Tough Mother
/ Author: Alison Brown 502 Rate this article:
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Tough Mother

A woman ironworker is rare, but Local 151 member Lauralee Munro has the mettle to excel in her chosen career

By Alison Brown

THEY SAY IRONWORK IS ONE OF the toughest trades. It requires multiple specialized skills, above-average strength, and more than a little willpower. Luckily for Lauralee Munro, she has these skills in spades.

“I see a lot of women electricians, carpenters, pipefitters, millwrights, but rarely do I run into another ironworker,” says Lauralee.

The Local 151 Red Seal ironworker also possesses the leadership acumen that helps her serve as a foreperson and steward for her fellow members employed by PCL Energy Inc. in Saskatchewan. She is also a single mom, and passionate about encouraging women to try their hand at a trade.

Funny, down-to-earth, and feisty, Lauralee has weathered numerous hardships that have all led her to where she is today—an ironworker worth her salt who perseveres through every hurdle.

“I love a challenge,” Lauralee says with her signature hearty laugh. “In fact, one of my journeymen once said that the best way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t do it!”

I sat down with Lauralee to get her insights on how women can make a name for themselves in a tough trade and be a leader in their workplaces at the same time.

How did you get into the trades?

I grew up in a single-parent household with my dad, who is also an ironworker, one of his many trade tickets. When I graduated from high school, I went to college to become a teacher. But I didn’t make it into the program and left college after a year, then I tried a career in landscaping.

The landscaping program was a trades and skills development program that offered paid safety tickets in return for program completion. I was selected upon several interviews to be in this program as they had limited seats.

I decided landscaping wasn’t for me and responded to an ad for a company looking for ironworkers. I decided to give it a shot. I quickly realized that ironwork is not a soft trade and is an old school, old boys’ club, with very few women. In my entire career, I don’t know if I’ve met 10 women in the trade.

I’ve worked on projects all across western Canada: Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC. I started commercial and then went industrial, from oilsands, refineries, potash mines, uranium mines, mills, train terminals, SAGD [steam-assisted gravity drainage] plants, and welding shops. I like to dabble in everything.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

Being a single mom and having this career can be tough, especially when my daughter was young. Finding a daycare that would take my child at 5 a.m. when I start work, or stay later to accommodate my long hours definitely cost me more money. It was part of the reason why I couldn’t sustain attendance sometimes. I would run late to a job site because I’d get a call from my daughter’s daycare saying she wasn’t adjusting so I’d have to pick her up.

Most of the guys on site couldn’t understand that struggle of having to balance a young child and a job. They’d make comments about how I was late all the time. One time I walked into a meeting and one of the guys said, “Oh she’s late again!” And I said to him, “Yeah . . . who made your lunch today? I bet it was your wife, eh? You know what I did this morning? I went to daycare to drop off my daughter and had to peel her off my leg because she was screaming and wouldn’t let me go to work!”

On one of the sites though, I had a boss adjust my start time so he could keep me on the job. He adjusted my start time to 7:15 to give me time to do the daycare drop off. That really helped me, knowing that someone understood what I was going through and was in my corner. That really helped me persevere and keep going.

Being a young woman in this trade hasn’t been easy. There’s so much patriarchy that I had to dismantle. I was often dismissed, overlooked, disrespected, and people would steal my ideas. There was a lot of hardship I had to weather, a lot of criticism that wasn’t very forgiving or nice.

When I talk to some of the guys on site, and they start to compare their construction experience with mine, I have to remind them that their experience is not the same as mine. I had to work harder than them to prove that I even belong here.

You’re a Local 151 steward and foreperson. What makes you such a great leader?

I really think that being a mother has made me a better leader. You have to wear so many hats and multitask just to survive. And be willing to admit when you don’t know something. You also need a lot of patience, for yourself and others as you learn and grow together.

What I love about the work I do is working on composite crews. I can go right up to the electricians and ask them a question and they can teach me what I don’t know. You have to put your ego aside and be willing to learn, which I think is easier for women than men. In my experience, women tend to be more driven by passion than ego, which is why we make great leaders.

What special skills are needed in a trade like ironwork?

You have to have a thick skin for this trade. Especially as a woman. Ironwork is a hard trade. It’s very physical work, but it’s also a lot of mental work too—there’s lots of critical tasks like working with cranes and working around live equipment.

You have to love problem solving and coming up with creative solutions. And you have to be willing to teach people. Back when I started, it was such an old boys’ club—there wasn’t any teaching, just you’re in or you’re out. You’re either smart enough to figure it out or you’re not a part of the team. But that’s not my approach. I’ll have bosses put apprentices with me because I love teaching and showing them the ropes. I wanted to go to school for teaching, but I feel like I get to do that in my trade.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I wake up around 3 or 4 in the morning and go to the gym. I’m in the second year of my gym journey because I needed a coping mechanism after I experienced a personal tragedy. I grew up around a lot of people who turned to substances to deal with trauma, and I didn’t want to go down that road and let an addiction consume me. So, I started working out, and it makes me feel stronger and happier.

