Labor Profile: Mary Battle Takes Up Challenge at Cement Masons

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Labor Profile: Mary Battle Takes Up Challenge at Cement Masons(Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO)It was all based on a challenge. "He told me I couldn't do the job, and so I looked at him and asked that he give me the same chance he gave the guys. That was back in 1982." Mary Battle has certainly proven she can do the job: after nearly three decades as a cement mason, Battle was recently unanimously elected as the first female Business Manager of Operative Plasterers & Cement Masons Local 891. Plasterers are building craftsmen who apply plaster to interior walls and ceilings; Cement Masons level, smooth and shape surfaces of freshly poured concrete. Battle is one of just five women out of the nearly 900 members of Local 891. "You have to have thick skin to work with the guys," she told Union City. "They'll look out for you, but you have to pull your weight to earn their respect." These days, there are more opportunities for women to enter the trades, and increasing the number of women in Local 891 is one of Battle's top priorities. Battle's remaining top priorities are the same as a business manager’s for any construction trades union: work for her members and signed contracts. With area construction down thanks to the recession, many of Local 891's members are out of work, while some of those on the job have been working without a contract for the last three years. But just like that challenge thirty years ago, Battle is seizing the opportunity and projects that by next February construction will pick up and there will be more than enough work.  She also sees some light at the end of the road for fruitful contract negotiations. A mother of six—two boys and four girls, Battle lights up at the mention of softball, cheerfully admitting "I'm a softball fanatic!" She played three times a week at one point and was a member of four teams, one of which trained at the South Capitol Street ball park. She plans to begin a co-ed softball team at Local 891 to build union camaraderie and to spend some quality time with her members. "The members know that I'm about the Hall and about the union," says Battle. "I work for them. I'm committed to making a change for the better."
- report/photo by Saschane M. Stephenson


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