by Kate Berube & Jennifer Young
When lifelong Sayville resident Janet Powers began her 5-year Steamfitting apprenticeship in 1987, there were precious few women who had come before her in the male-dominated industry. Despite that, Powers followed her father, uncle, and brother into the trade, drawn to the union’s promise of fair wages, good benefits, and a camaraderie seldomly found in other lines of work.
After 30 years in the field, Powers rose through the ranks to finally become the first female Business Agent ever elected to the Enterprise Associate Steamfitters Local 638 in its 137-year history, where she’s responsible for making those same promises a reality for the 9000 members she represents across Long Island and New York City. She brings to the position a wealth of experience, having served two three-year terms on the finance board followed by two terms with the executive board. Through the years, she specialized in welding and is respected as a master of her trade. Powers considered herself a Steamfitter first, and a woman second, finding solidarity and acceptance through her craft where she advocates for the advancement of all tradespeople.
The Steamfitters of Local 638 design, construct and upkeep piping systems including fire suppression units, heating and cooling, and refrigeration in industrial and commercial buildings throughout the state. This makes them an essential component in the construction of recognizable landmarks like the recently finished Hudson Yards, Carnegie Hall, and UBS Arena, the future home of the NY Islanders.
As Business Agent for Suffolk County, Powers acted as an important liaison between workers and developers facilitating the successful completion of large-scale infrastructure projects such as Brookhaven Memorial Hospital’s Knapp Cardiac Care Center, the Blue Point Brewery, and Caithness Energy Powerplant in Yaphank that keep our communities running. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic this past Spring, union Steamfitters at Stony Brook worked alongside the United States Army Corps of Engineers to construct five full-scale field hospitals in an astonishing two-week period, preventing the local hospital system from overflowing.
Through her strength and commitment, Janet Powers is a role model not only during Women’s History Month but for young men and women throughout Long Island all year long.