Statement from SMART on the passing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:
On this hard and difficult day, our thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of Richard Trumka. President of the AFL-CIO since 2009, Trumka brought with him his immense reserve of experience, grit and know-how from his time as secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and as president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
A third-generation coal miner from western Pennsylvania, he began working in the mines at age 19 and supported himself while studying for his law degree at Villanova University. In 1982, he became president of the UMWA, where he fought tirelessly for mine workers.
He dedicated his life’s work to creating a nation that would leave no worker behind and serve as a society that rewards hard work. Richard Trumka never forgot who he was working for, nor did he forget the working-class principals for which he was fighting.
SMART joins our brothers and sisters across the labor movement and working people across the United States — and around the world — in mourning his loss. His life’s work will continue, as we all continue the fight to ensure the hard work and sacrifices made by America’s working families are rewarded.
Trumka was a keynote speaker at the 2019 SMART General Convention. Click below to view a highlight from his address to more than 1200 convention delegates.
In this video, Arielle Womack of SMART SM Local 66 in Western Wash. shares the story of how her union sisters and brothers had her back after she experienced family tragedy.
“You can tell someone all day that you’re gonna be there for them. But when you show up is when it matters. ‘I Got Your Back’ is showing up when it counts.”
– Arielle Womack, SMART SM Local 66, Western Wash.
I Got Your Back: Be the Difference
We are committed to demonstrating through our behavior that all SMART members belong and have a right to a safe working environment free from harassment, hazing, bullying and discrimination. Read more >
The 2019 Convention was a momentous one in SMART’s history. For the first time, we looked at the way we treat our fellow brothers and sisters and the impact it has on our industries’ growth. We changed the language of our Constitution to make it more inclusive. Both our proclamations and adding language about conduct that is harassing, hazing, bullying or discriminating as chargeable offenses under Article 17 shows SMART’s desire to have a safe and welcoming environment for all members.
The “I GOT YOUR BACK” campaign gives every member the opportunity to show individual and collective commitment to protect our sisters and brothers and live up to the ideals of union solidarity. It is our commitment to demonstrate through our behavior that all SMART members belong and have a right to a safe working environment free from harassment, hazing, bullying and discrimination, so we can confidently say to our sisters and brothers, “I GOT YOUR BACK.”
The campaign also promotes a safe haven among all members of SMART. It is based on awareness of work environment discrimination, bullying, hazing and harassment. Do you have that special mentor who had your back? Now is the time to let them know how their support impacted you and recognize them for their solidarity. Wearing your “I GOT YOUR BACK” sticker symbolizes that YOU will have all other members’ backs. It lets a member who is need of an ally know he or she has a safe place to turn.
Let’s make and be the difference!!!!
Who has been an ally to you?
SMART Local 66
Unfortunately, my son died in November 2019. He was a month away from turning a year old. The first person I called, I left a message with my business agent and then my boss. But the next two people I called were Tammy Mehan and Vanessa Carman. I might’ve texted because I didn’t want to call, because I didn’t want to cry, because it’s harder to understand what I’m saying. So, I say this just happened. I really need help. And I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know where to start. I have to plan a memorial, and do all this stuff. And they were like, whatever you need, we’re here for you. And it was the weekend before Thanksgiving, and Vanessa sent a whole Thanksgiving dinner to my house, so that we wouldn’t have to cook. My business agents brought food and frozen stuff from Costco to help my family just so we wouldn’t have to worry about cooking.
My brother went to the union to ask for funds to help with the memorial cost. They gave me the max amount, and then an additional amount, I believe. I held the memorial at the JATC hall, because it’s really big, has a kitchen, and everybody knew where it was. So, if someone felt like maybe they didn’t know me that well, but they wanted to show their support, I wanted them to be able to go without feeling like it was only a family thing.
“You can tell someone all day that you’re going to be there for them, but when you show up is when it matters. And I GOT YOUR BACK is showing up when it counts.”
