The Electrical Worker online
December 2021

My IBEW Story
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Theresa Gifford, Retired Journeyman Inside Wireman
Memphis, Tennessee, Local 474

"In 1979, I was 23, living with my parents and my newborn son, and came across a pamphlet that said union construction trades were 'wanting and needing women' and instructed me to go to my state unemployment office to test and see if I was qualified. I passed.

A sign there had trades listed with their journeyman wages. Plumbers and electricians tied for highest, so I left determined to be a union electrician. At my interview, a guy derisively asked me if I thought I could lift 50 pounds, but a few days later I was accepted.

On my first day, I reported to the contractor's office, where a woman sneered, 'Well at least they didn't send us a [racial epithet],' as she gave me a paper with the name of the job site. I cried all the way across town, wondering what I'd gotten myself into, having grown up in a socially conscious family that didn't speak that way.

When I got to the site, I had a pretty uneventful day with some awesome men who were respectful and fun to be around. After a week, I found my footing and persevered. In 1983, I was fortunate to be the first woman to turn out in my local.

The IBEW has benefited me in many ways. I worked with great people across the country in numerous locals — for a nuclear power plant, paper mills, chemical plants, Denver International Airport, McCormick Place in Chicago, big jobs in Memphis; places that, as a woman, I would've never been allowed a generation earlier.

I learned how to stand up for my rights, and I know that I have brothers and sisters for life.

I was able to raise my children comfortably as a single parent. We had decent health care, and even though I had to retire early due to an injury, I've been able to retire comfortably."