AJ Banuelos is a woman on a mission: She is determined to succeed both as a worker and as a mother, and is forth-coming on both topics. She laid out her life plan while tending her two sons one sunny May afternoon.
Growing up along the West Coast, from Seattle to Southern California, AJ finally settled in Portland. She graduated from high school and took some college courses, despite having her first child, a special-needs daughter, at age 18. Her early career involved office and clerical work, but AJ descends from a long line of union-oriented construction workers, “Construction chose me,” she says. She soon recognized that union construction work pays from 2 to 3 times more than clerical. She had gotten as far as certifying and working as a flagger – hazardous work – before she began training at Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. in January 2011, subsequently achieving union apprenticeship.
AJ took up the family trade but with a twist. Everyone else in the family entered building construction; AJ is a member of Laborer’s International Union of North America, Local 320-Roadway and Highway. She moves earth on rail crews, grading and elevating rail. Why? “Because roads and bridges nearly always need repair and building, whereas building construction stops and starts.” The only downside she sees is weather. Despite the fact that AJ is not working currently she has a positive view both of the path she’s chosen and of her future.
Of her decision to apply to OTI and the outcome, she can summarize it in one word: “Awesome!” Her class of 42 was record-sized. The women both challenged and assisted each other and many of them still communicate. AJ continues to volunteer with OTI because she likes the idea of women helping women.
AJ is rightly proud of what she’s learned on the job: Her favorite story from the rail crew shows a lot of ambition. She said she noticed that the foreman would be holding tools, so she would say to him, “you shouldn’t be doing the work.” Then he would teach her how to use that tool. She gained a lot of training through observation. Nonetheless, her proudest work-related accomplishment is becoming a union member.
Family life sounds hectic but organized. On work days she gets herself and the kids ready to go, takes them to school/care and herself to work, always 20 minutes early. Her shift was 7:00 am to 3:30 pm. After work she picks them all up for scouts, football, church, union meetings, and OTI meetings, depending on the night. She is very particular about her children’s activities and television viewing habits, making decisions that will help them grow in mind and body.
She looks to the future: AJ hopes to become a union delegate and attend regional and national conferences. To those who scoff at the idea of women in trades she says, “You haven’t met US!” To other women she advises, “Consider all options; don’t rule out anything.”
AJ’s two year old gets fussy and she scoops him up and pops a berry she’s prepared into his mouth, never missing a beat. “I want my children to be happy and successful,” she says, “to do what their hearts desire and to be satisfied with their decisions.” They surely will be if they follow their mother’s advice: Know the difference between need and want. Don’t want what you can’t have; don’t do something just because you want to; don’t go anywhere just because you want to. Be happy with what you get by working for your goals. Sounds like a recipe for success.