Stationary Engineer Yvonne Maitin and flyer about a “rap group” like those she attended.

Photograph by Gary Schoichet, 2007.

Typically women entering all-male apprenticeship programs and workplaces faced their strange and often hostile new worlds one by one. United Tradeswomen developed in the 1970s into a place where they could overcome that isolation and work toward solving some of the problems they faced.

Apprentice stationary engineer Yvonne Maitin, an African-American woman raising a child as a single mother, was severely stressed by the isolation:

When I started working for the Port Authority…around [all] men, it became really clear to me that this was something that was very foreign to me. It was really scary. I didn't know what I was going to do. I felt really alone, isolated. One day, I came home and I was just full up to my eyeballs. I had heard about United Tradeswomen and I had been given Lois's [Ross] phone number.

I called her and I just completely unloaded. I fell apart over the phone. I must have cried "Oh my God. Do you mind if I cry?" I still remember it. I was just a mess. I needed to talk to someone who would be able to understand. She told me to come on down. It was a lifesaver for me to be around other women who were experiencing the same thing. I didn't feel crazy anymore. …

Private collection, circa 1980.

Stationary engineers are trained to maintain and operate the boilers, steam turbines, air compressors, and refrigeration machinery found in factories, offices, hospitals, warehouses, or transportation terminals like the Port Authority. The term stationary refers to the fact they are not working on the engines in mobile machines like steam shovels. Maitin experienced enormous challenges during her 23 years as a stationary engineer, and reflected in this retrospective description of women in non-traditional work:

"We are still not well represented, ergo the term non traditional. This alone allows for discrimination. We are undertrained and have to fight hard for every bit of information we need, to get the training we deserve just as human beings."

© Copyright Labor Arts Inc.