Although women make up a small fraction of its membership, the ironworkers union has secured for them one of the most generous leave policies for pregnant women in the US, BuzzFeed’s Cora Lewis reported on Monday. The International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, which represents about 130,000 construction tradespeople in the US and Canada, announced that members of the union who become pregnant will be entitled to six months of paid maternity leave to be taken prior to delivery, on top of six to eight weeks of postpartum leave:
“The challenges of physical work associated with the ironworking trade create unique health challenges that can jeopardize a pregnancy,” the union said in a statement announcing the benefit, noting that paid maternity leave “is virtually unheard of in the building trades.” The numbers put maternity leave for iron working women on par with corporate employees at tech companies like Etsy, Adobe, Spotify and Cisco. Netflix and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are among the only companies that offer workers more paid parental leave, according to data gathered by Care@Work, which specializes in family benefits.
While women account for just 2,100 members of the union, changes in technology, workforce demographics, and attitudes toward gender roles mean that women’s share of the workforce in some traditionally-male fields is growing. As employers in other sectors have discovered, construction firms may find this new maternity benefit less costly than replacing female employees who drop out of the workforce to raise children; research has shown that women are significantly more likely to quit if their employer does not offer family-friendly policies like parental leave and flexibility. Bill Brown, CEO of Ben Hur Construction and co-chair of the Iron Workers labor-management working group, told BuzzFeed that he considered the benefit an investment in retaining women employees:
Using back-of-the-envelope calculations, Brown estimated that training a new iron worker costs $32,000 over the course of a four-year apprenticeship, during which time the workers are also paid regular salaries.
“So when you add payroll to 32K a year, and you lose a woman worker, you’re out more than 32K,” he said. “Then you have to train another person to take their place, so it’s a 64K proposition if you lose one female apprentice. To protect our investment, if we wanted women to stay in our industry, we had to do something.”