Women breaking barriers on Sixth Street Bridge construction project in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The largest bridge project in Los Angeles is under construction with an unprecedented number of women on the work force.

The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters recruited 15 women who comprise 19% of the union carpenters on the massive Sixth Street reconstruction project.

"It really does feel like history in the making. And I am already so proud. I can't imagine when it is finished," said 25-year-old Chanel Waits.

Union leaders say the hiring of women reflects a culture change and a decline in male workers.

"Because of the shortage of skilled work force, they are working overtime. They are working Saturdays and Sundays so right now the opportunity is huge for anyone who wants to get into the trades," said Dan Langford with the Council of Carpenters.

"The older carpenter with the brains and the younger carpenter with the muscle, that's how we make it happen," said Maria Coronado, team lead from Local 213 who was inspired by her grandmother, a riveter in World War II.

The landmark bridge which was featured in films such as "Grease" and "To Live and Die in L.A." was demolished in 2016. Its replacement is slated for completion in 2022.

The job demands more than slamming nails. The women carry work vests that weigh 60 pounds.

"Especially there are times when we gotta run, we gotta climb. We gotta squeeze through. And I thought, 'no way.' I could barely walk with them on when I first started but your body adapts to it," says single mother Rosa Garcia, who left a minimum wage retail job.

Union wages are attractive.

"In four years, you are making upwards of $40 an hour and upwards of a $100,000 a year. Then there is overtime," says Coronado, who took on her first union job in 1990 and never looked back.

The union credits the general contractor Skanska for setting diversity and inclusion goals.

Women say the work is empowering.

"Being in construction, what we know is that we can make anything happen. It seems impossible, but it isn't," says Coronado.
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