The 2023 TWBN Conference sets attendance record

The 13th Annual Tradeswomen Build Nations (TWBN) Conference set a new attendance record,  drawing a record of 3,787 tradeswomen (plus their male allies) from various building trades. The three-day event held at the Washington Hilton from Dec. 1-3 included a variety of workshops and distinguished speakers for the more than 4,000 total attendees. 

The Heat and Frost Insulators and Allies Workers (HFIAW) had almost 200 Sisters and their allies make their way to Washington D.C., surpassing the total that attended the 2022 conference in Las Vegas. TWBN 1

Pioneering Perspectives

The conference commenced with a powerful address from NABTU President Sean McGarvey, who highlighted the Biden Administration's efforts to recruit more women into the trades by leveraging the favorable public perception of labor unions. 

Following McGarvey, Maria Ford, President of Stanley Black & Decker's Commercial and Industrial Division, expressed the surreal experience she was having standing before the audience. 

"I just woke up from my dream where I am in the room and not the minority," she said. 

Ford went on to shed light on her difficulties being a single working mother, emphasizing the prevalent childcare challenges in the industry. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was introduced and emphasized the role of women in building the future, declaring 2023 as the year of the union worker. Pelosi underscored the labor movement's impact on equal pay and equal work, stating, "When women succeed, America succeeds." 

Liz Shuler, IBEW Sister and the first female President of the AFL-CIO followed Pelosi to the stage, where she expressed her delight at the growing number of tradeswomen. She recognized their increasing influence and encouraged attendees to continue expanding their numbers and power. 

"Now is our chance to double and triple our numbers," she said. "We need leaders who understand the challenges coming our way."

A prerecorded video from Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su was then aired where she conveyed her gratitude for the attendees' contributions to building America in the Biden era. Su emphasized the administration's commitment to creating good union jobs and announced a partnership between the Department of Labor and TWBN to recruit and train women for all trades. 

The initiative aims to address challenges such as childcare, which should enable more women to access and thrive in the union construction industry. 

Breakthrough breakouts

Some of the breakout sessions that HFIAW Sisters and their allies attended during the afternoon on Dec. 2, were aimed at addressing crucial women issues that exist within the building trades. 

From childcare challenges to supporting women in leadership, attendees were offered a comprehensive look at various facets of the industry and potential solutions. 

The panel emphasized the importance of supporting and amplifying women's voices showcasing strategies to create pathways to success for women in traditionally male-dominated fields.

HFIAW Director of Organizing Bob McGuckin was a part of the panel titled, "Moving Beyond Recruitment to Retention: Building Ally Networks in the Workplace." The panel fielded audience questions and discussed best practices, engagement and programs that strengthen and support women in the trades.

All the breakout sessions underscored the commitment of the building trades community to address challenges and promote inclusivity within the industry. By fostering discussions, sharing best practices and exploring innovative solutions, the TWBN Workshop sessions provided a platform for meaningful dialogue and collaboration. 

HFIAW Caucus

The HFIAW Sisters' Committee later led a private caucus with attendees. After the HFIAW leadership who were in attendance made brief introductions, they left to let the Sister Insulators use the rest of the caucus to talk to one another about issues they face. 

Local 110 Recording Secretary and HFIAW Sisters' Committee Member Janine Matlock recalled her first TWBN event in 2013 when she was the only person at a similar caucus. 

"In 2023 there were over 140 caucus attendees!" she said. "Being a part of history every year is one of my greatest joys in trade unionism. The people, the stories and the solidarity are truly inspiring. We are absolutely stronger together and only getting stronger. 

"Every workshop I've participated in has benefited my everyday and union life," she continued. "... I'd also like to give a shout-out to many Brother allies. Your importance can never be understated."

Taking it to the streets

TWBN 2The conference also featured the highly anticipated NABTU Banner Parade, where HFIAW Sisters and their Union Brothers marched around the neighborhood surrounding the Washington Hilton carrying banners promoting their Union and Locals.

This year, two Salamander mascots escorted our Sisters and allies through the beginning part of the parade. The pair in the mascot costumes carrying the banner were Barb Larkin, wife of General President Terrence Larkin, and IIIATF Administrative Assistant Karen Scott.

Looking to the future

On Day Two, Kilah Engelke, Business Agent for OPCMIA Local 599 Kenosha, Wisc., was the first speaker. She encouraged attendees to "Keep Saying Yes," explaining how doors and opportunities opened for her through this affirmative approach.

IUPAT General President Jimmy Williams, Jr., and Nicole Schwartz, Executive Director of TradesFutures, followed. 

Williams expressed awe at the room full of tradeswomen and shared how Union Joe Biden played a pivotal role in making workplace equality a reality. 

Schwartz discussed childcare challenges and pilot programs in New York and Milwaukee, emphasizing the need to eliminate childcare as a barrier to workplace accessibility.

As the conference concluded, New Orleans was announced as the site for the TWBN Conference in 2024. The expectation is next year's event will break the records set in 2023.


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