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Pioneering female plumber who fought sexism was told to 'go home and do the dishes'

Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor

Judaline Cassidy is a plumber and tradeswoman activist. Since the 1970s, women have made up less than 3 percent of U.S. construction workers — and only 1.6 percent of U.S. plumbers. Which is curious for an industry with practically no gender pay gap.

“I get to create things with my hands, and I get to solve a puzzle,” Cassidy tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s not just toilets. It’s hospitals, schools.”

When Cassidy tried to join her local union in 1994 in New York City, she was denied — and told to “go home and do the dishes.”

“Just being on a construction site is being bold,” she says. “You have all of these men just staring at you. And you have to walk in like ‘I belong here.’ Because they look at you like you don’t belong.”

In 1995, after a male colleague advocated on her behalf, Cassidy was able to join Staten Island Plumbers Union 371, becoming the first woman out of 6,000 members. In 2016, she became the president of Plumbers Local No. 1 NYC Women’s Committee, where she mentors current and hopeful female plumbers. “I truly love the union,” she says. “I am an African-American woman, and I don’t get 65 cents. I get the same as a guy. He gets a dollar, I get a dollar.”

Today, Cassidy is one of 90 women in her union and runs the nonprofit Tools & Tiaras, which seeks to encourage young girls to pursue lucrative trade careers. “We need to let girls start touching tools earlier,” she says. “It opens up a whole new world.”

She’s also parlayed her experience into speaking and mentoring gigs, has appeared on the Today show and Build, and is an advocate for learning and equality.

Regarding sexism, she told Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls recently, “When I experience it, I call it out — but I do it with humor. I see it as a chance to take the power position that he is trying to take from me. When men try to make fun of my gender or height, I only see it as a way to make me stronger. I will get the last laugh every time, because I’m walking away better than I was before. I’m definitely aware and confident that I’m a master at my craft, just like the men.”

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