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Staff Connection—Loretta Murrell

A woman working on a jobsite in California.
Prior to working at Manson, Loretta worked for 13 years as a piledriver through the Pile Drivers Local 2375 Union. Here she is using a burke bar to pry up the crane bolt template for a crane rail on a construction project in 1993.

When Loretta Murrell drove over the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles, she caught a glimpse of her future career. Taking in the view of the Port of Los Angeles and seeing a small group of orange-vested workers on the dock, she thought to herself, “That must be where the money is.” By the time she’d reached the other end of the bridge, Loretta had already decided that it was time to change careers.

Loretta was born and raised in Glendora, California, in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County. Known as “the Pride of the Foothills,” Glendora’s hillside landscape and collection of off-road trails served as the ultimate playground for Loretta to explore. After her parents divorced, Loretta attended three different high schools—an experience that she says “made me tough and able to adapt to new changes.”

At 17, she left home for Portland, Oregon. Working a series of odd jobs, she found that there were few opportunities for women to advance in the workforce. “Being so young and looking for work was not as easy as it is now,” Loretta explains. “At the time, it was difficult for young women to find a professional sense of belonging.” After six months, she moved back to California and enrolled at Citrus Community College.

After completing one semester of school, Loretta enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Three women at a construction site.
Loretta, (right) catching up with the project team on a construction project in 1993.

After eight weeks of basic training and four weeks of advanced individual training, Loretta joined the Army’s Field Artillery Team as a field artillery surveyor. Her youthful vigor would prove beneficial as the role required long hours of mental and physical activity in the field.

Some of her responsibilities included providing firing position data, recording field data, and servicing military equipment. Although she enjoyed the army, she often faced harassment in her unit. “I was tough enough to fight off the advances,” Loretta explains. “I would later take my experiences and teach about sexual harassment prevention later down the line.”

During her military service, Loretta was subjected to the U.S. Military’s standard policy on sexual orientation. The policy banned gay personnel from serving in any of its five branches. As a gay service member, Loretta was issued a general discharge. “For several years, I contested the discharge to get it upgraded to an honorable discharge,” Loretta says. “I fought it, and thankfully I won.”

At the end of her enlistment, she moved back to Los Angeles.

Loretta found work as a messenger delivering legal documents to businesses. Looking for something more interesting to do, she tried her hand at manufacturing, before discovering the line of work lacked appeal. “The repetition of that type of work was a little dehumanizing for me,” Loretta says. “There was no chance for advancement, and the work was quite boring.” She continued working as a messenger—until setting eyes on the Port of Los Angeles during one of her delivery routes. From that moment, Loretta was determined to figure out a way to land a job at the Port.

A safety manager addressing a construction crew.
David Lubiszewski, Port Engineer (left) and Loretta Murrell, Senior EHS Manager (right), addressing Manson's Richmond personnel at Safety Week 2021.

Loretta connected with a friend who helped her apply for a deckhand position with the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific. When Loretta was hired on, she spent the next six months working miscellaneous jobs. “I worked on a water taxi service,” Loretta says. “I was also assigned to the Catalina Island cruises.”

Always eager for new opportunities, she applied as a pile driver through the Pile Drivers Local 2375 Union, located in the same building as the Inlandboatmen’s Union. After several weeks of interviews, Loretta was brought on as a 1st period apprentice in 1984.

Loretta spent six years working on the water and on bridge contracts throughout California. With a referral from the pile drivers, Loretta landed a teaching role with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. For three years, she trained apprentices and pre-apprentices, mostly women, entering construction. Feeling a sense of pride and achievement in helping women and underserved communities find trades, Loretta found immediate success in the program. “I had the opportunity to help people like me to get into a career that would change their lives for generations to come,” Loretta says.

After returning to the field, the pile drivers offered Loretta another opportunity to conduct safety trainings for its union members. Classroom instruction included Asbestos and Lead Abatement, Confined Space Safety and Hazardous Waste Worker training.

After 13 years of pile driving, apprenticeship training, and safety instruction, Loretta joined the pile driving crew in Manson’s Richmond yard in 1997. With years of field experience, Loretta was familiar with the dangers that pile drivers encounter every day. Looking to find a better way to improve site conditions for everyone in the field, she transitioned into an Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) role a few years later.

One of Manson’s pioneering safety officers, Loretta helped with the transformational shift of the company’s safety and ethics procedures. “In the 1980s and well into the late 90s, people [across the industry] were getting hurt left and right,” Loretta explains. “It was time to implement procedures that would protect our craft.” Knowing that it would take a team effort, Loretta worked with other Manson personnel to create a system that would take care of its people. “Since the first time I met her in 2002, Loretta has always been a champion of safety,” says Tim Kinsella, Manson Senior EHS Manager. “Our safety staff was small then, but we worked together as a team to bring safety changes to Manson and the entire industry.”

For over 20 years, Loretta, along with numerous others, helped usher in a new era of workplace safety for those in marine construction. A positive influence for personnel at both the Richmond yard and office, she has encouraged others to reach their highest levels in their respective roles.

After dedicating herself to helping others for most of her career, Loretta has announced her retirement for the end of 2021.

“She’s probably the closest thing I have as a mentor,” says Trina McNary, Manson Purchasing Agent. “I will continue to seek her advice even after her retirement.”

Reflecting on 37 years of successful pile driving and implementation of safety culture, Loretta sums up her retirement as the “capstone” of her career. She plans on streamlining careers for future tradespeople to get their foot in the door in the construction industry. “I’m content with my time at Manson,” Loretta says. “It’s been quite the journey, and I look forward to the next chapter of my life in helping women and underserved communities get into trades.”

Three people posing for a photo.
Pictured left to right: Loretta, (son) Ben, and (wife) Bridgette. Not pictured is Loretta's oldest son, Cooper , who is attending the University of Utah.

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