They have your back, and then they give you the shirt off theirs, and then they give you the last bite of food they have and give you a ride to the airport kind of stuff. These are the most warm and inviting and generous people I’ve been around since I was in the military. I haven’t found that kind of support anywhere else. People just don’t do that anymore. I never thought I would have to go through what I went through, and it’s never easy, but it could have been so much harder, if I hadn’t had those people, it would have been 100 percent harder. It was just so much support. I don’t even have words for it.
You can tell someone all day that you’re going to be there for them, but when you show up is when it matters. And I GOT YOUR BACK is showing up when it counts. And they do that every time, without fail. And they do it with 110% effort.
I just happened to be lucky that I joined right about the same time that Vanessa decided to start a Women’s Committee. And I don’t know where I’d be without it. Even before all of this stuff happened, I would text her and call, like I’m having a really hard time with this job site. And she’d tell me everything I needed to hear. “Keep going. You deserve this, you’ve earned it.” That’s what I mean, they say the right thing, they do the right thing, and they’re there when it counts. And that’s having your back. These are the people that you can count on, because they’re going to come through, because they always do.
Amtrak conductor, SMART-TD Local 1361
New Haven, CT
I am proud to be an Amtrak conductor, I’m proud to be a part of the union, I’m proud to be in this environment that’s predominantly male, doing the same job, doing my own thing, doing it well, respecting the people that I work with and opening doors. I love my job.
“The doors have been opened, but they’ve been cracked open. We had to kind of wedge our way in there. But we’re here.”
It’s very rare that there is a female engineer, a female conductor, a female assistant conductor. It doesn’t happen that often. The doors have been opened, but they’ve been cracked open. We had to kind of wedge our way in there. But we’re here.
You give back, but a lot of people have paved the way — men and women — for me to be where I am. Because it wasn’t a woman that came to me and asked me to run for local chairperson. It wasn’t a woman that suggested it. It was a man in a predominantly male environment who came to me and said “You can do it. I will help you do so.” So, I will forever be indebted to my brothers, as well as my sisters. And I want to lift up the men on this railroad a bit, because although we have challenges, there are a lot of men out here who have paved the way, that have protected us, that have stepped in when things were being said that should not have been said and said “Hold on, knock it off.” So, I want to recognize them, as well as my sisters. Because it takes all of us to make this work.
SMART Local 265 member
I could never thank Ed Marciniak enough for having my back. Ed was the first person I met from SMART 265 and it changed my life. Ed was the person who convinced me to go to my first union event. He told me about all of the union benefits, but that wasn’t the only thing that got me hooked. Ed has this attachment with the union that made me feel like I had found my second family. He has an open-door policy. When I need anything, he has my back.
School bus driver, SMART-TD Local 1908
I have been a bus driver for 26 years. It’s a very challenging job, but it’s also very rewarding. Parents depend on you, the schools depend on you and, of course, your boss depends on you. Because if you don’t show up, there’s no one to drive that bus. You have some of your kids for years, and you see them grow into different types of people. You get attached to the kids, especially if you’ve been doing it long enough. And they get to know you. You’ll see them as a little child, and you see them when they’re graduating high school and it’s great. And then you bump into them years later and they still remember you.
“Sometimes the managers try to belittle people and you’d be surprised at the women who will come up and say something, or the men will come up and say ‘Hey, look, it doesn’t go like that.’ ”
There have been many times when, inside the terminals, you have a heated argument going on with a manager or with one of the drivers and if you go in and say something, a lot of the other drivers will stick up and go in and help out. Sometimes the managers try to belittle people and you’d be surprised at the women who will come up and say something, or the men will come up and say “Hey, look, it doesn’t go like that.” You do get support from other members. A lot of them understand and a lot of them know what’s going on and they try to help you out and they do got your back. They’ll have your back and they’ll explain to people what’s going on.
I wouldn’t want to be anything else but be in the SMART union, or in any union, because you have no protection once that’s not around.
SMART Local 265 member
Being a former military member, the phrase “I got your back” is music to my ears. After serving four years in the Marine Corps, I didn’t think that I would be part of an organization that embraced that motto. To me, it isn’t just a motto. It’s a mindset and an attitude. When organizations bring that into the workforce, positive things will happen. I am proud that “I got your back” is something we are talking about and practicing on the job site.
