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A woman construction worker built a house after the tragedy

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A woman construction worker built a house after the tragedy

as part of a weekly series On Change in the Workplace for Women, we are profiling those who stepped in during times of crisis and filled gaps in the labor market during the pandemic.

With a harness, hard hat, and mask, Deionna Hancock seems indistinguishable from her fellow ironworkers—until the slanting sun shines through her diamond earrings. Women constitute only 4.5 per cent of the construction workers across the country, of whom only a small proportion work as ironworkers. But while many women left the workforce during the pandemic, construction is one of the few sectors that saw an increase in the number of female workers. Ms. Hancock is one of those recent hires, and her road to this new career was tough.

She decided to change the course of her life during the pandemic. But the turmoil of the past two years – despite vaccination, she has contracted COVID-19 thrice – has made that process challenging. Yet she persevered—and is now often the only woman in the 25 to 50 construction workers working to build Casa Suenos (which translates from Spanish to “dream house”) at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, California. An affordable housing project near .

“It’s very ironic,” said 32-year-old Ms Hancock of the houses she was building. She lives an hour away from her workplace because she cannot afford a good place in the city where she was born and raised. She earns $28.85 an hour, which is significantly less than the $39.35, average hourly wage in the Bay Area.

In the morning, while it is still dark, Ms. Hancock and DiAngelo Austin, her 12-year-old nephew, whom she is raising alone, leave for work and school from their two-bedroom apartment in Vacaville, northeast of Oakland. . Riding in his polished 2014 white Mustang. She arrives at her work place at 6:30 a.m., a half hour before her shift starts—she doesn’t want to be late—and an hour and a half before DeAngelo’s school starts at the nearby Oakland Military Institute College Preparatory Academy. DiAngelo waits in the Mustang until he gets a lift from the construction site to school from a family friend.

Ms. Hancock sends her to the school she also attended, hoping it will keep her out of trouble. She sees herself in her nephew. “If he doesn’t help me, I’m afraid he’ll hit the streets,” she said.

Just after sunrise on a bright winter day, she enters the construction site and swings over her right shoulder a 50-pound hammock of a steel bar used to reinforce concrete. Then she makes her way across an obstacle course of trenches and discards steel, before bending over at her waist to install rebar. Sometimes the rebar she picks up is three times longer than that. Mostly, she works alone. Her colleagues, many of whom speak Spanish, are friendly but speak little.

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“I’ve always wanted to do construction work,” she said. When she was young, Ms. Hancock helped her uncle repair garages and paint buildings.

But the job takes much more than good intentions. The construction site’s foreman, Rodale Pea, said that an ironworker “takes skill and strength and can backfire at times.” Of all the trades, he said, “this is the cruelest.”

That couldn’t stop Ms. Hancock. In the early days of the pandemic when businesses were shutting down, she decided she wanted a job with a future. Construction will be the exit ramp to the life it once led.

She was 6 years old when her mother died of an aneurysm. Raised by her grandmother with the help of her stepfather, she often dropped in at the principal’s office. As a lesbian in school, “I had to tell people not to be played with,” she said. Eventually, she earned a high school diploma and a certificate in business from a local college. But he preferred the roads. “I chose that path,” she said.

At the age of 19 he was arrested for selling crack cocaine. At age 21 she ran a convenience store and served 28 months. At the age of 27, he was imprisoned for two years for credit card fraud. Then his life as a criminal turned dark. She knew that many people had been killed. While Ms. Hancock was in prison, her grandmother died, and Ms. Hancock could only call for the funeral. Then, six months later, she learned that her 19-year-old godson had died of leukemia. “I was devastated,” she said.

“When I came home, I was inspired to do everything for her and my grandmother,” she said. “They wanted me to follow the right path.”

“She had to find her own way,” said her stepfather, Ricky Persons Sr., a public works supervisor for the City of Oakland. “I thought she’d be a hustler until she died.”

Ms. Hancock enrolled in job-training classes. He collected garbage along the freeway, installed bicycle batteries, and later “budded” – fulfilled orders – at a cannabis club. After learning about programs for women to enter construction professions where she could earn $100,000 after four years, she joined the Rising Sun Center for Opportunity, a California non-profit organization dedicated to climate and job equity in construction. Enrolled in the week-long construction program. Especially for women. When she contracted COVID, she dropped out and signed up for the next season. During training, he again contracted COVID. It took her several days to recover, but as soon as she recovered, she returned to class.

She and the other students faced rigorous physical tests, such as moving 45 cinder blocks weighing 35 pounds 30 feet across in seven minutes. Rising Sun’s Senior Manager of Construction and Labor Relations and Ms. Hancock’s Instructor Juanita Douglas noted her passion.

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Ms. Hancock was meticulous and, while painting, “grabbed everything that everyone else had missed,” Ms. Douglas said. And Ms. Douglas noticed that Ms. Hancock was having fun: Ms. Hancock hummed as she painted.

When Jason Lindsay, president and business manager of Iron Workers Local 378, a trade union representing 2,500 merchants in Auckland, went to Rising Sun, he assured the students that they didn’t care about what anyone had done in the past. has done. “I care what you want to do today,” she told them.

He explained that the ironworkers were a “special force of construction” and that their masters would expect more from them than they themselves. For Ms. Douglas, it looked like a job for Ms. Hancock. She suggested that Ms. Hancock speak to Mr. Lindsay, who told her how to apply for the job.

Ms Hancock completed construction school on 14 December and began working the next day as a trainee ironworker. (In February, she contracted COVID for the third time, so severe that she missed work for three weeks and had difficulty breathing.)

In her first days of work, Ms. Hancock found that she had pain in her thighs, calves and ankles. “I had to soak in Epsom salt every day for two weeks,” she said. But she could not rest.

To supplement his income, he drove for food delivery companies. That opportunity ended in late January when she was told that “my background is unclear,” she said.

“That’s why I chose construction,” she said. “They don’t discriminate against your past.”

Without that extra income, Ms Hancock said, she could “barely pay my bills.” She reminds herself that “you have to be down to come up.”

At work, Ms Hancock focuses on her tasks rather than her finances. She calls work a “stress-free zone.”

When she graduated from Rising Sun’s production program, Ms Hancock and her family had much to celebrate, though Covid almost ruined that too.

Guests were not allowed to attend the event, but Ms Hancock showed up with a dozen friends and family and a bouquet of balloons. She said that she may have missed the announcement. “We weren’t leaving,” she said. For him and his troupe it was much more than graduation. It gave him a sense of accomplishment. “I accomplished something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said.

The series is part of a technology partnership with the Google Pixel exploring the journalistic applications of smartphone photography.

The Times maintains complete editorial independence. Technology partners have no control over the reporting or editing process and do not review stories prior to publication.

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