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Oral Interview (August 4, 2005) Real Media | MP3 Transcript (pdf)
women in UBC

Sister Reyes

In 2002 the New York District Council of Carpenters published its version of the "herstory" of women in the union. "Connie" Reyes is singled out as a pioneering UBC "sister."

The article included a timeline of women's history with the union.

Consuelo Reyes was born in New York City into a family of political activists. Her father was a printer and an anarcho-syndicalist from Spain; her mother was a Puerto Rican nationalist who worked in the city's garment factories.

She graduated from City College of New York in1973. Two years later she became the first woman to join the New York District Council of Carpenters (NYDCC), United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC). She had been working with activist groups to secure construction jobs for minority males. During her girlhood Reyes had helped her father, an excellent carpenter, with various construction projects. Now unemployed and the single mother of two children, she decided to find a construction job for herself.

She was hired to work on a nineteen-story, prefabricated building under construction on Cherry Street. When Reyes reported for work on her first day, the skeptical foreman gave her a broom and ordered her to sweep the shanty. Six months passed before she was accepted into the union's apprenticeship program.

Reyes and Irene Soloway, also among the first women accepted into the carpenters' union, began the tradition of activism among tradeswomen. They were part of core group that founded and provided leadership for United Tradeswomen (UT).

Reyes also participated in reform activities within her union. In 1981 she joined Carpenters for a Stronger Union (CSU), a small group of activist members who publicly opposed their union's corrupt leadership. She quickly became one of its most dedicated leaders.

The mob already dominated the district council and was infiltrating various locals. According to Reyes, her local's business agent, Robert Waller, Jr. (Local 531, Queens), had aligned himself with the mob. Activists were threatened with physical violence and death. One day Waller confronted Reyes at her jobsite, the 59th Street Bridge, and ordered the shop steward to "throw her off the bridge" if she continued distributing leaflets critical of the union's fiscal affairs. She took the case to court and won.

Reyes returned to school in 1994 and changed careers. A psychotherapist in private practice,she lives in southern Oregon, where she hiking, camping, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities.

In her oral history Reyes discusses her historic entry into the NYDCC, her activism, and her fight against corruption.

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Jane LaTour/Talking History
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