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Walk in My Shoes: Wendy Karkos - IAMAW Local S6 Bath Iron Works Sandblaster

In May, it will be a year that I’ve been with Bath Iron Works as a sandblaster. I came in as a general laborer. It’s an L4 position where you assist other trades. You learn plasma cutting and torch cutting and grinding. You assist other trades and you learn a little bit about what each trade does. It gives you the opportunity to try things out and see what you want to do.

It’s a difficult job without a doubt…I’ve always been somebody to challenge myself, that person where GIRLS don’t do that…well oh yea, I’ll show you that they do. That’s been my thing so when the position came up…it seemed like it would be a challenge, something to see if I’d like to do. Keep up with the boys I guess.

I love my job. I love the crew that I work with, they’re like family. It’s definitely a young person’s job. I won’t do it forever. It was a lot to learn. A lot of stress at the beginning.

There’s different levels of sandblasting I suppose but this is massive. We blast the entire units to get them ready for paint. So you know you get a three-inch hose, blasting out steel grit sometimes 120/150 pounds of pressure which is enough to blow you right over…which had happened. You learn to do what you must do. Sometimes you are up on a three- to four-foot aluminum horse when you’re getting ready to blast and it could blow you off. So you learn ways to make sure you’re not blown off. I had to learn this stuff the hard way.

It’s a lot of physical strength so I had to struggle in that area. These guys here automatically have that strength…I got the mental strength but not so strong, I had to work up to it. Probably the first month I was at home almost in tears…your body hurts in EVERY place it could.

But once you get it, it gets easier you know…you stop fighting the job, you learn to do stuff that works WITH you. Like I said you brace yourself or you’re even using the line itself up against something to blast because with all that pressure, it’s difficult to control. But it’s awesome. You work really hard and when you are done you are exhausted but you know you feel like you earned you day.

This is my first job being in a union. This has been a huge change to me all together, prior to this in aviation I was a contractor, so it’s completely different. As far as benefits I had to do all that on my own. So it’s nice to know that you have the union to back you up when and if I ever need them. The benefits are great, I love my job here.  

I like blasting, it’s been a good experience and you’re proud of yourself when you are done at the end of the night…EXHAUSTED but you feel like you did your job. AND you’re working …and in blast it’s different than any other department. You’re working next to guys who are sweating the same time as you are because it can get 115/120 degrees inside the full hood. They’re working as hard as you are, they are going to help you out whether you are a girl…they do the same thing for the other guys. They’re a family, they’ve got each other’s backs. 

What’s Your Story? 

In 150 words or less—accompanied by a picture of you at work…Help us walk in your shoes. We’re open to all union members, active, retired, laid off.

“We want rank and file members to help us to illustrate the rich, diverse tapestry of hard working men and women who make up the American labor movement. They are proud of their work and proud of the contributions they make to their communities,” explains Union Label Department President Richard Kline. “We want to demonstrate to American consumers and businesses that union labor gives added value in quality and reliability to products and services that are bought and sold.”

The pictures and stories we get will be published in the Label Letter and posted on the Department’s website—and perhaps in posters and other promotional materials. E-mail a Walk in Your Shoes to:; or send by regular mail to:

Walk In My Shoes,
c/o Union Label & Service Trades Dept. (AFL-CIO),
815 16th St. NW,

Washington, DC 20005 

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Union Label and Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO
815 16th Street, NW | Washington DC 20006
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