By Jeremy Kehoe
Chrisanthi Dafopoulos’ decision to start over and write a new chapter began 18 months and 3,000 miles ago, and since becoming an IBEW 11 member last year, that pivotal moment now feels like a million miles and a lifetime away.
Dafopoulos, now a First Year Inside Wireman, is on a path to becoming a Journeyman, and has her eyes firmly set on the future: becoming a Foreman — a level only a handful of women in the electrical industry currently occupy.
“My life has completely changed for the best,” Dafopoulos said. “I love what I do, I wake up happy to go to work every day. Every day is something different, and every day I’m learning so much. I wouldn’t change anything.”
To say that Dafopoulos has embraced her new union family would be an understatement. She is actively involved in Local 11’s EMPOWER (ETI Mentorship Program Offering Women Extra Resources), Solidarity, and Social Media committees’ monthly meetings, and she recently marched alongside her IBEW brothers and sisters in the LA Pride Parade.
“All of those sisters who are in those meetings are awesome women who’ve taken care of me and been there for me,” Dafopoulos said. “It definitely helps being involved and going to meetings because it helps to know who your family is. Local 11 is my family. They look out for me, check in on me, and if I ever need anything they’re always there for me.”
Even in the apprentice classes she is now taking, Dafopoulos says she feels like she is constantly unsealing new windows of opportunity.
“As a IBEW 11 member we get five years of free school, and they teach us and provide us with so much information so that we can continue our career and journey out,” Dafopoulos said. “I’m just fascinated with all of it. Next week’s class is going to be about conduit bending, and I just can’t wait.”
Challenges and Opportunities
Like many of her fellow Local 11 brothers and sisters who cannot afford to live where they work, Dafopoulos must commute long hours to the job site, and being a woman in a male-dominated industry has presented some definite challenges – ones she quickly rectified.
“It was a little hard at first working with some men who thought because I’m a woman I’d do whatever they say,” she said. “But I’m a strong, independent woman. I’ve been taking care of myself my whole life, so I let people know who I am really quick.”
Despite the long hours, the low pay in her current classification, and occasional male-centric on-the-job attitudes, Dafopoulos is convinced her life has changed forever for the better – a trajectory she traces directly back to her union membership.
“It’s a lot of hard work and you definitely need to have patience, but it’s worth it,” she said.
And, as open and honest as Dafopoulos is about her past mistakes that led her to make the move from her old life in Florida to her new one in California, she is equally enthusiastic and optimistic about the future with her new union family.
“If you really set your mind and set your goals, you can definitely do this,” Dafopoulos said. “I’ve been on my own since I was 13, in and out of prison. I definitely went down the wrong path, and the last time I got sent away really woke me up. Moving out to California, joining IBEW 11, and becoming an electrician has completely changed my life.”
An Added Bonus
Dafopoulos’ mother in Florida has been taking care of Chrisanthi’s three children. In December, her children will join her in California – another reward of her new union path.
“My mom stepped up and took care of (my three children), and she has given me this time to get everything situated and make sure I am ready and stable enough to take care of them,” she said. “My mom is really proud of me and the changes I have made in my life. I was never close with my mom, so to hear her say that is huge. I’m ready for my children to be out here with me. I can’t wait.”