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Oral Interview (March 26, 1995) Real Media | MP3 Transcript (pdf)
Ms magazine

Tradeswomen Now and Tomorrow (TNT)

The Summer 2002 issue of Ms. Magazine featured an overview of TNT and its move to create a national network.

Ronnie Sandler is a member of TNT's board. Her consulting firm, Compliance U.S.A., has achieved some success in increasing the number of women holding highway maintenance and construction jobs in Maine

Ronnie Sandler may have inherited her activist and nonconformist nature from her maternal grandmother, Doris Greenburg Strum, who worked with Margaret Sanger, the pioneering advocate for birth control. Coming of age in northern New England, Sandler liked to work with her hands, and shop class offered that opportunity. Sent to the assistant principal's office for being obstinate, she was told decisively that "girls don't take shop."

She graduated from college with a degree that prepared her to teach. Sandler took a different path in 1971. She took an adult education course in carpentry, worked for a master carpenter, and then started a carpentry business with two other women.

After moving to Detroit she attempted unsuccessfully to join the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Fate intervened in the person of Edie Van Horn, a high-ranking official in the powerful United Automobile Workers (UAW) who was very involved politically in women's issues. Eager to see a woman join a trades' union, Van Horn used her influence to open the doors to the carpenters' union. She even gave Sandler $200 dollars to pay the union initiation fee. Sandler made history in 1976 by becoming the first woman to join a trades union in Michigan. Van Horn's generosity so moved Sandler that the younger woman resolved that she, too, would forge a path for the women who followed her.

In her first union job Sandler was the only woman in a crew of two hundred. At first shunned by her fellow carpenters, she went on to have a successful career. It zigzagged between the West Coast and East Coast, between working with her tools and designing programs to empower women in the skilled trades.

She participated in the Michigan Statewide Task Force on Sexual Harassment, created during the late 1970s. She was director of a grant-funded pilot program designed to train women for nontraditional employment that offers a real path to economic self-sufficiency.(That program would be the genesis of STEP-UP for Women). In 1982 she moved to California, where she joined the grassroots organization Tradeswomen, Inc. She returned to New England and launched the STEP-UP program in Vermont with funding from the state's department of education. She founded Northern New England Tradeswomen (now Vermont Works for Women).

Sandler then shifted her focus from training to compliance. She established a for-profit firm, Compliance U.S.A, which is a consultant on civil rights and employment issues on major construction projects. The firm has handled contract compliance reviews for the Maine Department of Transportation, one of its major clients. She has provided leadership for the National Tradeswomen's Network, the Vermont Dept. of Education, and STEP-UP for Women. She does carpentry and performs home inspections.

In her oral history Sandler discusses her work experiences, her desire to help women succeed in the skilled trades, and the make-or-break success factor, motivation.

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