Jay Fatima Tapia is an Equipment Operator at a Railcar Maintenance Facility in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

Jay Fatima Tapia

Jay Fatima Tapia is an equipment operator at a railcar maintenance facility in Los Angeles.

I’ve been the only woman working at a Los Angeles railcar maintenance facility for the past three years.

I started out when I was 19 years old. I was part of [federal program] Job Corps, I did OTJ (on-the-job) training for 13 months. I love hands on work.  My dad wanted me to be a doctor or a nurse like my sisters.  But I wanted to work outside.  I loved construction, and I got my license. But then the recession hit and there were no jobs, everything went downhill.

I only got the job because I wore a nice suit, and the guy in front of me wore tennis shoes. I didn’t have experience, so I sold myself.  I told them “I’m young, easy to mold, and eager to learn.”  I prayed I got the job.

It was hard at first, especially in the shop.  A lot of guys didn’t want to show me how to do things.  They were probably thinking I couldn’t do it because I was female.   But I kept bugging them. I like to learn everything I can.  

I worked as a composite mechanic in the locomotive shop for two and half year. We got a training, a month-long class to teach you the basics.  Then we do 80 hours of training shadowing another worker. Then you learn everything as you go.  I got dirty in there, breathed all the smoke, because engines run when they are being tested.   

After a few years, I wanted to work my way up from composite mechanic to an EO – an equipment operator. You move the railcars up and down the yard, with many safety procedures.

When one EO position opened up, I tried to get it.  I said “look, I’m on time every day, never been late, I had seniority. I met all the qualifications.” One manager didn’t want me to be an EO, probably because I’m a female.  They kept saying to me “now’s the right time for you,” or “we’ll think about it.”  So I went to HR,  I fought it.  

Then, Management decided to raffle off the position — to seem fair — in front of everyone. And I was the first one picked!  

Now I’m an EO, and driving is my favorite thing to do.  I work hard, and I worked my way up. Nowadays, the guys come and ask me what to do!

I think if there were more women hiring in this [transportation manufacturing] industry, it might encourage more women to apply.  I got interviewed by three men here, and it was intimidating. Or put it out there on posting that women are encouraged to apply.  Make it more inviting to women, because sometimes the way they word it in the job posting sounds intimidating. And it’s so competitive now, so a lot of women just stick to desk jobs or nurses.

It’d be nice to see a woman be an FRA.  They come and inspect everything, and its always always a man.

I’m tired of seeing a lot of women always beside a man, it’d be nice to see a woman on top. Always behind, or beneath.

Women can build means everything — that a woman can build everything a man can build — AND BETTER.  Women have more of a long-term view, some men think about just right now.

Lilla and I think that if women built it, our train will last 10 years longer! And it’ll look better!  Flowers painted on the side!

I was born in Manila, Phillipines but came here when I was 3 years old.   I go back every year  to visit — but I don’t speak Tagalog, I’m all-American.  Hopefully next year I’ll be going for a month with my dad – that’s why I’m working so much overtime.  I work 60 hours/week.  I have a lot of god-kids.  My sister is in Texas and my other sister in Northridge.

I’m glad we have  our union (SMART, Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union Local 170) here.  When we got our first contract, we got a raise right away.  Before we had a union, Management called the shots. They would change the rules all the time, just like that, like suspension rules and vacation rules.  Now we have to get it on paper.  We know our contract. They [managers] actually hear us. Our union protects us in our jobs.  We need that security — in case we mess up, our union’s there. 

I always speak up, whenever I see something going on that’s not right. I would want someone to do the same for me.