Two years of pro-worker progress create jobs; SMART members directly benefit from new work opportunities

On Nov. 15, 2021, after years of political pressure from SMART and fellow unions, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), now known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will invest more than $1 trillion in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The law promises to create good union jobs and put SMART members into action, improving indoor air quality in schools and commercial and residential buildings.

The International Training Institute (ITI), National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC) and Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) will all benefit from the passage of this legislation, as the law will bolster the need for training more SMART members.

The law promises to create good union jobs and put SMART members into action, improving indoor air quality in schools and commercial and residential buildings.

Specific parts of the legislation will directly impact the SMART workforce. Below are some of the highlights of the law and where growth is anticipated over the next five years:

Energy efficiency in public schools

Under the law, the Department of Energy (DOE) will have $500 million to run a competitive grant program for public schools to make energy efficiency improvements. This program aims to improve indoor air quality and make repairs or renovations that directly reduce energy costs on school grounds.

In addition, states have been allocated funds to enhance energy security, advance energy initiatives and maximize the benefits of energy efficiency. Through additional grant programs, states are encouraged to establish initiatives to conduct commercial or residential energy audits or upgrades and retrofits.

Efficient building envelopes, testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) and indoor air quality will be instrumental in retrofitting school buildings and new construction projects.

TAB technicians and supervisors needed

The Energy Auditor Grant Training Program will provide funding — up to $2 million per state — to train individuals to conduct audits or surveys on commercial and residential buildings. Training centers that do not already offer TAB should look to pair up with their state to apply for these grants or contact the ITI for assistance.

Opportunities to change local building codes

A total of $225 million has been designated for a competitive grant program within the Building Technologies Office to enable sustained, cost-effective implementation of updated building energy codes. This funding is designed to be distributed over five years, averaging $45 million per year.

These grants are available to states and tribal governments — either alone or in partnership with local building code agencies, codes and standards developers, relevant professional organizations, local and utility energy efficiency programs or consumer advocates. The overarching goal is to help understaffed and underfunded local governments upgrade their building codes to the most up-to-date energy efficiency standards.

New markets and emerging technologies

Building information modeling (BIM) will be more important than ever. Experts are predicting that connected construction technologies like BIM will drive the construction industry in the future. A larger integration of modularization and prefabrication in the design and build process is at the forefront.

The law will open new markets for SMART members and present new challenges in the training and deployment of those members. Over the next five years, we will all need to work together to press for funding for our registered apprenticeship programs.

We have a substantial opportunity to change and update building codes at the local, state and national levels. And we have a once-in-a-generation chance to put more members to work.

Safety is paramount

When the initial hiring begins, a labor shortage is anticipated. One of the main concerns with filling a large labor gap is doing so in a safe manner. SMOHIT and the ITI have created training and have the resources needed for work to be completed correctly and safely.

Moody’s Analytics, an economic research company, projects that the law’s peak labor force impact will occur in the fourth quarter of 2025, when there will be 872,000 more jobs as a result of the law. Of those jobs, about 461,000 are expected to be in construction; 227,000 in manufacturing; 75,000 in transportation and distribution; 35,000 in government; and 73,000 in other industries.

Apprenticeships will be more important than ever as the law is implemented. While we have the tools to train the next generation of sheet metal workers, we need the companion Build Back Better legislation to provide more funding for training. If you haven’t done so already, contact your senators and tell them to pass the Build Back Better Act.

It is time to get to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

Will Griffin (second from left) with his family and Vice President Kamala Harris

On Tuesday, April 12, SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and others rallied at the SMART SM Local 19 (Philadelphia, Pa.) union hall to publicize an important Department of Labor (DOL) initiative.

On April 8, the DOL Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on workplace heat hazards, launching a targeted effort to protect workers from the threat of heat-related illness which, as a result of climate change, has increased in 18 of the last 19 summers. Workers suffer more than 3,500 injuries and/or illnesses related to heat each year, with low-wage workers and workers of color disproportionately impacted. With the implementation of the NEP — which is effective starting April 8 and will remain in effect for three years unless canceled or extended — the DOL aims to protect workers in more than 70 industries, including those that employ SMART workers. Learn more at OSHA.gov/heat.

