“I’m very humbled and appreciative for the opportunity to be working in construction on a project right down the street from where I grew up,” Elfreida Smith, mother of three and recent grandmother, reflected.
Smith grew up and still lives in Bayview-Hunters Point which is also home to the Southeast Treatment Plant (SEP), San Francisco’s largest wastewater treatment plant. As major capital upgrades have gotten underway at the aging plant, Smith, along with many others, have become curious about the projects and increasingly interested in finding out how they can get involved.
After speaking with family and friends, Smith connected with Yolanda Jones, the President and CEO of Yolanda Construction Administration and Traffic Control (YCAT-C), an African American, woman-owned, small, Local Business Enterprise (LBE) in San Francisco. Jones, a long-time resident of the Bayview, was known to have an established and well-regarded history of advocating for more inclusion from contractors doing work in underserved neighborhoods, such as the Bayview, as well as mentoring young people in the community.
Smith immediately impressed Jones with her enthusiasm and prior experience, and a supportive bond was formed. Smith was able to work with Jones to register into the Laborers’ Union, Local 261 (Local 261), as a provisional journey laborer. YCAT-C, as a signatory contractor of Local 261, was then able to request Smith from the Union’s hiring hall to work on one of YCAT-C’s projects with the SFPUC. Smith’s experience with YCAT-C and the SFPUC led to further job opportunities with other contractors.
Smith maintained a close relationship with Jones, who continued to follow up and support her growth. Eventually Jones introduced her to SFPUC Labor Relations Specialist Brian Thomas, who works closely with contractors to identify upcoming opportunities on the SFPUC’s capital improvement projects in the area. After some research and calls to contractors, Thomas was able to arrange an introduction with Miguel Contreras, the project superintendent of locally based contractor, Azul Works, Inc. (Azul). Azul was working on the SEP’s multi-million-dollar Biosolids Digester Facility’s Project (BDFP), and was in need of a local, skilled craftsperson.
Smith proved to be a great fit for the company, and they hired her onto their construction crew for several months. According to Contreras, part of what set Smith apart was her positive and professional attitude, as well as her alertness and attention to project safety protocols. Both skills were vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also vitally important to working successfully on a large-scale, complex infrastructure project such as BDFP. Azul was responsible for some of the site preparation work and is one of many contractors that are working in collaboration to upgrade the SEP. What makes working at the SEP unique, and one of the reasons safety is so critical, is that the plant continues to treat 80% of the City’s wastewater, and must remain in full operation 24-hours a day while simultaneously supporting several revitalization and upgrade projects all taking place within very close proximity to one another.
Thomas values Smith’s work ethic and appreciates the significance of having local residents participating on projects happening in their community. Encouraged by her efforts and the positive feedback from the contractors, Thomas continued to coordinate with the union to refer Smith to another company working on BDFP, Bertco, Inc. With each successive placement, Smith continued increasing her knowledge and technical expertise in her trade.
Bertco President, Bert Garcia, is one of the many people who noticed Smith’s contributions. “Elfreida is very serious and committed to doing the job right the first time. She has a positive attitude and a unique ability to deal with people,” he said.
To thank her, Bertco awarded Smith with a Certificate of Recognition for her outstanding safety and awareness. Smith described how proud she was to receive the award and attributed it to the support she received along the way, recalling, “my life changed the day I met Yolanda Jones.”
“To help bring the community a better, more environmentally safer and resilient treatment plant is something I’d hoped for,” she explained. “And it feels amazing to help achieve that.”
She is grateful to be working in her neighborhood and on behalf of her community, just like her mentor Yolanda Jones, who sadly passed away earlier this year. “I want to give thanks to Yolanda and YCAT-C for giving me an opportunity to help me become a laborer in the construction industry. She’s my angel looking down from Heaven on me!” Smith concluded.