I have a live-in nanny who takes care of my daughter and my dogs when I’m away, and that’s been a huge help. I get to work around 5 a.m., start doing my paperwork, planning for the day, and consulting with the other foremen. At 6:30 a.m., we have a daily safety bulletin, do our stretches, and then the crew gets to work. I have a composite crew, so I have an ironworker, a couple masons, a carpenter, some welders, and electricians on site.

During the shift I get all the permits in place, talk to everybody that I need to talk to about navigating through the site, I get my people their tools, ask them questions, see if they need anything—it all keeps me pretty busy. When I have downtime, I work with the crane, anything that needs to be moved, picked, or set with the crane. So I’m out in the field as well as in the office. I love being busy—I thrive in that stimulation. It helps me survive. I love problem solving and jumping in whenever someone on my team is struggling. That’s what I’m here for.

On my days off, I love being outside in nature, going for hikes and taking photographs. There’s nothing I love more than taking a day trip, going out into the mountains, or finding a waterfall and capturing the scenery with my camera.

What would you say to young women considering starting a trade?

I want them to know that if I could do it, if I could overcome obstacles as a single mom, it can be done by anybody who wants to do it.

If you want it, just persevere. Don’t give up. Just keep showing up.

What Does It Take to Be an Ironworker?

Are you comfortable with heights? Do you want to specialize in metalwork? You might want to consider a career as an ironworker. CLAC represents various contractors who employ ironworkers. Journeyperson wages can range from $30 to $45 per hour, on average, plus additional benefits.

Overall, the ironworker trade is physically demanding. Workers must be able to work at heights; have the strength and stamina to lift items weighing in excess of 25 kilograms; and possess excellent muscular coordination, agility, and balance. To be successful in the trade, ironworkers must also have the ability to interpret blueprints, understand and execute safe work practices, and be willing to travel to various work sites.

Ironworkers can choose to specialize in one of three branches of the trade.

1. Ironworker –  Metal Building Systems Erector

Metal building systems erectors fabricate, construct, and join scaffolding. They are limited to working on two-storey steel-framed metal buildings, generally referred to as pre-engineered buildings. Ironworkers under this specialization must complete two 12-month periods of training, each of which includes 1,500 hours of on-the-job-training and six weeks of technical training.

2. Ironworker –  Reinforcing

Ironworker-reinforcing tradespeople place and tie reinforcing material, join scaffolding, and perform post tensioning. Ironworkers who fall under this specialization are required to complete two 12-month periods of training, each of which includes 1,500 hours of on-the-job-training and six weeks of technical training.

3. Ironworker – Structural and Ornamental

Structural/ornamental ironworkers fabricate, construct, and join scaffolding, structural steel buildings, bridges, ornamental ironwork, and precast structures. They erect structural steel components, install conveyors and robotic equipment, and sometimes perform reconstructive work on existing structures. Ironworkers under this specialization are required to complete three 12-month periods of training, each of which includes 1,500 hours of on-the-job-training and six weeks of technical training.

BuildForce Canada’s 2019 Construction and Maintenance Outlook report predicted for Alberta that in 2020, “workers meeting the employer qualifications are generally not available in local markets to meet any increase. Employers will need to compete to attract additional workers. Recruiting and mobility may extend beyond traditional sources and practices.” While 2020 was the forecasted peak shortage for skilled ironworkers, the demand remains relatively consistent up until 2028, maintaining a steady need for skilled apprentices and journeypersons to continue working in the trade.

Interested in the skilled trades? Contact your CLAC Apprenticeship Team for support in navigating the apprenticeship pathway, assistance in enrolling in technical training, and information regarding student funding. Visit clac.ca/apprenticeship to learn more.

Daycare Doldrums

Did you know? Canadian parents pay an average of $7,790 per year for full-time daycare for children aged 0-5, according to a survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 2022. This equals to an average of $649 per month for full-time care, or $31 a day.

Compare this to many countries in Europe, where the cost of care is heavily subsidized. In countries like Denmark and Norway, the cost of childcare for parents is capped at a certain percentage of the local cost of care or capped at a certain share of family income.

According to a UNICEF ranking of childcare policies in wealthy countries based on accessibility, quality, and affordability, Luxembourg, Iceland, and Sweden come out on top, with Canada ranking 22 out of 41 countries and the United States coming in second-to-last place ahead of Slovakia.

Sources: cicnews.com, cnn.com, unicef.irc.org

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