In Louisville Water’s union – Local 1683—there are 147 members as of April 2023.
Less than 10 percent of those members are women.
Although lower in numbers, the women’s hard work, dedication and perseverance is inspiring the next generation of women who use backhoes, excavators, and jackhammers to crack the glass ceiling.
Meet The Women of 1683.
Angela Thacker, Metering Shop Leader
Metering Shop Leader Angela Thacker has the most seniority among the union women. She’s working on Louisville Water’s Meter Upgrade project. In her 24 years on the job, she said she feels respected and empowered among her coworkers, but said women sometimes have a different experience out in the field.
“If I’m a (woman) plumber leader, and my helper (assistant) is a man, customers won’t talk to me. They’ll go straight to him, but I’m in charge,” Thacker said.
Because there are so few women in the union, Thacker said it often feels like a “boy’s club.”
“When women are hired here, I try to introduce myself and make them feel welcomed,” she said.
Thacker had children while working at Louisville Water. The responsibilities that come with motherhood never kept her from her career, but it was difficult at times to find a work/life balance.
“It’s ten times harder for us than it is for men, but we chose these jobs knowing it would be hard,” Thacker said.
Katie Cooper, Metering Plumber Leader
When Katie Cooper was first hired, she often used a 100-pound jackhammer to do her job. Right now, Cooper is the only female Plumber Leader at Louisville Water.
“Working the jackhammer can be hard, but it can be done,” Cooper said. “I’m not a feminist and I’ve never felt the need to prove myself to others.”
Although there are women in lead positions at Louisville Water’s Allmond Avenue Distribution Center, Crescent Hill and B.E. Payne Water Treatment Plants, there has never been a woman in a leadership position within the union.
Donna Drane, Senior Chemical Attendant
Senior Chemical Attendant Donna Drane hopes to change that.
“I’ve worked here for 15 years and I like working with my hands. I started out in grounds (maintenance) at Allmond and now I’m at Crescent Hill,” she said. “I ran for a union leadership position, but didn’t get it.”
When it comes to equality and capability, Drane said gender shouldn’t be a factor.
Jesse Jewell, Emergency Turner
Emergency Turner Jesse Jewell said women in the union work hard to prove themselves in the male-dominated field.
“From what I’ve experienced, if you know your tools and you’re good at your job, you earn respect,” Jewell said. “You’ll get a different story from everyone, though. All our experiences are different.”
Jewell added she wants the next generation of women entering the workforce to be exposed to working outside with heavy equipment.
“Young ladies, especially in high school, need to know that it’s OK to work these jobs. I know (Louisville Water) works with Fairdale High School, but that (heavy equipment) program is (majority) boys,” she said.
Andrea Belden, Emergency Turner
Emergency Turner Andrea Belden said she’s a part of the union for job security, and she loves the unique part of her job.
“I wanted to be able to vote. I like having a say in the matter when it comes to who you want in office,” Belden said. “A lot of women don’t want to work outside, but I do. I’m not an office person. Some of us just like getting dirty and doing work.”
Connie Cook, Field Customer Service Representative
Connie Cook is a Field Customer Service Representative and has been with Louisville Water for 21 years. She agreed with not wanting to work indoors.
“Years ago, I was injured on the job and got put on light duty working upstairs in the office. After a while, I was like ‘You’ve got to get me out of here’!”
SeanTaya Burrell, General Laborer
General Laborer SeanTaya Burrell is one of the newest members in the union and also one of the youngest.
“I’ve been here almost two years. I’m in the union because I want to be able to work my way up. I’m almost 30 (years old) and at my age, I don’t want to start over,” she said. “What I like about this job is that we work all over the city.”
All over the city indeed.
Pam Booher and Lorentina Smith, Lead Operators
Two women in the union work at the B.E. Payne Water Treatment plant on River Road in Prospect, KY.
Pam Booher and Lorentina Smith are both Lead Operators at B.E. Payne. They work opposite 12-hour shifts running the treatment plant and have worked at Louisville Water for nearly 25 years.
“I work at night from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. and she (Lorentina) works during the day,” Booher said. “There are four operators total, but we’re the only women.”
To be the lead operator for a major water utility requires special certification.
“We have to maintain a Class IV Operator License with the state in order to run the plant,” Smith said.
Overseeing the water treatment requires monitoring the pump stations, generators, and intake feeds. Being able to quickly solve any problems that arise and having a keen sense of alertness are also part of their jobs.
“You’re almost like a firefighter,” Smith said.
The women of 1683 may be small in numbers, but their persistence and pride for the work they do every day is a powerful force to be reckoned with.