Monday, Sept. 4, marked Labor Day in the United States and our members were out making their presence known in celebration of the work we do while raising awareness about the work that still needs to be done in this country to raise the profile of the working class and organized labor.

California — Local 23 — Santa Cruz

Bus Department Alt. Vice President James Sandoval, left, and other members of his Local 23 in Santa Cruz, Calif., take part in a Labor Day event.


SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and Alt. National Legislative Director Jared Cassity were in Galesburg, Ill., and continued the tradition of a TD presence in the the nation’s longest-running Labor Day parade.


Our members participated in a Labor Day parade in Omaha, complete with the traditional appearance of the SMART-TD-branded mini-locomotive.


SMART-TD’s Nevada State Legislative Board had a presence at the Reno LaborFest.


Members from TD Locals 2, 1529 and 1816 walked in the Toledo annual Labor Day parade with Sheet Metal members from SMART Local 33.


SMART Transportation Division had a presence at the Labor Day parade in Roanoke, Va.

SM Local 104 (northern California) Business Representative Alicia Mijares – the first woman business representative in the local’s history – was born into the labor movement.

Alicia Mijares, first woman business representative at Local 104, on the picket line.

“Three of my grandparents were union members, both of my parents and my stepfather were union members, both of my brothers, my only sister and my wife are all union members,” she said. “I walked my first picket line in front of a Safeway with my mother, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers.”

Mijares was not, however, born into the sheet metal trade; she entered the industry almost by accident. As a high school graduate without a clear vision of her future, she worked at a pizza restaurant and in a precision sheet metal shop, where the best-paid employees made $12.50 and hour. (“It’s funny how that sounded like great money back then,” Mijares recalled.) One day, a customer picking up a pizza order asked Mijares if she liked her job; she replied that it was the second job she’d worked that day that she didn’t like. In response, the customer passed her his Local 104 business card.

“When I read ‘sheet metal,’ I thought it would be something similar to the precision shop where I had been working,” Mijares remembered. “I didn’t realize at the moment that it was construction, so I went down, took the test, passed it and began as a pre-apprentice.”

Mijares immediately took to life as a union sheet metal worker. She worked in both the shop and in the field, treasuring the contrasting stability and variety of each respective setting. But it’s not just the hands-on elements of the craft that she finds appealing; her favorite part, Mijares says, is the impact SMART sheet metal members have on their communities.

“Air is life, and we make people’s lives healthier and more comfortable by bringing in hot and cool air, and filtering it on the way.”

Mijares threw herself into Local 104 union activities from the start – growing up in a union household, she knew that the members are the union. She participated in precinct-walking and phone-banking efforts as an apprentice and as a journeyperson, helping support pro-worker candidates and policies, and she served her fellow members as a shop steward and on Local 104’s Executive Board. It was during her time as shop steward that she noticed a fomenting disconnect – the members weren’t necessarily aware of the work that their elected representatives and organizers were performing on their behalf. Now, as Local 104 business representative, Mijares wants to bridge that disconnect; to remind the membership why we call each other brother and sister.

“We always want to go after project labor agreements, we always want to bring in more work for the membership – that’s the top priority – but what I would like to do is improve member participation,” she said. “Members pay to be in the membership – [not engaging with the union] is like writing a check to a gym and never setting foot inside.”

Mijares is currently serving in her first term as business representative. One of the highlights, she said, is when she gets to dispatch members: “Being able to make that phone call and say, ‘hey, are you ready to go back to work?’ It’s always a happy conversation.”

She also values the opportunity to advocate for the trade – something she was already doing as a rank-and-file member.

“I participate in a lot of outreach, whether it’s career fairs or anything else, because a lot of young women are starting to approach our table and say, ‘what is this about?’ So I talk about how great the trade is; I’ve been able to buy a home in the state of California, I’ve been able to travel.”

Mijares makes sure not to sugarcoat the industry – sheet metal is hard work, from the drafting and math required to pass the apprenticeship test to the early starts and long hours on the job. But she always tells potential apprentices a motto that applies as much to union leadership as it does to sheet metal work: “Hard is what makes it great. If it was easy, anybody would do it.”

Thanks to the efforts of SMART Local 104 and other union members across Northern California, workers in cities like Vallejo stand to benefit from the better wages, local hire provisions and strong apprenticeship standards guaranteed by a project labor agreement. These victories, part of Local 104’s ongoing Campaign for Jobs, demonstrate the power unions have to effect real change for working families when rank-and-file members stand together.

A citywide project labor agreement (PLA) is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement between a city and a local building and construction trades council that governs the terms and conditions of public works projects, protecting taxpayer money by providing projects that are built on-budget and on-time with the use of local and skilled workers. In other words, PLAs help put union members to work, provide greater apprenticeship opportunities for the union members of the future, and keep local jobs in local communities.

“We often refer to PLAs as “Prevailing wages, Local hire and Apprenticeship,” Local 104 wrote in its recent members’ journal. “They promote apprentice opportunities and ensure that workers’ wages and benefits are protected.”

SMART Local 104 members rally at the Vallejo City Council for a PLA and to create union jobs in Northern California
Local 104 members pose for a picture at the Vallejo City Council meeting after rallying for a citywide project labor agreement and union jobs in Northern California.

On January 17th, 2023, the city of Vallejo, Calif. brought forward a workshop for residents and city officials to discuss PLAs and the possibility of a future citywide project labor agreement. Local 104 Vallejo residents showed up in force with their fellow workers, where they spoke to the benefits of PLAs on local communities, workers, families and economies. The end result: The Vallejo City Council voted to begin PLA negotiations with the Napa/Solano Counties Building Trades Council.

“PLAs will create more local apprenticeship opportunities in the city of Vallejo, and Vallejo is well-deserving of a PLA because we have a lot of union members who live here and raise their families here,” said Local 104 Business Representative Alicia Mijares. “Because of members turning out, we were able to sway the council and deliver this to a formal negotiation. Thank you to the members of Local 104 who came out and made a difference!”

The Vallejo victory is only the latest in an ongoing string of labor agreements for Local 104 members. In October 2022, more than 30 Local 104 members joined the Sacramento Building Trades to support a citywide Community Workforce and Training Agreement (CWTA) for the city of Elk Grove. The Sacramento Building Trades had previously tried to secure an agreement with the city without success – but when a CWTA on the Sky River Casino project in Elk Grove delivered a finished project earlier than projected and under budget, the city realized the effectiveness and efficiency of trained, skilled, union labor. As SMART members and union workers looked on, the Elk Grove City Council voted 4-1 in favor of a citywide CWTA.

One month earlier, Local 104 members gathered with San Joaquin Building Trades workers to pack the Lathrop City Council meeting and call for a CWTA on an upcoming city of Lathrop corporation yard. And once again, the solidarity of organized labor proved decisive: The Lathrop City Council voted unanimously to approve the CWTA, which will cover new construction of a maintenance facility, evidence storage facility and a new office building for the city, creating more union jobs in northern California.

“While Local 104 continues to fight for labor agreements across the map, we’d like to thank every member and ally that showed up in support of the efforts mentioned, as well as any and all Campaign for Jobs actions to secure hours of work for our members,” the local concluded.

With the partial federal government shutdown in its 35th day on Jan. 25, many small- to mid-sized transit agencies are reporting a financial pinch, reports.
Agencies in North Carolina, Missouri, Arizona and California all say that cuts in service are on the table if the shutdown persists.
And at least one transit provider, Cape Fear Public Transportation Agency in Wilmington, N.C., is considering a plan to not operate in February because of a lack of funds. Its executive director reports that Federal Transit Administration (FTA) reimbursements for the first four months of the fiscal year have not been processed with each reimbursement representing a quarter of its monthly operating budget.
But even if the shutdown ended soon, it would not guarantee that the payments would arrive to fund operations, executive director Albert Eby told
Read the full story at

two-person_crewGovernor Jerry Brown of California September 8, 2015, signed into law bipartisan legislation requiring that all freight trains and light engines are operated by a crew of at least two individuals.

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director, John Risch, praised the new law: “I am very pleased that California has joined Wisconsin, Arizona and West Virginia in adopting these sensible requirements. This is a matter of public safety, plain and simple. Freight railroad operations are complex and often entail the transport of highly hazardous materials, such as crude oil, chlorine gas and many other chemicals; two crew members are vital to ensuring that these trains are operated safely and our communities are secure.”

Risch also praised those responsible for crafting and passing the legislation: “Many thanks go to Senator Lois Wolk for her sponsorship and to J.P. Jones and Mike Anderson of the SMART Transportation Division California State Legislative Board for their work explaining the importance of this legislation to California lawmakers.”