GP Sellers addresses the crowd at the Local 19 union hall in Philadelphia.

Facts on the NEP from OSHA:

The NEP is a nationwide enforcement mechanism for OSHA to proactively inspect workplaces for heat-related hazards in general industry, maritime, construction or agriculture operation alleging hazardous exposures to heat (outdoors and/or indoors).

  • This means that OSHA can now launch heat-related inspections on high-risk worksites before workers suffer preventable injuries, illnesses or fatalities.

The NEP encourages employers to protect workers from heat hazards by providing employee access to water, rest, shade, adequate training, and implementing acclimatization procedures for new or returning employees.

  • The NEP contains both enforcement and outreach/ compliance assistance components.

The NEP establishes heat priority days when the heat index is expected to be 80°F or higher. On heat priority days:

  • OSHA will initiate compliance assistance in the targeted high-risk industries.
  • OSHA will also continue to inspect any alleged heat-related fatality/catastrophe, complaint or referral regardless of whether the worksite falls within a targeted industry of this NEP.

OSHA will conduct pre-planned inspections in targeted high-risk industries on any day that the National Weather Service has announced a heat warning or advisory for the local area.

OSHA also recognizes that many businesses want to do the right thing by developing heat illness prevention plans to keep their employees safe.

  • On heat priority days, OSHA field staff will engage in proactive outreach and technical/compliance assistance to help keep workers safe on the job.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaking at SM Local 19.

In addition to the NEP, Vice President Harris, Secretary Walsh and President Shuler reaffirmed the Biden administration’s support for organized labor and working people across the country. Following an introduction by Local 19 third-year apprentice Will Griffin, in which he spoke about his journey in the trade and the benefits he’s experienced since joining SMART, Vice President Harris discussed planned improvements to schools and other local infrastructure using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding — improvements to be completed by members of organized labor, including SMART. “It will put thousands of union workers … and, yes, sheet metal workers, to work across the country,” Harris said.

“[The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law] will put thousands of union workers … and, yes, sheet metal workers, to work across the country,” Harris said.

“President Joe Biden and I are determined to lead the most pro-union administration in America’s history,” she added. “Because you see, we are clear and we know, each and every day in ways big and small, unions change lives. Unions negotiate better wages and safer working conditions for millions of workers around our country.

Today, the United States House of Representatives passed the CHIPS and Science Act, sending the bill – which includes $39 billion to build, expand and modernize semiconductor facilities in the U.S. – to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law. In response, SMART issued the following statement:

“We applaud both the United States House and the Senate for investing in the future of our country. The billions of dollars that the CHIPS and Science Act will direct to the semiconductor industry will expand our national capacity to develop chips and incentivize companies to increase production – and most importantly, it will require that manufacturing to be made in America. We also welcome the provisions in the bill that will put union members to work building new manufacturing plants, helping facilitate the growth of a skilled American workforce. The passage of this legislation will bring the expertise of union tradespeople into high demand; tens of thousands of SMART members across this country are ready to answer the call.”  

Americans of every background, color and gender believe in the sacred promise of equal justice under the law. For generations, Black women have been locked out of the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court. With the nomination and confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, we are taking a step towards making our justice system one that respects and reflects the very best of every kind of American.

Judge Jackson has served in prestigious judicial positions with distinction as a champion for everyday Americans, carefully applying the law for working people across race, place and origin. Her confirmation on the Supreme Court is especially meaningful in a time when a wealthy and powerful few have attempted to trample our rights or deny our freedoms. This is done deliberately by pitting working Americans against each other on the basis of our race, gender and ethnic identity. 

