Elisangela Oliveira, a bridge painter for the New York City Department of Transportation. Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

Elisangela Oliveira

Elisangela “Lisa” Oliveira is a bridge painter for the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT).

Lisa has painted bridges for more than half her life. Since she began working at 19, she has held positions in both the private and public sector. Lisa started as an apprentice with the bridge painter’s union and advanced to a journeywoman position, followed by a forewoman position. Lisa has also worked as a supervisor, focusing on quality control.

Lisa became the very first woman to pass the Civil Service Exam for Bridge Painters at the NYC DOT. “It’s a physically demanding exam,” said Lisa. “I had to climb the Williamsburg Bridge and demonstrate that I knew what I was doing with the safety procedures to pass!”  Passing the exam has allowed her to take on more responsibility.

Her job as a bridge painter is challenging work, but Lisa enjoys it. Lisa plans to remain until retirement and even encouraged her niece to paint bridges with the NYC DOT.

“When I just started working in the union, it was tough,” said Oliveira. “We didn’t have too many women working. There was a lot of discrimination.”  Fifteen years ago, when Lisa would arrive at a job, the men would ask, “What are you doing here? We need a man, not a woman.”

Lisa pushed back, telling them, “Put me to work, if you don’t like me, you don’t like me.” Most of the time, they would give her a chance, telling her, “If you don’t work, you’re out of here.”  

Lisa says that things have changed. “People know me and my work, so I don’t have to prove myself. They know I can do a good job. We have changed a lot of the men’s views by putting more women to work. They know women can do it. The union fought for women to have jobs like mine.”