It’d be impossible to talk about female leaders in the NW construction trades without mentioning Jodi Guetzloe Parker. As the second woman to ever lead a building trades council in the United States (she was elected executive secretary treasurer of the 25-craft Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council in 2012), Guetzloe Parker has become somewhat of a role model for women, even beyond state lines.
But though she’s now spent over two decades in the trades – initially as a Cement Mason, then a rank-and-file member, elected official, and staffer at the Laborers Union Local 320 — the mother of one, stepmother of three, and grandmother of four came to the trades for the same reason many do: she couldn’t afford not to.
The self-deprecating Guetzloe Parker says the catalyst was losing her wallet, and with it, a bonus she’d received from her minimum wage job with a clothing company many years ago. “My friend [a Cement Mason] said, if that small amount of money is so impactful in your life, you need to join our apprenticeship program,” Guetzloe Parker says.
She couldn’t argue. She’d been working since she was 15, when she slung hamburgers at a carhop at a drive-in café (unless you count sweeping the floor for lunch money at six years old in her neighbor’s garage) – and at times still depended on social services to raise her kid.
“Thank God for public assistance because that carried us through,” Guetzloe Parker remembers. The subsidies were put to good use. “I’m a good investment! I’ve paid a lot of taxes and donate a lot of money. Social programs are so necessary, and have a good return.”
Guetzloe Parker grew up in Kamiah, Idaho, having her daughter when she was 20 years old and moving to Vancouver, Washington when she was 21. There she started cleaning hotel rooms, worked at Hi-School Pharmacy, a baby clothes company, and finally became a member of the Cement Masons at 32 years old.
Something clicked. “I was able to be outside, go to work, get dirty, and not worry about if my shirt was pressed for my $8/hour job,” Guetzloe Parker tells us. Finally, the single mom was on track to being able to independently support her family.
Her rise involved a fair amount of self discipline. “One of the things that make me who I am is being sober for 25 years,” says the building trades leader. “I have to do things to maintain that sobriety, but it’s part of what makes me a better leader.”
Unfortunately, a back injury derailed her career for one “horrible” year – at one point she was told she’d never be able to lift anything over five pounds again. Against the expectations of some of her doctors she returned, becoming a secondary list traffic flagger, then traffic control supervisor for Stacy and Whitbeck. She moved through various jobs with the Laborers – punch list foreman, quality control inspector – before running for an auditor’s office at the union. From there, she was hired at a staff position, eventually leading to last year’s election as the head of the building trades council.
What’s it like to be a female leader in the trades? “It’s tough,” Guetzloe Parker says. “And I’ve always been tough on myself. But you have to always give 110 percent, and I listen. I think I’m pretty good at letting people talk – I want to listen to them.”
Because, as she’s quick to point out, no one succeeds entirely on their own. “Bill Bruce [Stacy and Witbeck’s Interstate Light Rail superintendent] was my mentor,” Guetzloe Parker says. “He took me from a flagger to traffic control supervisor and to punch list foreman. He believed in me when I did not believe in myself. He told me, “You grow, or you go.” She grew.
When it comes to advice for the next generation of women in the trades, Guetzloe Parker begins, “Take a deep breathe. Carry on. We have resources everywhere. Develop friendships with men and women. Lean into them. “
Which is not to say, go soft. “And never let somebody take your tools away,” Guetzloe Parker concludes, with a smile.