My BAC Story

My Union is My Family

An Interview with BAC Local 21 Illinois Member Helene Brown

Journal: Issue 4 - 2016


Editor's Note: BAC Local 21 Illinois member Helene Brown has been a proud tuck-pointer for over 17 years. She loves her job so much that she has introduced the building trades to all of her family members including her brother Gerald Brown, two sons Thomas Williams and Carl Williams and niece Jameelah Williams all of whom are PCC apprentices of BAC Local 21 IL. BAC Journal Editors (JE) recently had the pleasure of talking with Sister Brown (HB) about her Union experience and how BAC has impacted her life and her family.

Sister Brown on a jobsite.

JE: How did you get into the building trades?

HB: As a young mother of four children living on the west side of Chicago, I was in need of a job opportunity that would allow me to provide a better life for my children. One day while I was sitting outside speaking with my landlord, I asked him if he knew of any job opportunities. He gave me an address and an idea of what to wear, but he never mentioned what type of work I would be doing.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived at a large construction site full of men wearing hardhats. This was my first job where I was the only woman. I'm sure you can imagine how uncomfortable I was in the beginning. I remember watching the men tuck-pointing and laying brick as I labored. I remember telling myself that “I can do exactly what they're doing and probably better!” After -laboring for about two years, I was finally introduced to the world of tuck-pointing. I remember my first foreman telling me, "Don't worry Helene, there are no other women out here but you're going to be the best.” As years went by, I felt more comfortable, the job got easier and my skills became better. Before I knew it I was the “hot commodity” on the jobsite and all the men knew that I could do the same job they did.

JE: What do you like about your job?

HB: Although this journey has not been easy, it has been well worth it. This job has given me the opportunity to travel across the country, meet, interact and bond with other tradeswomen while attending the Women in Trades Conferences. Overall, this job has helped me find strength within myself that I never knew existed.
JE: How has the Union made a difference in your life and for your family?
HB: Being in the Union has allowed me to provide for my family in ways that I've always desired. During a time when I was forced to provide for my children as a single parent, I was able to find peace in knowing that I could turn to the Union. I had a stable career that provided me with the means to provide for my family. Being in the Union has also impacted the way in which my children view me. My children are beyond proud of me, my hard work and the strength that I display. To them I’m not a mom but more like Superwoman; from me they draw strength and knowledge that hard work pays off.

JE: You’ve been a tuck-pointer for over 17 years. What helped you stay in the trades for so long?

HB: In life we all search for that one thing that we can call our own, for me tuck-pointing is that thing. I feel as though with tuck-pointing I've found my calling. This career has become so much a part of who I am, I’m not sure where I would be without it.

JE: Many of your family members are also in building trades unions. Did you influence them in their career choices?

HB: Absolutely. To be honest, I've tried to get all of my kids in the trades in one way or another (laugh). I was successful in introducing my two sons, a niece and a younger brother to the trades. It was important to me for my family to be placed in positions where they can grow as I did. Having family in the trades and working alongside each of them has created and continues to create life-long memories, memories that I will always cherish.

From left, Jameelah Williams, Thomas Williams and Carl Williams on a jobsite.


JE: Any word you want to tell apprentices or others who may be interested in joining BAC?

HB: I would tell them the first step is always the hardest; once you take the first step, each one after that becomes easier and easier. I would tell them that I am proud of them, proud that they are taking steps to better their lives and the lives of their families. I want them to know that this is not easy but it is worth it; challenges will arise but the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. Hard work pays off, as long as they are willing to learn and work hard, they will be successful without a doubt.

What’s your BAC story? Share yours by emailing us at or mail it to BAC Journal, 620 F. Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004.


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