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Women in City Government

Women and the Trades

The 1964 federal Civil Rights Act prohibited employment discrimination based on either race or gender. The legislation allowed women to work in traditionally male jobs, but women found it difficult to be accepted in those jobs. Translating legislation to action meant that many women had to work in unfriendly environments, blazing the way for women who came after them.

Men Working sign
Men Working sign

City Light first established an apprenticeship program for linemen in 1957, and standards for the program were approved. These positions required a higher degree of training and offered higher pay than some of the other trades jobs. In part because of this, the linemen positions were especially difficult for women to break into.

City Light had one of the first trainee programs in the country for women in the electrical trades. In an effort to increase the number of women and minorities at Seattle City Light, Superintendent Gordon Vickery hired Clara Fraser in 1973 to initiate an Electrical Trades Trainee program for women and minorities.

She was fired in 1975, supposedly as part of a budget cut. Fraser filed suit with the City for wrongful termination. Many saw her case as one fought for all other women at City Light. In 1982 she was awarded damages, reinstatement and seven years' back pay. When she retired in 1986, then City Light Superintendent Randall Hardy called her the utility's "institutionalized conscience." Fraser died in 1998. Her book, Revolution, She Wrote, a collection of her columns, speeches, and other writings, was published the same year.

Ten women were selected from over 200 applicants for the first Seattle City Light trainee program. But many of the ten women who entered the program in 1974 filed grievances stating they were discouraged from completing the program. The women won their discrimination suit and were awarded back pay, benefits and damages. Of the ten original trainees from 1974, seven were still with City Light as of 1999.

In the first seven years that a lineman-apprenticeship training program was offered by City Light, Teri Bach was the only woman to graduate. Like Bonnie Beers in the Fire Department, she met resistance. She told the Seattle Times "there is no way to prove yourself except by changing your sex." The complaints of harassment continued into the mid-1980s. In 1986, line worker Sherrie Holmes filed a complaint that a male co-worker unhooked her safety strap and tried to pull her from the top of a 30-foot pole. Other complaints by women included finding their safety straps undone, heavy objects dropping near their heads, and electrifying of lines on which they were working.

Sue Dodd
Sue Dodd

In 1981, the City's Affirmative Action Task Force assigned "target" status to City light for the next four years, indicating the department had not adequately met its goals of hiring women and minorities. One of the issues City Light encountered in the early 1980s was that although goals for hiring women and minorities were close to being met, the rate at which women and minorities were resigning offset any progress. A 1984 report found an especially low success rate at hiring women and minorities in the apprentice programs.

Under the direction of Superintendent Randy Hardy, City Light started a pre-apprentice line workers program in 1988. A six-month program first attended by six women and six men, it was designed to prepare workers for the apprenticeship program. Three of the six women who attended are still with City Light. One of them, Nettie Dokes, became the first African American woman in the country to graduate as a journeyman level line worker in 1992. She became manager of the apprenticeship program for the City in 1997. As of 2004 she was on the Executive Board for the national organization Tradeswomen, Now and Tomorrow and was treasurer for Washington Women in Trades.

Senator Clinton with Nettie Dokes
Senator Clinton with Nettie Dokes

In July 2004, Dokes was a presenter at a Congressional luncheon sponsored by Senator Murray, Senator Snowe, and Senator Clinton. The Senators introduced a bipartisan Senate Resolution pledging to help more women obtain the skills they need in the skilled trades. Despite problems encountered by women in the first years of the program, in the 1990s, City Light claimed it had more women in the trades than any other electrical utility in the nation.

Organizations such as Washington Women in Trades, founded in 1978, helped women construct a network regarding employment in the trades and provided education and career opportunities in nontraditional trades work. The City of Seattle has participated in the annual Women in Trades Fair at the Seattle Center since the 1980s. The Seattle Jobs Initiative, founded in 1995, works with the Seattle City Office of Economic Development and local labor unions to link low income Seattle residents, people of color, and women to job opportunities in construction. As of 2000, however, only 4 percent of the workers in the skilled trades in Washington were women.

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