General President Nigro: The Power of Unity

November 15, 2013

General President Joseph Nigro

Last month, delegates from both the SMART transportation and sheet metal divisions stood together united as one on the floor of the AFL-CIO convention. SMART’s message to our brothers and sisters in the labor movement was simple. We demanded that organized labor, as a whole, hold national, state, and local elected leaders accountable for their actions— regardless of their party label and irrespective of any promises they may have made in the past.
The last six years have been difficult for working people. The Great Recession, caused through no fault of our own, was devastating to millions of working families. Making the pill even more bitter and hard to swallow was the fact that when working people asked for a hand up, we were ignored, and our hard-earned tax money was diverted to bail out the same Wall Street banks and CEOs who created the mess in the first place.
For those who work in the private sector, whether in construction or transit, the harm done was further exacerbated when we asked to be treated in the same manner as companies like Wal-Mart, who received a one-year waiver from the rules that will be set for administering the Affordable Care Act.
SMART, as well as the rest of the labor movement, supports the goal of better access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans. However, many union health care funds are multi-employer plans designed to pool the resources of union employers in order to reach the best possible deal on health care benefits for members. Rather than treat these plans in the same way the plans of larger employers like Wal-Mart are treated, our plans were instead pushed out of the exchanges and in effect will be undermined by the government subsidies available through the exchanges. Amazingly, the Affordable Care Act will be undercutting and destroying the health care plans of its staunchest supporters in order to cut the health care costs of America’s largest corporations. That is outrageous and another example of why it is important—regardless of who is in office—to remain vigilant and vote based on issues and not just by party identification or the empty promises a candidate will make.
Let me point to a specific action that illustrates the power of political unity in fighting for workers’ rights. Adren Crawford, the SMART Transportation Division’s Tennessee State Legislative Director, worked with the SMART Sheet Metal Division’s Locals 4, 5, 177, and 555 to fight attacks on workmen’s compensation and prevailing wage laws in that state. SMART’s transportation members now have stronger legislation to protect them when they are being transported from point to point while working, as well as support in securing prevailing wage rates for sheet metal construction workers. We see, in this joint effort, how the legislative experience and connections on the transportation side of our union combine with the sheet metal membership strength to show the benefits of the merger.
The same thing is happening in Illinois, where the SMART Transportation Division’s state legislative council met with Sheet Metal Local 73 to begin planning joint activities in that state. In California, local unions in Southern California have come together and even worked on joint organizing projects, such as at Bombardier Inc., a company that manufactures and services passenger rail equipment and serves as an integral piece of the rail transportation pipeline in North America. Earlier this summer, workers at Bombardier overwhelmingly chose to join SMART, and we anticipate future organizing efforts at other locations will prove just as successful.
When I hear about these joint efforts, it gives me a sense that the level of trust and cooperation has grown through the merger. To some extent, credit has to be given to the transparency of our operations. We have in place a system of checks and balances to ensure that, starting with the General Executive Council, SMART is financially viable. Leaders from both transportation and sheet metal serve on that council, and we share information to make sure our decisions represent the best interests of our members. In this way, we are accountable for our actions and answerable to the membership.
I want you to remember that this is YOUR union. My job is to work for you. I only ask that you become more involved in the “union side” of being a member. Our union is only as strong as we make it, and the stronger it becomes, the more it benefits you and your family. I encourage everyone to take part in their union meetings, campaigns, and events. We need you to join SMART’s Facebook page: you can find us at www.facebook. com/smartunion or by searching for “SMART Transportation” in the Facebook search bar. You can also join the SMART Action Team to stay abreast of action alerts and other news items via
SMART is working for you and building a stronger and brighter future for this organization and for our families.
Joseph J. Nigro
SMART General President