When asked about who has been an ally to me, who has had my back, and who has been influential in my short time as a tinner, I didn’t have to think very hard. I was lucky enough to know this person before I even started my apprenticeship. This tinner’s name is Dave St. Peter. He has got to be one of the smartest and most hard-working members I’ve had the privilege of knowing. Having a prior union friendship helped me to be more comfortable opening up and asking him questions for mentoring. This eventually unfolded into him being the person I went to for most work advice, job site leadership advice, etc. As the old saying goes, “One of the keys to success is surrounding yourself with successful people.” That couldn’t be more true than Dave’s magnetic pull he seems to have on those he has encountered. Dave is, and has been, a full-time instructor at the hall for many years. I couldn’t think of a more fitting place for him to be. It is because of him, and others like him, that bring true meaning to the phrase “I got your back.”
Business Representative, SMART Local 24
There are a lot more women, I think, on the production side that work in the shops than there are on the building trades side. However, you still face the same issues. You still have the majority of men that you’re working with, you still have discrimination, sexual harassment issues, maternity leave issues, those sort of things. So, we’re kind of intertwining both sides, the production and the building trades side and tackling the issues together.
I’ve seen a lot more men who know that the workforce is short right now and that’s a way to fill the void, and they are stepping up for women. And I think I’m seeing more unity as far as a union, everybody joining together.
“I’ve seen a lot more men who know that the workforce is short right now and that’s a way to fill the void, and they are stepping up for women.”
Today, we have more women applying for work in our industry. They all had the mentality that it was a men’s trade, strictly a man’s trade. And now, with the SMART Women’s Committee and the women’s representatives, we are getting the word out there, and there are more women getting involved. They see an opportunity there. It’s a good career.
One of the production shops at Local 24 had one woman when I started three and a half years ago, and they have several now. I’ve been working with the JATC coordinators in Local 24. Of course, we couldn’t do anything all last year because of COVID, but we’re planning on setting up at local job fairs. It just seems like when you’re at a job fair, especially at some of these vocational and high schools, you’re going to have more young women come up to the table to speak if they see a woman standing at the table. So, we’re doing that and I’m going to attend job fairs that way with the JATC coordinators and try to get more women recruited.
I GOT YOUR BACK CAMPAIGN:
INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO TAKE PART
This campaign is based on raising awareness of work environment discrimination, bullying, hazing and harassment that occurs far too often at work.
Once you participate, you are letting other members know they have an ally to turn to in times of need.
Wearing or displaying your “I GOT YOUR BACK” sticker symbolizes that YOU will have ALL members’ backs.
We’re asking all members to step up, stand up for each other and continue mentoring to everyone’s benefit.
For example, apprentices who receive support are twice as likely to complete their apprenticeship and remain
employed than if they do not. New workers in the transportation industry need guidance as well. Remember, the
future of our industries relies on them and they are your sisters and brothers.
What You Can Do:
Members can give a sticker, that will be distributed through local unions, to someone in their trade who has stuck up for
them, or has had their back. They can also take a picture with that person.
Post the picture, along with a short description of how that person had their back, to social media with the hashtag
#SMARTIGOTYOURBACK or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
These stories will be showcased by SMART via video, social media, print and other outlets as they become available.
At our last convention in 2019, SMART took a hard look at how our fellow brothers and sisters are treated at the worksite and the impact that treatment has on all of us and the industries we work in.
We changed the language of our Constitution to make it more inclusive of all our sisters and brothers. For the first time, we added conduct that is harassing, hazing, bullying or discriminating as chargeable offenses under Article 17 of our Constitution, which shows our determination to ensure our union provides a safe and welcoming environment for each and every member.
We have been mentoring each other for generations, and many of us have had the good fortune to have a mentor help us along the way, whether it be a journeyperson you were assigned to during your apprenticeship, or a seasoned conductor who ensured that you started off at work safe and free from injury.
This month, we launch the “I Got Your Back” campaign, which asks each and every one of us to stand up and look out for our sisters and brothers under the banner of union solidarity. This solidarity strikes at the very core of our roots and was the reason our union and the labor movement came together in the first place. In our early years, we served as a safe haven for generations of workers seeking to be free from exploitation. This union is where our members preserved their sense of dignity, and today we will continue that tradition by reaffirming those values.