No matter our color, background or party, Americans believe that Justices on the Supreme Court have a duty to serve our country faithfully and uphold the sacred promise of equal justice under the law. Judge Jackson has shown her propensity to uphold these American values time and time again. Her diverse background as a graduate of a public high school and a former public defender gives her a unique perspective on the life of everyday Americans that few of the current justices have.  While we celebrate her confirmation, we know that more work needs to be done to open up similar opportunities for others.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) applaud the efforts of the Biden Administration as they continue to innovate and press forward to ensure safe and clean air. The air we breathe within our buildings and schools must be safe for the people who live, learn and work in them. This clean air endeavor is of the upmost necessity, and we believe the administration is working to place that importance front and center with their efforts.

SMART and SMACNA have a vested interest in the success of the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge. The training, skills, and certifications our members have in indoor air quality, ventilation and filtration is the cornerstone of our craft. The quality of training and work our members and contractors do are important to us, as is the people who breathe the air that we deliver.

SMART’s partnership with SMACNA has been providing skilled, trained, and certified workers to respond in a timely manner to meet industry demands for more than a century.

SMART, with more than 203,000 members, provides classroom, hands-on, on-the-job and rapid response training to its members through federal and state registered apprenticeships in more than 150 state of the art training centers located throughout the United States and Canada.

SMACNA, representing 3,500 signatory contracting firms with more than 100 chapters throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and Brazil, employ the SMART member apprentices (in an earn-while-you-learn program) who are mentored by trained, skilled and certified journeypersons.

SMART and SMACNA have witnessed the ups and downs of the HVAC industry in the past. Our membership and contractor base has always adapted to the challenges and grown with the needs of the industry. We feel confident in the ability of SMART, SMACNA and other Contractor Partners to meet and exceed the needs of the work ahead.

Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House launched its Clean Air in Buildings Challenge to improve indoor air quality in buildings. This is a component of the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.

The challenge is a call to action and a set of best practices to assist building owners with reducing risks from airborne viruses and other contaminants indoors. The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge highlights a range of recommendations and resources, with significant input from SMART, for improving ventilation and indoor air quality, especially with the risk of spread of COVID-19.

Key actions outlined in the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge include the creation of a clean indoor air action plan, Optimization of fresh air ventilation, the enhancement of air filtration and cleaning, and community engagement, communication and education around the importance of enhanced air ventilation.

In response, SMART issued the following statement.

“We appreciate the continued efforts of the Biden administration to address indoor air quality to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne viruses. Despite its importance, poor ventilation has been a widespread and persistent problem in buildings for decades. Proper ventilation is not only a key to our recovery, but it will also help cut building emissions, lower energy costs, ensure systems are meeting design intent and make buildings safe for occupants. HVAC systems are complicated, but SMART members and our training programs set the standard for the work that is required to ensure buildings are safe and healthy. Recent passage of the American Rescue Plan Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation will help buildings have the resources they need to improve indoor air quality. Employing a skilled, trained and certified workforce to complete this work, is the surest way to ensure federal dollars are used effectively and efficiently to protect public health.”

Today the Department of Labor announced a notice of proposed rulemaking updating the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts (DBRA) regulations. In response, SMART issued the following response.

“We welcome the Department of Labor taking steps to update and modernize the DBRA to reflect advancements in construction technology. This is the first time in 40 years the Department of Labor has performed a comprehensive review of these regulations, and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time. As the Biden administration administers the historic bipartisan infrastructure bill, modernization of the DBRA is necessary to help ensure fair wages and protect workers in the construction industry. We look forward to working with the administration to finalize the rule.”

Washington, D.C. — Today the White House announced its COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. It commits to providing schools and businesses guidance and tools to improve ventilation and air filtration, including a Clean Air in Buildings Checklist that all buildings can use to improve indoor ventilation and air filtration. It also commits to providing schools, businesses, employers and state, local and Tribal governments technical assistance to make ventilation improvements and upgrades using American Rescue Plan funds to help protect workers and building occupants.

SMART issued the following statement in response.

