Laborers Local 42 member wins MOWIT Tradeswoman of the Year

Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, IWR North America also recognized

PAULA BURKE, a 19-year member of Laborers Local 42, has been recognized as the 2023 Missouri Women in Trades Tradeswoman of the Year.

Missouri Correspondent

St. Louis – Paula Burke, a 19-year member of Laborers Local 42, has been honored with the 2023 Missouri Women in Trades (MOWIT) Tradeswoman of the Year Award.

Burke, of the Wood River Phillips 66 refinery plant, was recognized with the award at MOWIT’s 4th Annual Blue Collar/Black Tie Awards Gala Oct. 6, held at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 union hall in St. Louis. The event celebrates tradeswomen’s achievements and the great strides made by local contractors and unions to support women in the building trades.

“I was surprised to receive the award and very grateful,” Burke told the Labor Tribune. “Women aren’t recognized as much as they should be in the trades. For those women considering a career in the building trades, my advice is to work hard – because it’s a lot of hard work – but it pays the bills.”

Cathy Cook, a 29-year member of Carpenters Local 662, was honored with an honorable mention for Tradeswoman of the Year. The third generation carpenter is a welding facilitator/instructor at the Carpenters Apprenticeship Training Program in Belleville.

She was also honored as the Welding Instructor of the Year from the American Welding Society (AWS) and has earned her Certified Welding Inspector and Certified Welding Educator certifications from the AWS. She now serves on the committee that writes the bylaws of the AWS.

Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 won the organization’s 2023 Apprenticeship Program of the Year award. The local has a special committee to increase minority involvement, an active mentoring program, and it has increased female participation in its apprenticeship program by 2.9 percent over the last year.

The Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Joint Apprenticeship Training Center in St. Louis is a state-of-the art facility where members can follow nine different pathways or specialties in the trade. It is located at 2319 Chouteau Ave. in St. Louis. For more information on becoming an apprentice, visit

IWR North America, with headquarters in St. Louis, was honored as the Contractor of the Year. It’s one of the longest-standing specialty contractors that focuses on building enclosures. It designs and installs enclosure systems including glass and glazing, metal panels, screens, louvers and ornamental metals

The company, which has been in business since the 1940s, is signatory to Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 and Glaziers Local 513. It was nominated for its networking and mentoring efforts for women and for how it includes female employees in its recruitment efforts.

Sonja Gholston-Byrd, vice president of labor engagement at the United Way of St. Greater Louis, was recognized with the Gina Walsh Lifetime Achievement Award. Prior to joining the United Way, she served a vice president of CWA Local 6300. She is also the president of the St. Louis chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and is active member of the local chapters of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Aurora Bihler, program coordinator for the Missouri Works Initiative’s Building Union Diversity (BUD) program in St. Louis, received an honorable mention for the Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also a nine-year member of Iron Workers Local 396, has served on the Local 396 examining board and is currently serving as conductor for the union.

Founded in 2008, MOWIT is a non-profit organization that provides tradeswomen with support group meetings, job information and referrals. It also maintains a work list as a resource to the construction community. For more information, call (636) 926-6948 or visit

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