try to meet up with people prior to deployment to try to get a handle on everyone’s skill set.  Once we are on location, we have to be comfortable with people being able to work safe and teach locals the skills they need.  Coming from the IBEW everyone has been trained the same, no matter where they come from.  We have had non-union electricians on our teams in the past with mixed results.  Some of those from the non-union shops have expressed how much they learned from being on one of these projects.

KLA: How are the projects funded?

JEFF: If Sextant can fund it they do.  Sometimes it’s a hybrid project where an organization will fund a portion and Sextant will fund the rest.  Or people donate funding to Sextant, earmarked for our project.  We aren’t a registered “non-profit”.

KLA: What is a most memorable project or crew you can tell a little anecdote about?

JEFF: In Milot, Haiti at Hospital Socre Coure we had our biggest crew.  It consisted of my friend Bill, who we worked together for 30 years, Claire a journey person of great skill, Justin an electrician with a camera who had gone to a voodoo ceremony the night before and drank some of their drink they were passing around and got sick as a dog, Phil a 70 year old retired journeyman, an anesthesiologist from Chicago and his non-union alcoholic brother from Florida and two apprentices, Brett and my son Ian.
We spent seven days and nights installing all the new transformers, distribution panels, and branch circuit panels to replace the entire infrastructure of the hospital.  We went in at 6:00 PM when the surgeries were finished and began cutting over from the old to the new.  In a two story 50′ x 50′ hospital,they had 13 panels.  We were cutting everything over to three panels.  It took us till 2:30 in the morning to finish the cut , at which time two volunteer nurses from Alaska came to the hospital with rum and beer to celebrate with us.

KLA: How can people get involved JEFF?

JEFF: Actually, I could use some help the last two weeks of February in Miragoane.  This project is “pushing-out” due to a big pile of bureaucracy with Project Hope.  I have a spot for one person.  All the electrical will be ready to go then.  We have some solar and wiring the building for DC lights and fans.

We could always use donations to offset airfares and lodging at the sites that don’t have “volunteer” facilities.  But they have to be sent to Sextant Foundation, earmarked for “Electricians Without Borders USA”.  They do a great job of accepting the donations and tracking the expenditures for us.

KLA: Thanks for the interview Jeff, I look forward to hearing more from EWBUSA and hopefully volunteering with you one day!