The White House released a back-to-school fact sheet ahead of the new school year, highlighting SMART, SMACNA and NEMI’s collaboration with the White House on improving ventilation in schools. This fact sheet was circulated to school districts across the country and notes that SMART, SMACNA and NEMI are the experts that schools should use for indoor air quality, HVAC, ventilation and energy efficiency improvements and upgrades.
In conjunction, NEMI launched a new website that can facilitate connecting buildings that want to make ventilation and energy efficiency improvements to skilled, trained and certified workers and contractors — SMART and SMACNA members. Ideally this will be a useful resource for schools and other buildings as they try to take advantage of federal funding available for these efforts. If a building owner fills out a form on the NEMI website and requests assistance, they will receive a response within 48 hours to help them identify steps they can take to improve ventilation in their buildings.
SMART hopes these resources will help building owners and/or state and local elected officials access billions of dollars in federal funding approved by the Biden administration to improve ventilation and energy efficiency of buildings.
Rendering of the concept design of the all-new $5.6 billion Ford electric vehicle mega campus in Stanton, Tenn. Image courtesy of Ford Media Center.
In new podcast episode, SMART Local 4 business manager details enormous amount of sheet metal work coming to Tenn.
A new $5.6 billion Ford Motor Company electric vehicle plant in Stanton, Tenn. will be built entirely union, creating approximately 3,000 union positions during construction, including a possible peak of 800-900 sheet metal worker jobs.
“This thing is going to be huge,” said Local 4 Business Manager John Williams during a guest appearance on America’s Work Force Union Podcast in early July. “There’s going to be a job for just about anybody on this site.”
“This thing is going to be huge. There’s going to be a job for just about anybody on this site.”
– SMART Local 4 Business Manager John Williams
Williams’ conversation with host Ed Ferenc touched on a range of topics, from the history of SMART to applying for federal indoor air quality (IAQ) grants. The most notable topic by far, though, was the upcoming construction of the Ford EV plant.
“It’s going to be a game-changer for us,” he told Ferenc. “There’s no doubt it’s going to grow the union.”
Williams is a fourth-generation SMART member whose great grandfather joined the union in 1914, working as a sheet metal worker on the railroad in Norfolk, Va. Following in his footsteps – as well as those of his grandfather and father before him – Williams serves as both the business manager and financial secretary-treasurer of Local 4, which currently has approximately 350 members. That, Williams underscores, is why this plant – along with an upcoming battery plant in Kentucky – is such a big deal for area sheet metal workers.
The project was by no means guaranteed to move forward. Tennessee’s anti-worker, so-called “right-to-work” laws make it difficult for unions to secure such mega projects, and the state governor owns one of the largest mechanical contractors in Tennessee (a nonunion company).
“There was some fight at the state capitol,” Williams said. “[Ford] had a little bit of pushback, because our state isn’t too union friendly.” But Ford refused to compromise – and, as a result, Local 4 has the chance to employ its membership and embark on an enormous recruiting campaign. To meet the numbers needed for the project, the local hopes to dramatically increase its membership. Helping with that goal, Williams said, is the fact that Ford aims to have approximately 30% of the job site’s workforce be in training.
“We’ve been going into the schools, we’ve been hitting some of the jobsites and telling people, ‘Hey, you can get some free training here,’ ” he said, referring to SMART’s earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship program and state-of-the-art training center. With the enormous amount of work coming in, he added, “It’s just a good time to get into the construction trade.”
In addition to the Ford plant, which Williams expects to begin construction later in the year, Fenerc and Williams discussed Local 4’s efforts to take advantage of federal funds for state and local COVID-19 fiscal recovery – which would secure even more work for the membership. As part of the economic bounce-back from COVID-19, the Biden Administration has allocated funds for state and local governments, as well as other organizations, to apply for grants related to improving indoor air quality. That means local governments, schools, commercial buildings, residential complexes and more can apply for funding to upgrade ductwork and improve ventilation. This is especially important in places like nursing homes and schools, Williams said, estimating that approximately 75% of schools need retrofitting to ensure kids are breathing clean air.
“This is a big deal, because indoor air quality effects everybody. We want to make sure our children are safe. The same goes for wherever people congregate.”
– SMART Local 4 Business Manager John Williams
“This is a big deal, because indoor air quality effects everybody,” he added. “We want to make sure our children are safe. The same goes for wherever people congregate.”
Unfortunately, while the funding criteria makes clear that organizations should partner with highly skilled, expertly trained workers for IAQ improvements – i.e., SMART members – there are no prevailing wage requirements. Still, Williams said, Local 4 intends to partner with area organizations to help them apply for the grants and win the funding needed to make IAQ improvements. And while they can’t require those organizations to use union labor, they can make it abundantly clear that SMART members are the highest-qualified workers for the job.
