Women’s History Month: DC 37 Women Break Barriers in Non-Traditional Jobs

By DIANE S. WILLIAMS

Women are shattering glass ceilings in all fields, proving they can do jobs that were previously only offered to men.

In politics, Kamala Harris is the first female Vice President of the United States. New York State Governor Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James are the first women to serve in their respective roles, but certainly won’t be the last. The New York City Council added a historic number of women to its ranks for the City’s first-ever majority female Council with Speaker Adrienne Adams as its helm.

For decades, Lillian Roberts helped organize New York City municipal workers into DC 37 and served as the union’s executive director from 2002 to 2014. DC 37 currently has the Lillian Roberts Women’s Leadership Academy that trains future labor leaders. The union has more women serving as local presidents, executive board members, and managers than ever, including Associate Directors Jahmila Edwards and Rose Miller in two of the top positions.

In March, Women’s History Month, DC 37 celebrates women in nontraditional jobs, and features four members who have broken barriers at work. Their stories tell the paths they cut and invite future generations of women to join the expanded choice of career opportunities in public service.

RONYA MITCHELL, NYC Parks Department Climber and Pruner, Local 1506

“When I lived in Florida, I worked at the Florida Botanical Gardens. It gave me an amazing horticultural education. I learned to operate chainsaws, I have a pesticide license and a commercial driver license.

“Those skills and knowledge led me to NYC Parks Department in 2006. I was hired as a City Parks Worker and because of my experience, I was assigned to Forestry where I learned how to climb and tie knots. I was an Associate Parks Service Worker and then a Climber and Pruner. There are four other women in the title.

“My job is very physical. I do a lot of lifting. Men may have more upper body strength, but I can do my job without getting hurt.

“Florida is a right-to-work state where I didn’t have a union. I think it is important to belong to a union. I am the recording-secretary of Local 1506. We fight for better wages and workplace safety.

“COVID threw a monkey wrench at us. We are essential workers who keep New York City going through this pandemic. It’s made us come together. More people are involved in the union now. Belonging to a union gives us a say and a seat at the table with the city.

“When storms hit New York City, Climbers and Pruners work longer hours removing downed trees. When trees fall on houses, electrical wires, or roads, we arrive first — the Police and Fire departments don’t have tree removal equipment. Our local is fighting for first responder status.

“Local 1506 and Parks are always recruiting for Climbers and Pruners. Although the field is male-dominated, a woman can command respect by keeping her head on her shoulders and being ready to work. I showed that I can cut trees, drive trucks, lift wood and my coworkers respect me. It’s important to show what you know!”

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