The law is supported by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which reports that of all the industries subject to its oversight – energy, water, telecommunications and transportation – rail accidents result in the greatest number of fatalities each year. In advocating for the bill, CPUC Deputy Director of the Office of Rail Safety, Paul King, said, “Senator Wolk’s bill would ensure that freight trains continue to have the safety redundancy that a second person provides. Such redundancy is a fundamental safety principle that is evidenced in certain industries, such as using two pilots in an airplane cockpit, or requiring back-up cooling systems for nuclear reactors.”

Congressman Don Young of Alaska has introduced legislation at the federal level – H.R. 1763, the Safe Freight Act – which would similarly require that all freight trains are operated by a minimum of two individuals, a certified conductor and a certified engineer. On April 14, 2015,

H.R. 1763 was referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

oil-train-railCalifornia’s two major railroad companies have filed suit in federal court challenging a state law requiring railroads to come up with an oil spill prevention and response plan.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento, contends federal laws largely prohibit states from imposing safety rules on railroads such as the ones California began imposing July 1 of this year. The plaintiffs in the matter are the Union Pacific Railroad, the BNSF and the Association of American Railroads.

Read the complete story at The Sacramento Bee.

high_speed_rail_1WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans this week are trying to drive another spike, or two, into the heart of California’s high-speed rail program.

Daring a presidential veto, GOP lawmakers are deploying a Fiscal 2015 transportation funding bill to effectively block the federal Surface Transportation Board from issuing new permits for the California project.

Hammering home the point, House Republicans on Tuesday approved an amendment by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., that blocks any money from the $52 billion bill from going to California high-speed rail.

Read the complete story from Miami Herald

High-speed rail has been given an energy-boosting vitamin B-12 shot by the California legislature and Amtrak for separate projects on the West and East Coasts.

In California, the legislature agreed to spend $6 billion to build the first 130-mile leg of a 520-mile high-speed line – with an estimated cost of some $68 billion — that eventually will connect Sacramento with San Francisco and Los Angeles. Gov. Jerry Brown, who has staked his political reputation on high-speed rail for California, is expected to sign the spending bill into law.

In Washingotn, D.C., Amtrak announced a formal vision for 220-mph travel along the entire Northeast Corridor.

This first 130-mile leg of California high-speed rail, in California’s Central Valley, will connect Madera with Bakersfield. Previously, California voters authorized a $9.95 billion bond measure as a down-payment on the projected $68 billion route, with the U.S. Department of Transportation providing $3.2 billion in federal grants. The funds voted by the state legislature will come from bond sales and be mated with already approved $3.2 billion in federal grants to total $5.8 billion for the Central Valley leg of the project.

The New York Times reported in November 2011:

“[While] for many Californians, struggling through a bleak era that has led some people to wonder if the state’s golden days are behind it, this project goes to the heart of the state’s pioneering spirit, recalling grand public investments in universities, water systems, roads and parks that once defined California as the leading edge of the nation.

“[Gov. Brown] has enthusiastically embraced the plan, no matter that at 73, he seems unlikely to be around for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that is projected to be more than 20 years away. ‘California’s high-speed rail project will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, linking California’s population centers and avoiding the huge problems of massive airport and highway expansion,’ Mr. Brown said.”

President Obama has been the strongest proponent of high-speed rail advances in America, advocating a nationwide 17,000-mile network of high-speed and higher-speed trains that could provide 80 percent of the American population access to train travel by 2036.

Amtrak, meanwhile, unveiled its formal vision for 220-mile train travel – by 2040 – along the 438-mile Northeast Corridor linking Washington, D.C. with Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

The $151 billion improvement plan over the decades-long period of construction would require substantial federal and state financial support to assure – on “NextGen” named trains — 94 minute travel times between Washington, D.C., and New York and between New York and Boston. The Washington-New York trip current requires almost three-hours travel time and almost four hours between New York and Boston.

Some 40,000 new construction jobs annually, for 25 years, would result, says Amtrak.

Amtrak’s vision includes direct rail links to airports at Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., and White Plains, N.Y.

“The vision we will shape with the Northeastern states, Amtrak and all of our stakeholders will outlast the vagaries of politics, budgets and critics,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo.