|Cynthia Long was born in Toronto, Canada. Her father, a mechanical engineer, was a second-generation immigrant from China; her mother immigrated to Canada from China. When Long was in sixth grade, her mother went to school to become a computer programmer. In 1965 the family moved to New York City.
After high school Long attended the State University of New York at Buffalo for two years but dropped out because she couldn't decide on a major field. However, during her time in school she became very interested in women's studies.
Dissatisfied with low-paid clerical jobs, she took advantage of two programs funded by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA): All-Craft (which introduced women to various trades) and the Apex Technical School, where she studied air conditioning and refrigeration. The electrical trade caught her interest, and the director of the Women in Apprenticeship Program encouraged her to apply for a slot in the program run by Local 3, IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).
In 1978 Long joined Local 3 and began her apprenticeship, which she completed in May 1982. Most of her work as an apprentice was in private industry. She had a good experience on her first job, at New York University Hospital. The general foreman, Don Lang, who understood her situation as the crew's sole woman, assigned her to work with an accommodating journeyman. The foreman also ordered a carpenter to build her a small shanty with a locking door where she could change clothes and leave her belongings.
The first women in Local 3, who shared a similar worldview and feminist sensibility, believed that as union women they had to work together as a group for the benefit of all. Long was a dedicated union activist and a cofounder of Women Electricians (WE), an independent support group within the local.
Sexual harassment and pornography were major problems on the job. Long enrolled in Cornell University's program for trade union women and focused her studies on issues of sexual harassment and sex discrimination. She believed it was critically important for women to speak out and resist.
Long suffered a back injury that threatened to end her career. By chance she was reunited with Lang, who then was working for a major property development firm. He hired her as electrical superintendent for the general contractor. She tried to use her position to change problems at the worksite, such as requiring a foreman to remove pornography from gang box.
In her oral history, Long discusses her experiences as a member of United Tradeswomen (UT) and WE, her commitment to feminism, the difficult issue of race, and her pride in her work.
Jane Latour/Talking History
Photo (top) by Gary Schoichet; photo (left) from The Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives