Although there are only a handful of women in northwest Ohio who have made a career as a journeyman pipefitter, three of them are working for GEM Inc. at a new solar panel manufacturing facility under construction in Lake Township, Ohio.
Pipefitters are specialists who design, build, and install water, gas and chemical piping systems for multiple types of facilities. “Women pipefitters are unusual due to the intensity and physical nature of the work,” says Chantal “Tilly” Rippeth.
Tilly is currently working as a material handler on the solar panel manufacturing plant project. She began her career in HVAC, earning her associate degree from Terra State Community College in Fremont, Ohio. Following graduation, she was working non-union and making little money. A pipefitter sister told her about Local 50 so she inquired about the trade. She has now been a pipefitter for 18 years and has worked for GEM Inc. on numerous projects.
The GEM people are great to work with—All of the trades work together and get along.Tilly Rippeth | GEM Inc. Pipefitter
She, along with Kimberly “Kimmi” Collins, agree that money and stability are among the best benefits of the pipefitter trade. “We don’t have to worry about pay equity because we make the same as men doing the same work,” adds Kimmi.
Kimmi was working as a veterinary technician with little opportunity for advancement. When she became a single mother of four daughters, she took the advice of a friend and joined Local 50. Throughout her 19 years as a pipefitter, Kimmi has worked numerous large projects in the Toledo area, including power plants, refineries, and downtown buildings.
I really enjoy the sense of accomplishment I have knowing I was a part of something that will last—a part of history.Kimmi Collins | GEM Inc. Pipefitter
Pipefitter work is detail-oriented and requires math skills. Pipefitters must be able to carefully read blueprints and cut pipe to exact specifications. “There is always something different to do and new to learn,” says Kasey Darr, also a pipefitter with Local 50 working for GEM.
Like Tilly and Kimmi, what drew Kasey to the building trades was the need for a decent wage, benefits, and job security. She held a variety of low-paying positions before finding her way to the trades.
“It was a fluke that I even learned about being a pipefitter,” says Kasey. “I had no idea the building trades existed back in 1998.”
She finds being a pipefitter challenging, but feels you get out of it what you put in.
“When other women ask me about my job, I tell them you have to apply yourself and have the confidence it takes to answer the call for work.”Kasey Darr | GEM Inc. Pipefitter
All three feel it is important to have women represented in the trades. According to Kimmi, there are multiple certification opportunities available. “Learning new skills and meeting new people are added benefits to being a pipefitter.”