As a single mother of three working temp jobs with no benefits, Tamara Harris needed more than $9 an hour.
“I needed more money and wanted more out of life.”
So, she took a class to become a flagger for $13 an hour. That was in 1991.
“Flagging changed my life,” she says. “Once I got my card I became the ultimate flagger and joined the union hall.”
Though outside regardless of the weather, standing on concrete eight or more hours a day, Harris loves “the independence and fresh air, looking around.”
“I have time for myself to think about what [I] want out of life.”
During recent cold weather, she’s layered up with three pairs of pants, three shirts, a coat, multiple gloves and hand warmers. Flaggers cannot carry umbrellas.
Working a construction site on Second Avenue South near Yesler Way, she’s up at 5 a.m., starting off with a coffee, tae bo exercises, stationary biking for 20 minutes, stretching, then off to work at 7. On the job, it’s healthy snacks of yogurt and blueberries, cucumbers and green food.
The site is a busy confluence of pedestrians, bicyclists, construction workers and trucks.
People walking by sometimes say “easy money.” They think flaggers are just standing around. But, Harris says, “It’s mental and labor.” It requires constant alertness, “safety first.”
The flagger’s motto is be “clear, firm and courteous.”
With many living on the street near this construction site, she went to a dollar store and bought 50 pairs of sturdy gloves and hand warmers to give out.
Harris says, “I like what I do, I love it.”
In 2013 she formed her own company, Yes We Can Flaggers. She owns her own home. She teaches classes in flagging. “We’re in high demand.”
Harris says “life is stressful. I try my hardest not to stress. I choose to be happy.”