Last week, The Wellesley News published an editorial written by Kenell Broomstein, a representative of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). This editorial is the latest attempt by the union to publicly shame Wellesley for not awarding IBEW the contract for work on the Science Center. They began with letters to the College and moved on to leafleting and an advertising flyover during reunion, followed by hundreds of thousands of dollars in print and TV advertising. In the editorial, they threaten (and let’s be clear, those are threats) to continue to escalate this harassment.
As part of its campaign, IBEW would like for you to believe two things. First, that they have a feminist agenda here, portraying their continued campaign against the College as being about the participation of women in the electrical trades, rather than what it is really about, which is their desire to make sure that union firms get contracts. Second, they want you to believe that hiring a union firm guarantees a higher level of participation by women, and a better chance at equal treatment, than what we are achieving in the Science Center project.
As a women’s college, and as an intellectual community, we should be offended by these tactics. Why? Because they are, in my view, deeply sexist in their assumption that an organization that still has “brotherhood” in its name and that only recently made recruiting women and minorities a priority, is somehow more feminist than we are. We also should be offended because the argument they put forth presents little evidence to support its claims.
The author’s central premise is that using union labor is the only way we can make sure that our construction labor force includes women. Here’s what know: as of August 2019, 10 percent of the electrical workforce at Wellesley’s Science Center project were women. According to the Boston Globe, 300 of the 7,500 members of IBEW, or 4 percent, are women. With all due respect, that doesn’t suggest the College would have done better with IBEW.
Broomstein also argues that the only way that women workers can be assured of equal pay is through unionization. That statement is patently false. We work closely with the contractor to assure ourselves that major subcontractors, such as the electrical subcontractor, demonstrate equitable work practices. In addition, the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act provides those guarantees to all workers in the state whether they work for a union or a non-union shop.
Wellesley’s track record on advancing women and minorities is supported both by our 36 percent combined participation rate in the Science Center construction, and by the fact that the project’s management team is 42 percent women and 28 percent minorities.
While we are proud of these numbers, we are not satisfied. We are also working to find long-term solutions to imbalances in the construction industry, including proactively working to identify new women and minority firms with whom we can sub-contract, and by working with our partners to enhance their own outreach and recruitment efforts.
We understand and respect the views of members of our community who question the College’s decision to allow non-union shops to bid for portions of the Science Center project. However, for IBEW, with its 96 percent male membership and overwhelmingly male leadership, to question Wellesley’s commitment to advancing women defies logic. Our track record on the Science Center and our nearly 150-year history of advancing women speak far louder than the hundreds of thousands of dollars IBEW is spending on attack ads. Thankfully, at Wellesley, facts still matter.