Rep. Maloney Presents Efrosini “Efiy” Katanakis with NOW-NYC’s 2011 Susan B. Anthony Award
New York, NY – Last night, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens, Manhattan) presented Astoria, Queens resident Efrosini “Efiy” Katanakis with the National Organization for Women-NYC’s 2011 Susan B. Anthony Award, which honors grassroots activists dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls and advancing equality. Ms. Katanakis is the first female bridge painter to join the City Transportation Department’s all-male bridge painting division, and won a lawsuit opening the bridge painting division to qualified female candidates.
The text of Rep. Maloney’s speech introducing Ms. Katanakis follows.
I am very excited to introduce you to one extraordinary woman who in her job goes where very few women or men ever have the chance to go: to the very top of the swaying cables and high towers of New York City’s bridges.
Efrosini Katanakis, known to friends and colleagues as Efiy—is a single mother of two and a bridge painter with 20 years of experience.
Climbing 50-foot-plus towers, lugging pails of up to 65 pounds, and adeptly mixing and applying paint, she braves dizzying heights and merciless winds to maintain some of the city’s treasured landmarks and most famous bridges in the world.
She was one of only 30 women bridge painters who worked for private companies in the city, when she first tried to get a job with New York City Department of Transportation’s bridge-painting division more than 10 years ago.
However, the Department of Transportation had a record of not hiring women.
In fact, it never—in its history—hired a woman for its bridge painting division.
Women with 7 to 10 years direct experience in the field were turned away from jobs, while men who did not even meet the basic requirements for the position got hired.
Getting a bridge painting job with the city is a big deal, especially for a single mother like Efiy, because it affords steady hours, a year-round job, paid sick and vacation leave, and other benefits that bridge painters working for private companies cannot access.
While many people might simply walk away, it was not Efiy’s style to give up so easily.
So with the continued support of her union, Local 806, she joined with three other women in a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit against the Department of Transportation.
The case moved forward slowly and steadily for four years.
Add that time to her repeated attempts at getting hired since the year 2000, and you have over 10 years of struggle: simply for the right to work at a job that she was qualified for—one that her male counterparts could access with ease.
Efiy liked her work and she was good at it, and she didn’t think it was fair that her gender alone would shut her out.
Last year, a federal Judge agreed, calling the DOT’s bridge painting division a “de facto boys’ club” guilty of “unvarnished sex discrimination.”
Efiy had won.
On September 7th of last year, Efiy became the first woman in the history of the DOT to work as a bridge painter.
She has broken a new barrier for women and has put all employers on notice that you can’t stop women from doing a job, simply because they are women.
Today, she volunteers to train women and men who are just starting out in the industry, because she cares about making sure they are prepared for the tough demands of the job.
Part of her mentoring role is to prepare women for the unique conditions they’ll face: the bathroom situation at 50 or more feet up is precarious, there are major safety precautions to consider when dealing with toxic paints and materials and the traffic and wind are roaringly loud.
Still, Efiy is committed to her work – and her successful example will lead other women to follow her.
For her pioneering spirit and perseverance, I am proud to present the National Organization for Women-NYC’s 2011 Susan B. Anthony Award to Efrosini Katanakis.