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Women lineworkers recount their experiences


From the January 8, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published January 8, 2013

Nearly two decades ago, Peggy Owens began learning how to be a lineworker at Seattle City Light in Washington state. At the end of a grueling pre-apprenticeship program that lasted six months, she was tested on her climbing skills, her physical fitness and her knowledge. Owens made the cut, but that was just the beginning. She went on to a four-year apprenticeship program at the utility.

"It was tough stuff," said Owens. And she’s not just talking about the physical and mental requirements of the job. "There was some resentment, some hostility, toward me as a woman," she told Alice Clamp in an article for Public Power magazine.

That attitude was typified by an expression that was common at the time: If this job were easy, women would be doing it.

Instead of talking back, Owens would walk away from a cutting remark. She admits there were a few times when she went home in tears. "Some of the men in the apprenticeship program thought it was fun to make me cry," she said. "And they were trying to get rid of me." But they didn’t succeed. "Every morning, I put my boots on and went back to work."

When Owens passed all her tests and became a journey-level lineworker, things changed. "The men knew I was one of them and they stopped harassing me."

Her experience has taught her that a woman training to become a lineworker cannot take anything personally. "You have to be able to brush off the comments."

Today, Owens works with a two-person line crew that handles troubleshooting for the utility.

Owens' story and those of other women aspiring, current and former lineworkers are recounted in a Public Power magazine article, "The Final Frontier." The article is posted on publicpowermedia.org.

Subscriptions to the electronic and print editions of Public Power and all other APPA periodicals are free to all employees and governing board members of APPA member utilities and associate members. An online subscription signup form is on publicpower.org.

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