BRT’s Rosie the Riveter

You may have spotted Amy Mollwitz outfitted in neon high-visibility clothing and hard hat as she lays the path for the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit Project (BRT). Her official title is Operating Engineer Apprentice but unofficially those who watch her daily work have nicknamed Amy “Rosie the Riveter of the BRT.”

In fact, Amy says women who’ve called the Bay Area home for years, see her and flex their bicep in homage to the “Rosie’s” depicted in those now iconic photos produced some 70 years ago. Some remark “Girl, how’d you get that job?” Amy responds with an energetic “You paved the way!” as they pass her construction area.

The BRT has been dubbed “light rail on wheels” and will run the 9.5 mile corridor from downtown Oakland to San Leandro BART along historic International Boulevard. And a young mom like Amy, helping build the BRT, conjures memories of how young mom’s helped to put the city of Richmond on the map during World War II. Young women initially relegated to waitress jobs became ship welders coining the name “Rosie’s”. Collectively, these Rosie’s constructed 747 ships during WWII – a feat not equaled anywhere else in the world since. Many see BRT as helping to positively reshape the International Boulevard corridor.

Amy knows that she stands on the shoulders of the Rosie’s of yesteryear. Since preschool, she has been interested in construction. Amy remembers making car tracks with her brother at four years old. By age 10, the budding engineer would build her first tree fort. Since then, she’s never looked back. Amy even calls herself a “tinker fairy” as she loves to figure out how to build things.

Amy first found out about the engineer apprentice programs through a good friend who was a surveyor on the Bay Bridge. She applied for the apprenticeship program and went to the operating engineer’s eight week training camp for new apprentices in Rancho Murieta, California.

This was a true test. As a single mom, she had to find care for her very young daughter and make it through an extremely challenging program without pay in order to begin work as an operating engineer apprentice. There were only six females in the program and they had their own dormitory. She loved learning something new every day and noted that sometimes the women exceeded the men at some of the skill sets.

Amy knows this type of work can take a lot of patience. She often tells her seven year old daughter Taylor to “try, try, try again”. Amy’s advice has not fallen on deaf ears. “My mommy can fix anything: your house, your car, even your toilet!” says Taylor.

Amy knows that this life advice is good for any age. She follows her own advice by being patient with herself during the long learning curve of apprenticeships.

Her suggestions to others on this same path are to “take a deep breath and try not to panic or be scared”. She also recommends talking to peers often in order to get their perspectives.

On a daily basis, she finds that “taking up as much seat time as you can” really helps her develop her skill set. This means she spends as much time as she can literally in the driver’s seat of the many different machines on site on the Bus Rapid Transit project. It takes time to learn how to operate each complicated machine safely and efficiently.

Being out in the community each day, sometimes Amy encounters those she describes as the “grumpies”. Her tactic for the grumpies? A big, warm smile and usually by the time they pass back by her construction area, they respond with a “keep up the good work”. Amy knows people usually can’t resist a smile and before long, they find themselves smiling back.

Amy’s employer first put her on the job in their equipment yard in the Fruitvale neighborhood. There she was able to operate a backhoe and began to manage and separate stockpile, broken concrete, asphalt, excavated dirt, and other materials.

She organized the dump trucks and put the materials in the right locations. She was in charge of keeping the site clean and dealing with multiple 10-wheeler trucks loading and hauling. Her job was to dispatch them and load them up with whatever material was needed.

Once she mastered that, the next step was to get her in the field to support the digging. She notes that good relationships with the operator are critical: “You have to watch for the gas lines or you can’t get anything built. You have to know when to back off from danger and work closely with the person in the rig since they can’t see what you can on the ground. Working with other operators is a brotherhood and sisterhood.” These successful teams have successfully navigated any disruptions in service along the corridor during both of the first two phases of BRT construction. The third phase will begin soon.

Amy’s goal is to learn as much as she can and be exposed to as many aspects of construction as possible. One day she’d like to be a project manager.

Amy’s apprentice program is about two and a half years. She has to complete 1,200 hours before moving on to stage 2. She will continue to return to the training camp for hands­ on and classroom training about two weeks a year.

She appreciates the opportunities working in construction has afforded her and wishes she’d known about this type of work ten years ago.

Amy knows her daughter will be well aware of the opportunities in construction from a young age. “I do this for my little first-grade daughter Taylor. She’s what keeps me going. My job shows her she can do whatever she wants,” says a proud Amy. “I often tell her to keep her head in the game. If you get knocked down, brush yourself off and keep going. I want her to be a strong little girl.”
Amy not only wants to show her daughter that girls can be a success in construction, this 2.0 Rosie the Riveter cannot wait for BRT’s completion, because then she and Taylor can ride the “light rail on wheels” and literally show her daughter that her mommy helped to build it.