the Story of Pioneering Electrical Tradeswomen
As current and retired Seattle City Light employees, we are happy to announce an exciting new book in the pipeline at Red Letter Press: a history of the momentous entry of women into the electrical utility trades at Seattle City Light. This project needs your financial support. We’ve already raised $10,000 and need $4,000 more. If you are ready to donate to this cause now,
click here to donate online or see the mailing address below to mail a check. We will be most grateful. Otherwise, read on to learn more about the effort to tell the story of this important chapter of labor and feminist activism in the Pacific Northwest.
Ellie Belew, author of Power to the People: The History of IBEW #77, is writing the riveting story of the first-of-its-kind Electrical Trades Trainee (ETT) program that was launched in 1974 at Seattle City Light. Through this ground-breaking effort to implement Affirmative Action, designed by socialist feminist Clara Fraser, ten aspiring tradeswomen – Black, white, Chicana and Asian American – entered the largely white male electrical trades. The women fought hard to stay in the workforce, overcoming discriminatory layoffs, intense harassment, and serious injuries.
Additional tradeswomen were hired at City Light in the 1980s and '90s, and the struggle continued against a utility-wide culture of sexism and racism that was entrenched at the highest levels of management. Many women found that the secret to survival lay in building alliances with men of color, white union brothers, and office staff at the utility. Together they sought to publicly expose city management, motivate Local 77 to be more responsive to its diverse membership, and hold City Light accountable as a publicly owned utility. Many gains were achieved by forging links with the union movement and forming or working with advocacy groups including the Committee for Equal Rights at City Light (CERCL), City Light Black Employees Association (CLBEA), Ad Hoc Committee for Fair Employment and Open Housing, and the consumer advocates of the Light Brigade.
In 1998, Initiative 200 struck a huge blow to Affirmative Action in Washington State. Women’s employment in the skilled crafts has fallen ever since. But through this book, the history of the heroic “union maids” will live on to inspire new generations of non-traditional tradeswomen!
In order to bring this dynamic history to the printed page, we need to raise $7,000 for design and publishing expenses in addition to the $7,000 already contributed to hire the writer. Red Letter Press is a volunteer-run, not-for-profit, independent press that needs help covering expenses in order to keep the price of the book affordable. To donate, mail a check to Red Letter Press at 4710 University Way NE #100, Seattle, WA 98105 or
click here to contribute online. Organizations that contribute $500 or more will be publicly thanked in the book.
The untimely 2015 death of sister Heidi Durham, an original ETT and a tenacious organizer and leader, was the spark for getting this project off the ground. Many thanks to those who have already donated in Heidi’s memory. We deeply appreciate your support for workplace struggles at City Light – past, present and future.
Thanks and solidarity,
Megan Cornish, former ETT, retired Senior Power Dispatcher
Kathleen Merrigan, retired Cablesplicer Crew Chief
Doreen McGrath, City Light Systems Analyst, IBEW 77 member