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Woman in WV Construction: “I Wish I’d Done It Right Out of High School”

West Virginia construction unions, including the Laborers' International, say they want to increase the number of women in their ranks. (LiUNA/Facebook)
West Virginia construction unions, including the Laborers' International, say they want to increase the number of women in their ranks. (LiUNA/Facebook)
July 22, 2019

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – A West Virginia construction union is working to put more women on the job, and one woman says she likes working in construction so well, she wishes she would have started sooner.

Leona Messer of Alum Creek finished an apprenticeship last December, and is now a working member of the Laborers' Union Local 1353.

While some women might assume a construction job isn't a good fit, Messer says there's a solid career path as long as they're willing to take on the hard, physical work.

"I get along with every single one of those guys that I've ever worked with, because they see that I work and it's not an issue for them,” she states. “As long as you put forth the effort, they see, you know, 'Even though she's a woman, she's busting her butt.'"

According to federal figures, the number of construction jobs in West Virginia has gone from about 30,000 at the start of 2017 to nearly 50,000 in June of this year.

Although women in the U.S. earn only about 80% of what men make for similar work, women in the construction industry are paid more than 95% of what men make.

Messer says she had long helped her father with construction projects, but hadn't thought of doing it professionally until just a few years ago. She says it would have been better to hear more about the job options in construction 15 years sooner.

"If I could have gone back and done it over again, I would've done it right out of high school,” she states. “You don't get taught about other jobs – 'You've got to go to college to get a good job.' – Well, that's not the case."

The Laborers' apprenticeship is paid, and it requires passing drug tests. The full program takes 4,000 hours on the job and 400 classroom hours.

Messer says she finished in two-and-a-half years, and went from making $11 an hour in retail jobs to being paid as much as $27 an hour with the union.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV