Carolina Taylor has been an Ironworker for the past 22 years.
That statement is loaded with accomplishment. In the 1990s, becoming an Ironworker as a woman was no easy feat. How did Carolina pave that road for herself?
It started with a road trip, an 18 hour quest up the West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle. Carolina packed all of her belongings into her ’65 Galaxy with her daughter, Kat, as her copilot. She searched for a job that would provide for her and Kat—but all the “female” jobs like clerk typist, medical translator, or assistant tax accountant paid very little and offered no benefits.
A friend of Carolina’s who worked on highway construction suggested she check out a new program at Renton Technical College that offered good wages and benefits. She signed up immediately. After seeing The Space Needle as an example of what Ironworkers could do, Carolina realized her calling. She wanted to be one of “The Cowboys of the Sky.”
The beginning of Carolina’s career had its obstacles. Her car gave out, and she had to wake up early every morning to ride the bus to work, often rising several hours before her work day began so she could drop her daughter off at day care.
“On the job training began when I first stepped on the job site. It was mental and physical. All my senses were on high alert to make sure what tasks I did were done well and showed that I wanted to be there and that I belonged there.
As an apprentice, I was the only women in the gang… My arrival on the job site meant behavior change. (ie: taking down calendars with naked women, using different language, stepping out of comfort zones, etc…)
Did I work my fair share? Was I worth the trouble?
I remember the sticker on a hard hat that said, ‘I won’t work with someone who squats to piss!’
I walked tall and fearless, focused on learning to work safe and efficient to make it another day and provide for my daughter. I gave no one permission to break me or make me feel like I did not belong there.” -Carolina Taylor
With such a hardworking mom as her example, Kat grew up to be self-sufficient. Obstacles weren’t so daunting—she had living proof of what was possible watching her mom overcome her own hardships.
It wasn’t until after Kat attended her first orientation that she told her mother that she too wanted to be an Ironworker. Carolina felt a rush of colliding emotions when she heard the news.
“I know what it’s like out there. So many feelings…proud, excited for her. I know she is capable of working in the field in a safe manner, however as her mother, I had to prepare myself in the event she got hurt. Being in the same union eased the fact that even though I was not working in the field with her, my brothers in the field that did work with her would let me know how she was doing and would keep an eye on her.” -Carolina Taylor
The Taylor women have come full circle in their work and personal lives. Carolina, who began her career after seeing how the Space Needle was built, worked on the recent remodeling of the structure. Kat became a Jorneyman Ironworker in 2018 and is now herself a loving mother and a first time homeowner.
Ironworker Carolina Taylor’s Advice for Aspiring Tradespeople:
- take good care of yourself
- spend quality time with your family
- continue making goals to achieve the next positions as a union member (ie: business agent, organizer, union president, apprenticeship instructor, coordinator)
- be a dream-chaser, goal-reacher, and butt-kicker
Carolina has taken her own advice, advancing her career as she kept her goals in mind. In 2013, she was asked to be an apprenticeship instructor, teaching fundamental trade skills to pre-apprentices and 1st year apprentices. In 2015, she was named Tradeswoman of the Year by Washington Women In Trades. Right now, she teaches a welding class for TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance) for Yakama Nation in Toppenish.
On top of it all, Carolina still works in the field, building the city she lives in, tapping into her inner strength and original intention for being on the job site in the first place. It is still a thrill to see the transformation generated by her own two hands, working together with the crew she now sees as part of the family.
If Carloina’s sacrifices and strength remind you of your mom, share this story with her and thank her for everything she’s done.