By LINDA JARRETT
While the pandemic brought many businesses to a screeching halt, it created an opportunity for Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 journeywoman Rochelle Bonty – she started her own business – RMB Mechanical, a signatory Local 36 contractor.
Bonty, the first black woman in the Local 36 apprenticeship program, and her business were recognized by Missouri Women in Trades with an honorable mention in the 2022 Contractor of the Year award category.
“I wanted to open my own business for my family, for the industry because the number of MBE/WBE businesses are few and for others who look like me so they can be inspired to do the same,” Bonty told the Labor Tribune. “It’s hard, but others need to see it’s not impossible.”
Bonty was working at Ball Park Village for Clay Piping Systems, a minority mechanical company, when Covid hit in 2020. She was laid off and returned to her previous employer Jarrell Mechanical Contractors and began researching how to start her business.
With so much being focused on COVID and having clean air, she decided to do duct cleaning.
“For me, that was the simplest thing to start and I didn’t need as much money as opposed to taking on a major HVAC contract,” she said. “I started making calls to businesses and asking if they needed their air ducts cleaned.”
She contacted the St. Louis Development Corporation, and they offered her a grant for air duct cleaning.
“That was my first contract,” she said.
ACTIVE IN INDUSTRY
In addition to being honored with the MOWIT award, Bonty recently became the first black woman to serve on the board of Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) of St. Louis.
She is also an active member of the St. Louis chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), a mentor for the St. Louis Building Union Diversity (BUD) program and has served as a MOWIT board member.
“I went into the trades because I liked working with my hands, building something from nothing, and I enjoy seeing the process of renovation and preserving the history of the city I grew up in,” Bonty said.
SHARING HER STORY
She shares her love of the trades on a regular basis by lifting up women in programs and at job fairs and by pushing for more programs to bring high school students into construction. Another goal is to start a nonprofit to help women get into the construction industry, and supply them with the things needed to be successful in the trade.
“It can get expensive purchasing certain tools and safety gear, especially safety boots, in the beginning,” Bonty said. “I want to teach women and show the industry that we can do the work and that we are just as good as the guys.”
WOMEN CAN HAVE CAREERS IN THE TRADES
She is adamant about showing women that they can have a career in the trades.
“I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I did,” she said. “I hope to be an example for others so they can overcome their doubts and fears and do things uncommonly in the construction industry.”