(May 19, 2016) Iris Perez, a Safety Coordinator with Baker Concrete, climbs the scaffolding to the top floor of the rental car center under construction at Tampa International Airport. Behind her safety glasses, her eyes scan the jobsite for possible safety violations: Workers not wearing ear protection during demolition, a fire extinguisher out of place, electrical cords not properly put away.
A woman working in an industry dominated by the opposite gender, she helps oversee safety on one of TPA’s largest construction sites. She has one mission: Keep everyone safe.
“You have to have a strong character to be a woman in this field, because it’s not easy work,” she said. “But we are all very close. Like family.”
Whether they’re placing concrete, operating heavy machinery or performing carpentry work, female construction workers are helping build the future of Tampa International Airport – and busting down barriers along the way.
Here are a few of the women bringing the project to life.
Edelma Rodriguez, Safety Manager, Austin Commercial
As a kid, Rodriguez was a frequent visitor on jobsites with her father, a construction superintendent of 35 years. He often suggested she try her hand in the industry. The idea really never took.
“I said, ‘Really, dad, construction?’” she recalled. “There was always a lot of dirt, wind and sun at the sites – conditions I wasn’t used to.”
She went to college as an English Literature major and worked as a customs broker, but her dad’s suggestion stuck with her.
Eventually, Rodriguez took a chance, applied, and got a job in construction. She began learning about the safety side of the business.
“It’s all about keeping people safe,” she said. “I make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Rodriguez monitors conditions at construction sites, helps set and enforce safety standards, responds to specific concerns and trains employees.
“I never thought I would end up working in construction and loving what I do,” she said. “But I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s really about working smart; not with muscle. I feel so blessed when someone comes up to me and thanks me for not losing an eye or a finger on the job.”
Jackie Oney, Mechanic Helper, Architectural Tile & Marble
Jackie Oney’s construction career began at age 22 when she demolished her first structure. She was hooked.
“I remember being very frustrated and taking it out on the building,” said the Architectural Tile & Marble employee. “Tearing down the building really helped me feel better.”
That demolition was a turning point for the Tampa native, who previously had worked in a factory. She turned her attention to construction, learning about the business and sharpening her skills alongside men.
“I don’t mind getting my hands dirty,” she adds. “That’s why I love it so much.”
Oney said she is happy to see more women entering the field.
“I really think it’s opening up more,” says Oney. “We’re proving we can work hard and in a man’s world.”
As part of her job at the Airport, Oney can be found cutting and laying tile, mixing mud, making sure grout lines are even, laying carpet and handling sheetrock.
It’s tough, but she doesn’t mind.
“You get used to it,” she said.
Marisabel Acosta, Carpentry Assistant, Archer Western
Marisabel Acosta stands shy of 5 feet tall, but don’t let her small stature fool you.
She is typically seen working on the SkyConnect guideway alongside her male counterparts, hauling wood, operating a boom lift and directing traffic.
The work is a far cry from her days of teaching calculus and accounting in her native Cuba. Acosta, who has worked six months at TPA, dabbled in construction – concrete, flooring and electrical work – while teaching at the University of Havana.
She left Cuba for Spain in 1993 and lived there for 22 years before arriving in Tampa last year.
When she arrived, she knew she wanted to work in construction full-time.
“I love being in the open air and the sunshine,” she said. “And I really enjoy the feeling of camaraderie with my colleagues. We all help each other. You never feel left out. You never feel different. Everyone is treated equally and I like that."