“We commend the Biden administration’s response to prevent, protect against and treat COVID-19 and its prioritization of ventilation and indoor air quality to help move America forward safely. Clean air is critical for our health and well-being, and proper ventilation is an important mitigation measure that can help prevent both COVID-19 and future public health threats. Proper ventilation is not only a key to our recovery, but it will also help cut building emissions, lower energy costs, ensure systems are meeting design intent and make buildings safe for all occupants.

For decades, SMART members and our training programs have set the standard for the work that will be required to improve indoor ventilation and air filtration for all buildings. SMART sheet metal workers are highly skilled, trained and certified to achieve safe indoor air quality and ensure HVAC systems operate properly to improve building energy efficiency and safety. Ensuring buildings hire professionals with proper training and credentials will support and create good union jobs and make sure buildings are safe. We stand ready to support the administration on this effort.”

Washington, D.C. — Following President Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1, 2022, SMART released the following statement:

“The first year of the Biden-Harris administration has produced historic results for working people across the United States. By governing with an economic vision focused on growing the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, President Biden has achieved much-needed victories for working families.

  • Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the economy has rebounded from a disastrous two years and has achieved its fastest job growth in American history – including the addition of 375,000 manufacturing jobs in just one year.
  • In the last year, companies announced nearly $200 billion in investments for semiconductor, electric vehicle battery, and critical mineral production and manufacturing in the United States.
  • Intel recently announced a new $20 billion factory outside of Columbus, Ohio that will create 7,000 construction jobs and another 3,000 permanent jobs.
  • President Biden is swiftly implementing the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure law (BIL), which will create jobs for SMART members improving indoor air quality in buildings, advance railroad safety and drive demand for the products and services provided by SMART sheet metal workers.

This extraordinary progress is occurring during a long-overdue shift from an outdated and unfair trickle-down approach to one that centers workers, families and small businesses. Now, we call on Congress to support the legislative priorities President Biden outlined during the State of the Union. These include:

  • Building upon the historic economic recovery of the last year by eliminating barriers to good-paying jobs for workers across America. President Biden specifically outlined his support for enacting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act; expanding skills-based hiring and increasing access to registered apprenticeships and training; creating a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program; and more. Such measures are vital for SMART members and all workers.
  • Strengthening our supply chain, transporting goods faster and cheaper and prioritizing products that are made in America. The last year has already seen exceptional growth in American manufacturing production and employment. President Biden plans to build on the victories already won with the implementation of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding; we call on Congress to supplement those efforts with legislation that encourages competition, innovation and the creation of good, union jobs.
  • Reducing everyday costs for working Americans. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan lowered the cost of health care, expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit and provided hard-earned tax relief for millions of middle-class families through an expanded Child Tax Credit. We echo President Biden’s call for legislation that further lowers everyday expenses for American workers and their families by ensuring that corporations and the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.
  • Promoting fair competition to lower prices, protect consumers and help small businesses. In his State of the Union address, President Biden announced the Biden-Harris Administration’s intent to lower prices for Americans and businesses by combatting unfair ocean shipping practices – launching a new Federal Maritime Commission and Department of Justice initiative to promote competition in the ocean freight transportation system, increasing federal oversight of global ocean shipping and more.

Finally, SMART commends the president for pledging to address the ongoing health emergencies facing the American people. By committing to improving the safety of nursing homes and protecting residents and health care workers from bad actors, the Biden-Harris Administration again demonstrates its dedication to safeguarding the lives of our loved ones. And with his stated whole-of-government strategy to take on America’s national mental health crisis – which has had tragic consequences in the building trades – President Biden once again demonstrated his loyalty to SMART members, their families and all American workers.”

Washington, D.C. — Today President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. In response, SMART issued the following statement.

“We commend President Biden’s historic nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her experience, credentials, dedication to public service and commitment to the rule of law illustrate that she will safeguard the rights and freedoms of working people. While serving as an appeals court judge, Judge Jackson issued a ruling ending a Trump administration policy that restricted collective bargaining rights of public-sector workers. The U.S. Supreme Court should reflect the diversity of the communities that it serves, and this nomination is an important step in helping achieve a fair judicial system. We urge the Senate to swiftly confirm her nomination.”