This campaign, detailed in the “Special Focus” section of this issue of the Members’ Journal, is based on an awareness that workplace discrimination and harassment happens, and it is up to each of us to prevent it from occurring in all its forms to our sisters and brothers – those whom we joined together with to promote a better life for ourselves and our families.
The idea of mentorship, and one member helping another, harkens back to the earliest days of the labor movement and to the apprenticeship programs that differentiate union trades from all others. This is nothing new. We have been mentoring each other for generations, and many of us have had the good fortune to have a mentor help us along the way, whether it be a journeyperson you were assigned to during your apprenticeship, or a seasoned conductor who ensured that you started off at work safe and free from injury.
Do you have a mentor who has stood up and had your back in the past? Someone who was there for you during tough times or when you were learning on the job? This is an opportunity to recognize them for their support and pay it forward. This is the time to live up to the example they set for us by doing the same for other members. Let’s make and be the difference that keeps our union standing up for the ideals and values we represent.
Now is the time to capitalize on growth in the union sector. For the first time in my lifetime, we have a true champion in the White House who is pushing for the labor movement. In only his first 100 days in office, President Biden mentioned unions in his speeches 62 times. This compares to President Obama talking about unions 89 times in his first full term.
In only his first 100 days in office, President Biden mentioned unions in his speeches 62 times. This compares to President Obama talking about unions 89 times in his first full term.
I make this comparison because now is the time to step up efforts to build and expand the union movement. We are seeing the rebirth of the middle class, which was built on union wages. This can’t be done with politics alone. We need to take advantage of the current public sentiment that is in favor of unions. Not since the 1930’s have unions had an approval rating this high. In 1936, the approval rating for unions was 72% and now we are at 68%. Today, we have prime-time television showcasing construction workers. America is fascinated with real people with real jobs and that is what we do. From freight and passenger rail workers, to bus drivers, to production shops, to construction — we build and run America.
So, how do we capitalize on this sentiment?
The current infrastructure bill would be a good start. This legislation would create thousands of jobs for union members. As stated in my last Journal article, these jobs are not just roads and bridges. The infrastructure bill would also fund retrofitting of public buildings, including schools and colleges. It would include modernizing our nation’s rail systems for both freight and passenger rail. We have already seen new funding for public schools to upgrade HVAC systems and modernize old and outdated buildings.
Now is the time to regain the rightful place that unions — and the priorities of working families — should and will have in our countries.
We need to take action now at the local level to make sure that we have the needed skilled crafts-people to fill these jobs. We have seen an increasing number of job bank calls across the country. These are the areas that we need to focus on to gain membership. We need to organize in these areas, not only so we can fill the call for workers on these large projects, but also for all the other contractors and ancillary work that will come with each large project.
We need to open up our apprenticeship programs to train more workers. We need to get out in the public and advertise who we are and what we do. We need to work with our schools to get high school kids interested in the trades. We need to work with our contractors to make sure they have the skilled workforce to go into new markets.
Now is the time to regain the rightful place that unions — and the priorities of working families — should and will have in our countries.
The future is bright, but only if we continue to work to make it so. I look forward to what we will forge together for our children and future generations of workers.
IIn recent months, some have asked, “Why am I working without a contract?” The simple answer is: “You are not working without a contract.” Under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), a contract never expires, it is only amended or changed. This means all working rules, conditions and pay rates must remain in place (status quo) until such time rail labor ratifies a new, or should I say, an amended agreement.
Sometimes this can be a long process under the Act — if you still have your copy of the January/February TD News (it’s also available as a PDF on our website), there were two pages devoted to explaining the ins-and-outs of the national negotiation process. It is not uncommon for the negotiations to take time, and it should come as no surprise that the carriers are not beating down our doors to ensure you get a well-deserved pay raise as soon as possible.
Some have also asked, why don’t we have a contract yet? COVID-19 has definitely played a role in delays as it made it impossible to put 100-plus people from both our 10-union Coordinated Bargaining Coalition (CBC) and the carriers in one room to negotiate in our traditional methods. Additionally, our coalition previously notified the membership of our respective organizations that thus far, no proposals from the carriers have warranted anything worthy of putting forward to the membership for ratification.
Thus far, no proposals from the carriers have warranted anything worthy of putting forward to the membership for ratification.
As of this date, nothing has changed. As COVID restrictions are now being lifted, your negotiating committee looks forward to being able to once again meet face to face at the bargaining table with the carriers where we hope it will be much more productive than video meetings.
Negotiations are complex and involve a number of consultants and working groups that are reviewing economic data, health and welfare issues, and in some instances impacts and/or costs to either side of the equation.
We must keep in mind that an agreement by its very nature requires both sides to actually agree. How often do you agree with what your railroad does?
Now put all the railroads in one room with most of labor sitting on the other side of the table — it becomes a laborious process, to say the least. But the RLA will serve its purpose, and the parties will eventually hash out a deal. In the meantime, everything in your agreements that are currently in effect must remain fully intact — your contract hasn’t expired. Please note the bold language below from your 2017 National Agreement:
This Agreement shall be construed as a separate agreement by and on behalf of each of said carriers and their employees represented by the organization signatory hereto, and shall remain in effect through December 31, 2019 and thereafter until changed or modified in accordance with the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, as amended.
The “term of this agreement” was defined to run from Jan. 1, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2019. The framers of the agreement were simply establishing the dates and time period for purposes of pay raises, and nothing is construed to leave anyone under the RLA and our agreements “without a contract.”
It is worth noting that negotiations for the 2017 agreement began with the filing of Section 6 notices in December 2014, and it then took 34 months before a tentative agreement was reached in October 2017 — that’s a period of nearly three years and there wasn’t a global pandemic to work through. The process does take time!
Another thing to note — only railroaders and airline employees fall under the Railway Labor Act. Airline pilots and flight attendants feel your frustrations when wanting to exercise a strike action against a carrier, the same as some of you probably do. We are a very specialized group and are governed under a very different set of rules than most other union workers.
The National Rail Contract negotiations are not the only thing on the agenda at this point in time, either. We have two other major national issues that are contract-related going at the same time, with the same railroads with whom we have to negotiate a national agreement.
One is the crew-consist moratorium dispute, which was arbitrated this month in Sacramento, Calif., on June 15th and 16th and was one of the largest groups I have ever seen in one arbitration session. Another major issue is our current health and welfare dispute, scheduled to be arbitrated Aug. 31 in Washington D.C. As I am sure you would agree, it is not easy to negotiate the direction of a new national agreement going forward into the future when we are having serious difficulties even agreeing with the carriers on what is in our previously agreed to contracts.
Your union is pushing ahead in these negotiations with all your best interests in mind, fighting to protect what you have and setting the stage to thrive in the future.
Some have asked why don’t I update them more frequently about the status of negotiations? First of all, we, the 10-union coalition, won’t negotiate via the media and will keep our game plans private within the union negotiating team. Football coaches do not go to the media talking about what plays they are going to run and what their strategies are before a game or as it is being played out. We cannot do that here either. I would also love to notify everybody anytime it looked like something positive was going to happen regarding a contract, but it would wear you out emotionally, especially if those positive possibilities never came to fruition. Furthermore, all the union presidents in this coalition have agreed that we will only update the membership collectively as one voice through joint updates so there is no confusion that we stand together in solidarity.
Your union is pushing ahead in these negotiations with all your best interests in mind, fighting to protect what you now have and setting the stage to thrive in the future. We are proving every day that solidarity is the only way to accomplish our goals in all issues, contractual or safety-related, on behalf of the membership.
We have accomplished a lot in a very short time, battled through a pandemic and an economic downturn, and are poised to set the stage for the future of the nation’s freight rail industry in these negotiations. The updates will come in due time.
Until the CBC releases our next joint report, remain assured that your negotiators and leaders will remain as stong and proud as each and every one of you who has stepped up to the plate to make our union that much stronger in the name of safety, solidarity or both.
Jeremy Ferguson President, Transportation Division
With 1,534 of the 58,320 names inscribed on its black anodized aluminum surface representing fallen heroes from Indiana, the new Vietnam Veterans’ Healing Wall at the Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum in Fort Wayne, Ind., has a special meaning for veterans in that state, while paying tribute to everyone who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
It is also a source of pride for SMACNA member Morris Sheet Metal Corp. and the Local 20 Fort Wayne SMART Army, which pooled resources to turn this long-awaited project into reality.
“It first came on our radar in December 2020, when it was announced that a replica of the wall would be erected in Fort Wayne,” said Darryl Esterline, business representative for SMART SM Local 20. “Given the importance of the project to so many families, we told the organizers that the SMART Army would volunteer our services to honor our fallen heroes.”
“Given the importance of the project to so many families, we told the organizers that the SMART Army would volunteer our services to honor our fallen heroes.”
– SMART SM Local Business Representative Darryl Esterline
The Healing Wall is a replica of the actual Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., and is 80% the size of the original. It stands 8 feet tall, is 360 feet long and is made up of 72 panels. The arrangement of the wall is such that the names of service members who lost their lives are in a ‘V’ configuration, with the 8-foot panels in the middle of the ‘V’ tapering down to the smallest on the ends, which are just 2 feet tall.
The wall toured the country for a decade, and public donations enabled the shrine in Indiana to purchase the panels last December, at which point they were put into storage while concrete footers, support structuring for the wall and surrounding grounds were prepared to receive the panels.
The remaining challenge was overcome thanks to Local 20’s essential contribution — a system that would fix the panels to the concrete firmly, but without undue visual clutter.
Morris Sheet Metal provided CAD drawings and sample mockups, followed by approval of the fasteners and shop fabrication. In addition to the fasteners not being visible, the panels were set slightly away from the concrete, allowing for seasonal expansion and contraction.
The Local 20 SMART Army came up with an innovative way to ensure the system worked.
“We created a prototype by building our own panels and test mounting them on a plywood wall,” Esterline said. “That way, we avoided any potential damage to the real panels, and on-site installation would be that much easier.”
“We were able to complete the project in advance of Veterans’ Day, and the unveiling ceremony took place on May 29,” Esterline added. “If there was a single image that made our efforts worthwhile, it was that of Fort Wayne Commander Greg Bedford of the Veterans’ National Memorial Shrine and Museum. He watched as we hung the first panel on site, and tears rolled down his cheeks.”
As lockdowns are lifted and pandemic restrictions are eased across Canada, we must continue to remain vigilant. With this in mind, Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) have joined together with the broader labour movement and businesses to launch “Faster Together,” a campaign to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated. The goal is to work together to promote COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and help accelerate the recovery from this pandemic.
The recent discoveries of human remains at or near Indigenous residential schools for children in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have shaken the country. These horrific discoveries call out for a full reckoning with Canada’s colonial history.
We are closer to the end than we are to the beginning. The faster we get vaccinated, the faster we can get back together. As vaccines are distributed across the country, we will be encouraging our members to get whatever vaccine may be available in their areas. We all want to resume the gatherings we took for granted prior to the pandemic. The resumption of some semblance of normalcy cannot come too soon.
We need to move forward in other ways as well. The recent discoveries of human remains at or near Indigenous residential schools for children in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have shaken the country. These horrific discoveries call out for a full reckoning with Canada’s colonial history. The residential schools and the crimes that were committed there are a stain on our collective conscience.
We must come to terms with our past in an honest and compassionate way, and we must seek justice for those who have suffered. We must call on our federal, provincial and territorial governments to prioritize their commitment to truth and reconciliation for Indigenous peoples and to complete a full investigation into all Indigenous residential schools in Canada. Committing to reconciliation means confronting the atrocities of the past so that they are never allowed to happen again.
The CBTU has taken its own first steps down the path to reconciliation. As part of the CBTU’s “Building Together” program, Virtual Indigenous Training has been developed to help increase awareness of Indigenous peoples and their culture. Since its launch, hundreds of union leaders across the country have taken the training. SMART’s leadership is committed to promoting this training, as well as honouring the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports. We remain steadfast in our commitment to building a better Canada with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
The truth about our nation’s history needs to be fully acknowledged and addressed. The time for action is now. We must move forward together!
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Indian Residential School Survivors Society for counselling support available at 1-800-721-0066, or the National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line available 24/7 at 1-866-925-4419.
SMART TD Local 1470 (Edmonston, Md.) Secretary-Treasurer and Maryland Air National Guard Lt. Col. Charles “Chuck” Wetzelberger is doing his part to get the public vaccinated against COVID-19. A 35-year member of the National Guard, Wetzelberger was on the reserves list when he heard about his unit possibly being part of vaccination efforts. With 33 years of seniority as a conductor at Amtrak, he took a military leave of absence from being a conductor to be part of the front-line vaccination effort.
Before shots got put into anyone’s arms, they needed a plan, and Wetzelberger was instrumental in that, too. His first task after being called to duty was to work with the Maryland Department of Health and get in contact with local health department administrators and secretaries so he could schedule mobile vaccination teams from his unit to go out to drive-up and brick-and-mortar vaccination sites to help get members of the public their shots.
When Maryland decided to start doing mass vaccination sites, Wetzelberger volunteered to be the on-site commander at the M&T Bank Stadium, where the Baltimore Ravens play, and got the site up and running within 18 days with the help of the University of Maryland Medical System. He brought 71 airmen with him to help operate the site.
““Health is so important. Don’t take a chance with it. I’d get the vaccine. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
– SMART TD Local 1470 Secretary-Treasurer and Maryland Air National Guard Lt. Col. Charles “Chuck” Wetzelberger
“It [the Ravens’ stadium] went from a barren, first-class, club-level football stadium, to a fully-operational clinic within 18 days,” said Wetzelberger. “And our highest output in one day was 6,152 vaccinations. We did that in one day at the end of April.” He urges everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. He’s seen the effects of this virus and knows that it isn’t going away anytime soon if people are unwilling to get vaccinated.
“Health is so important. Don’t take a chance with it. I’d get the vaccine. There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much just foddering and just wrong information is out there about these vaccines. One of the main takeaways is, you’ve gotta do research. Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook. You gotta do research to protect yourself.”
He added: “People are taking chances with their health right now, and they’re just believing anything someone puts online, and it’s a shame because these vaccines are highly effective, they protect you against this nasty virus. I’ve known many people who’ve gotten this thing, and it’s everything from losing their sense of taste and smell all the way up to dying. So there’s no reason to take a chance.”
If you are unvaccinated and interested in protecting yourself and others, visit www.vaccines.gov to find your nearest vaccination site.
On June 3, 2021, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law new comprehensive legislation aimed at assessing and improving air ventilation and filtration systems in schools across the state.
The legislation, Assembly Bill 257, requires all public and charter schools in Nevada to assess and upgrade (if needed) their HVAC and filtration systems once federal money already allocated for this purpose becomes available at the state level.
The new state law requires that assessments be performed only by “certified technicians” accredited by one or more of the following programs:
Nevada State-recognized Apprenticeship Programs
Associated Air Balance Council (AABC)
National Environment Balancing Bureau (NEBB)
Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB)
“With fire and life safety, and now with indoor air quality, members will have more opportunities to branch out into other aspects of being a sheet metal worker to increase hours and market share,” said SMART Local 88 Business Manager Jeff Proffitt.
The most-recent Nevada legislative session was like no other, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions. The state legislature meets for 120 days every two years. This session, no lobbyists were allowed in either legislative building throughout the first 90 days of the session, and all meetings, hearings and testimony were conducted virtually.
Ahead of implementation of the new legislation, Local 88 members had already been working to help improve indoor quality in schools in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and has the largest school district in the state.
“One of our signatory contractors has been installing global plasma ionization systems in the nursing stations of Clark County School District during 2021, and a select few new construction school projects,” Proffitt said.
If there is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has done, it has sharply highlighted decades of neglect of indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools. Despite its importance, poor ventilation in schools is a widespread, persistent problem. Students, parents, and teachers should enter a classroom knowing they are safe. General ventilation requirements for schools already exist, but those requirements have failed to ensure adequate ventilation due to the lack of explicit guidance on the procedures and steps to ensure compliance.
