Each week, we’ll share a post getting to know a member of the Guild community. This week, we’re excited to learn about Alison Sheppard, Facilities Manager at MWRA and Steward with USW 9360.

“I could do something that bored the hell out of me and even make a lot of money doing it; or do something I love and I’m really good at, but have to fight to get and keep jobs regardless of my qualifications. I would rather fight to do something I love than be bored. Someone’s got to push the envelope or things never change.” – Alison Sheppard

Alison Sheppard is a Facilities Manager at MWRA and a Steward with USW 9360. She has been coming to the Guild since 2015.

Alison began her career in construction many years before coming to the MWRA. After earning a B.A., she attended the Boston Architectural College and received a degree in Architecture. While at BAC, she also worked full time building teaching hospitals. Not wanting to do a thesis that was just a rehash of prior design projects, she decided to work on designing a housing prototype based on her theory that something could be done architecturally to improve the lives of single-parent families. At that time, no one was talking about these issues, and Alison was determined to find out if there were ways to make things better. Through her research and her design process, Alison realized that architectural changes—like being able to share resources that alone were unaffordable to individual single parent families, and easy access to public transportation—that were crucial for this group were welcome amenities for everyone else.

The desire to help others and improve conditions is something Alison brings to her work, and something she has fought for throughout her career. She is usually the only woman at male-dominated job sites and in meetings. According to Alison, “I’ve always helped everybody, especially anyone dealing with the problem of being the ‘odd person’ out.  We shouldn’t all have to learn the same lessons the hard way every time, and everyone should be accepted on their own merits.” Because of her gender, throughout her career Alison has faced continuous harassment, discrimination and disregard of her skills. However, she has never given up or left construction. She says, “I’m stubborn. I really love the work and I’m really good at it. It’s really demanding work, especially when you are doing construction in a place like an ICU where it is critical that you do not make a mistake. I always love a challenge and learning something new. Many of the projects I ended up with are projects that no one else wanted because they were too difficult. Those were my favorite projects and where I learned the most.”

Alison has many stories from her experiences as a woman in the construction field, and is in the process of writing a book that will teach others tools and strategies that she developed that have been vital for her. The focus? “The two most important things you need are self respect and a sense of humor, neither of which are easy to maintain in a continuously hostile environment,” Alison says.

Alison is also dedicated to helping people find information about education and training opportunities, including at the Guild. Alison found out about the Guild when she volunteered to become a steward. Of Guild classes, she says, “We’re getting real-world experience. That kind of stuff is really important, because it gives you a perspective that you can never get just through books and lectures. That’s something that’s so nice about all of the teachers at the Guild is that they have a lot of real world experience. I can’t ever remember having an instructor there that wasn’t really good.” Alison has enjoyed many classes at the Guild, including the current classes she is taking—Next Steps for Stewards: Organizing Around the Grievance Process and Resistance in a Trump Presidency: Winning Strategies for Progressive Electoral and Legislative Campaigns—as well as last term’s course on the election, because it covered what was happening in real time.

Since her first term, Alison is the one talking about the Guild in union meetings, pushing for increased training budgets and encouraging others to take classes and get educated. She has also shared with us a number of other organizations and sources that you will soon be able to see on our updated resources page! The Guild is lucky to have a dedicated learner and leader like Alison!

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