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Oral Interview (December 18, 2004) Real Media | MP3 Transcript (pdf)

Angela Olszewski: Bearing witness

On June 24, 2004, Olszewski testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor. She expressed her support for reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.

Olszewski's testimony (PDF)

In September 2007 Olzsewski testified at a hearing held by the Women's Issues Committee of the New York City Council. She discussed her experiences as a woman in a nontraditional job.

Olszewski's 2007 testimony

Angela Olzewski grew up in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood. Her mother was employed in a sweatshop doing machine embroidery, and for 20 years her father held a civil-service job with the Sanitation Department. During his last decade on the job he agitated within his union, and Angela helped him write grievance letters, thus learning about the grievance process and issues of fairness and justice within the union.

She graduated from Queens College with a B.A. in communications (film and video production) and helped her father renovate two properties in Brooklyn that her parents had purchased. After holding a series of odd jobs, she went to Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) intending to become a bricklayer, but instead she became interested in the aesthetics and techniques of tile setting. After graduating from a 12-week program at NEW, she entered the apprenticeship program of Local No. 7, a Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers (BAC) Union.

After only two months on her first job, she received an invitation from her International union to attend its annual Masonry Camp, a one-week summer program for outstanding apprentices from all over the country. In 2001 the International union selected her to participate in its summer exhibit at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C. The exhibition, Masters of the Building Arts, featured several workers who demonstrated their skills for visitors to the festival.

Like many other women in the trades, Olszewski faced blatant sexual harassment by a male co-worker, who was taken off the job after she notified a union representative. She also experienced the ongoing problem of not receiving the full range of training needed to survive as a journeyperson. She brought the issue to the attention of her local's president, but afterward the union’s new apprenticeship coordinator cautioned her “not to burn her bridges.” Again, Olszewski took action. She compiled a list of all the tasks she’d been doing and sent it to the international union, her local, and the company. Within a few days she was moved to the job she had requested.

Olszewski became the job-readiness instructor for NEW's evening training program, NEW@Night (NAN). She later served as NAN’s program coordinator, all while continuing to work full time in construction. In 2010 Olszewski graduated from CUNY School of Law.

In her oral history Olszewski talks candidly about her experience of sexual harassment, apprenticeship training, and the pleasures of tile setting.

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Copyright 2012
Jane Latour/Talking History
Portrait of Olszewski by Gary Schoichet