Numerous independent studies have found that the vast majority of classrooms fail to meet minimum ventilation rates.
Numerous independent studies have found that the vast majority of classrooms fail to meet minimum ventilation rates. This is not just a problem in older systems, but also in newer classrooms where ventilation levels are below the minimum required rates, including exceeding safe carbon dioxide levels. One of the nation’s larger school districts recently reported that 1 of 10 students and faculty have asthma. Researchers recommend periodic testing of HVAC systems and continuous real-time CO2 monitoring to detect and correct these problems.
The persistence of inadequate ventilation rates is of particular concern as states and provinces in the United States and Canada look to fully reopen schools and remove mask mandates this fall as vaccination rates increase in both nations.
Enter SMART and the industry-leading professionals at the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI), who have developed processes and systems to improve IAQ in schools, hospitals and buildings. The Ventilation Verification Program is a critical tool to make sure the air in schools, offices and other indoor spaces is safe to breathe.
The Ventilation Verification Program is a critical tool to make sure the air in schools, offices and other indoor spaces is safe to breathe.
The program outlines the steps that must be taken to make sure HVAC systems are operating properly. At the same time, SMART is pushing the federal government to adopt the program in its procurement policies, guidance and standards. SMART General President Joseph Sellers and SMART staff have met with agency heads and senior agency staff at the Department of Energy, Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, General Services Administration and the White House about this issue and have spread the word to anyone and everyone, from Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTOs) on up.
At the end of May 2021, a SMART member participated in the first roundtable held by the Department of Education for school employees about school reopening. This was an important opportunity for us to talk about our work on IAQ in schools and push the Department of Education to issue specific IAQ guidance that follows the steps outlined in the Ventilation Verification Program.
SMART is not stopping there. We’re building widespread support for this issue. We’ve been meeting with stakeholders to develop diverse and broad support and share our resources. Groups include the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, American Federation of School Administrators, National School Board Association, National PTA, the Actors’ Equity Association and Democratic Municipal Officials.
SMART SM Locals in New York City, St. Louis, Chicago and Minneapolis mobilized over the winter and spring to provide added capacity for COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts, with union facilities functioning as injection sites for members, veterans and, in some cases, the general public. These efforts were part of a coordinated effort by building trades unions to make their facilities available to President Biden’s COVID-19 Relief Task Force for U.S. vaccine distribution. In February 2021, the Governing Board of Presidents of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) voted unanimously to offer more than 5,000 union halls and training centers to the vaccine distribution effort.
“We are proud to work with our partners, such as Thrifty White Pharmacy and Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota, to offer a sponsored vaccination clinic for the community, our members and their families,” said Local 10 (Minn.) President and Business Manager Matt Fairbanks.
In St. Louis, SM Local 36 local partnered with the Veterans Administration to assist veterans with vaccine injections.
“Local 36 is proud to stand with our veterans to provide a safe, convenient location for them to receive their vaccine.”
– Local 36 Financial Secretary-Treasurer Jeremy Snyder
“Local 36 is proud to stand with our veterans to provide a safe, convenient location for them to receive their vaccine,” said Local 36 Financial Secretary-Treasurer Jeremy Snyder. He added that the union hall effectively functioned as a pop-up vaccine clinic, with sanitation crews coming in each night and doing a deep clean of the space.
SM Local 73 (Chicago) President and Business Manager Raymond Suggs, whose local partnered with Proviso Township and Jewel-Osco on the vaccination efforts, said the local was proud to offer “a safe, convenient location for members of our community to receive their vaccine.”
“Our members have been on the frontlines in battling this pandemic,” added SMART General President Joseph Sellers. “This includes producing and installing equipment critical to indoor air quality, delivering rail freight essential to keeping our economy moving and operating passenger rail and transit. We are pleased to see our efforts have been taken to the next level through the use of our union infrastructure to help with vaccine distribution.”
Because of their long history of hosting toy drives, blood drives and many other community service events, local unions have been uniquely positioned and prepared to immediately assist with broad vaccination distribution in every U.S. state. These are just a sample of many efforts across North America, as SMART has helped lead the way in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.