New York, NY – Andrea Tapia is a fourth-year SMART Local 137 apprentice. When she graduates, she will be the first female journey member the local has had in 25 years.
SMART Local 137 is known for fabricating and erecting signage for many high-profile facilities and arenas, including such world-famous sites as New York City’s Times Square, JFK Airport, Madison Square Garden, and others.
“I feel very emotional when I bring my little girl to Times Square and I can say, ‘Momma was part of this project,’” the Ecuadorian emigre says.
Tapia’s signage-related skills run the gamut from precise measuring and cutting to welding and fabrication.
She came to the union after completing a program at Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), an organization that prepares, trains and places women in careers in the skilled construction, utility and maintenance trades.
NEW was the perfect place to launch Tapia into the world of construction, given her strong feelings about being a woman, and an immigrant in a largely male sector.
“Being an immigrant is not easy, with the long hours, learning a new language. Being a woman, it’s hard to have the same opportunities as a man,” she says. “Since I arrived in this country [in 2011], I have to work two jobs and no opportunity to go to school. That’s why I decided to look for a job where I can pay my bills and study and go to school at the same time. Then I heard about the workers union and from that point, my journey in the world of construction began.”
Tapia took night classes at Westchester Community College for a degree in Civil Technology, then received a scholarship from the New York Institute of Technology.
In addition to her membership in Local 137, she is a member of SMART Army, an organization that mobilizes to give back to local communities through projects such as cleaning parks and feeding the homeless, as well as Tradeswomen Build Nations, an organization that holds conferences to offer awards, support and workshops for women in the trades.
“I am so proud because I achieved a lot in a short time,” Tapia says.
But she gives a lot of credit to her union.
“Many people, like Dante [Dano, president and business manager of the local], always say, ‘You can do it — you can be the best.’”