Sara Geenen grew up having an example right before her eyes of the benefits of union membership.
Her dad, a long-time paper mill worker in the Fox Valley region, provided for the family in large part with the wages he obtained through union representation. So when Geenen was considering a career for herself, it was only natural to become an attorney specializing in labor law.
Now at The Previant Law Firm in Milwaukee, Geenen finds herself regularly providing advice to construction unions representing a variety of trades. She works on everything from collective-bargaining agreements to state legislation and local ordinances affecting the industry.
“Construction is the backbone of our country,” she said. “It got to be a pretty natural fit.”
Kent Miller, assistant business manager at the Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council, said Geenen’s long familiarity with unions is one of the main reasons she excels as an advocate of labor interests.
“She regularly attends union conferences and monthly local union meetings to provide updates to building and construction trade union staff and members on how they can best advocate for better wages, benefits and working conditions,” he said. “Sara has also assisted local unions in contract negotiations.”
Geenen also contributes to the industry through her work with empowHER, a group she helped form with the Milwaukee Building-Construction Trades Council to bring more women into the trades. Geenen said she’s particularly proud of the ways she has used union bargaining to improve conditions for women at work sites.
“One of the things we’ve talked about is the need to have restroom facilities for women at construction sites,” she said. “With more female executives in the industry, these things are being dealt with.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that Geenen sees no shortcomings.
“When women have children, it becomes trickier,” she said. “There are always maternity-leave issues, nursing and pumping breaks, and child care. But I don’t think any of these obstacles are insurmountable.”