“We definitely want our contractors in there doing the work, and we want [local organizations] to know we’re here to help them get that grant money,” he explained. “[Even without prevailing wages,] we’re still going to look out for the worker. We want to make sure that people are getting paid right, we want to make sure people get good benefits, that they get a living wage for their family.”
Local 49 Business Manager Isaiah Zemke (right) with President Biden.
SM Local 49 (Albuquerque, N.M.) Business Manager/Financial Secretary-Treasurer Isaiah Zemke took part in a “Communities in Action: Building a Better New Mexico” meeting at the White House on October 7, 2022. The discussion, part of the Biden administration’s “Building a Better America” series, included an overview with leaders from Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado, followed by state-specific sessions.
“They had leaders from each state join – from unions, nonprofits, tribal governments and elected politicians – for a group briefing, followed by individual state roundtables to share stories and discuss amplifying them across our communities and states,” Zemke said, noting that he conducted a survey of Local 49 members prior to the meeting in order to convey members’ thoughts to the administration. “I discussed indoor air quality and how we are partnering with school boards, the state of New Mexico and municipalities [to perform that work.]”
In the group meeting, Zemke and other attendees met with Julie Chavez Rodriguez, senior advisor to President Biden; Steve Rochetti, legislative coordinator; Al Zaidi, White House national climate advisor; Jewel Bronaugh, deputy secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture; Susan Rice, director of domestic policy; and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. Along with conveying members’ messages to the administration, Zemke participated in a discussion on how recent legislation will impact working families in the region.
“It sounds like the plan is to have all 50 states choose leaders to attend similar action plans,” Zemke added.
In the New Mexico roundtable, Zemke brought up the amount of work that Indoor Air Quality policies and legislation like the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will create for SM Local 49 members, including an Intel plant in Rio Rancho, N.M. He also pointed out the need for high schools to receive funding for CTE programs, ensuring that SMART and other building trades have the workforce pipeline that will be needed to complete the infrastructure work of the future.
Ultimately, the discussion once again proved SMART’s new level of access with the current administration – and the importance of taking advantage in order to strengthen our union.
SMART published the first episode of SMART News – a new video/web show focused on issues of importance to SMART members and working families across North America – on September 27, 2022, responding to feedback from SMART workers on the information from their union that they find relevant.
“SMART News will focus on issues that matter to you, your job and your family,” said Paul Pimentel of SMART Communications during the first episode. “This is your news, your union, delivering information that matters to you.”
SMART News is intended to fill an information void for SMART members and other workers in North America by specifically addressing events and developments that impact their lives and their communities – in other words, news that often goes uncovered. The first episode features an update from SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson on freight rail contract negotiations; information on new megaprojects and indoor air quality work for sheet metal workers; a discussion on progress made for SMART members with General President Joseph Sellers; an overview on the FRA’s proposed two-person crew regulation from TD Alt. National Legislative Director Jared Cassity; and much more.
Watch the full episode above, or find specific links to segments of the show below. To watch an extended interview with TD President Ferguson, text RRContract to 667336.
Today, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, officially codifying this groundbreaking piece of legislation into law. In response, SMART issued the following statement.
“By signing the Inflation Reduction Act, President Joe Biden has once again acted on his campaign promise to be a president for working Americans. Once implemented, the Inflation Reduction Act will help alleviate rising prices for working families by cutting the cost of healthcare, lowering utility bills and making massive investments in green energy and American manufacturing – all with strong labor standards that will help create good, union jobs. Unlike the past administration, this legislation will see absolutely no tax increases for small businesses and families that makes less than $400,000 a year – instead, corporations will finally be held accountable and pay their fair share. And most importantly for our members, SMART workers will be called upon to take on the green energy jobs that this bill creates. We commend President Biden for signing this bill, and we look forward to meeting its demands.”
Today, the Biden Administration released a fact sheet intended to help schools, educators, families and children safely prepare to return to school this fall. As part of its efforts to help local education administrators ensure schools are ready to reopen, the White House noted its collaboration with SMART, SMACNA and NEMI – as experts in indoor air quality, HVAC, ventilation and energy efficiency – and linked to SMART’s “Better Air in Buildings” web page. In response, SMART issued the following statement:
“We welcome the Biden Administration’s continued willingness to collaborate with organized labor, and we commend the White House’s Back to School 2022 fact sheet: intended to give every school the tools to prevent COVID-19 spread and stay safely open throughout the year. SMART appreciates the White House’s partnership as we work to keep teachers, students and families safe through the upcoming school year, and our members across the country are ready, willing and able to perform the work needed to keep schools open safely. Find more information from SMART and from NEMI.”
Today, the United States House of Representatives passed the Inflation Reduction Act, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law. In response, SMART issued the following statement.
“SMART applauds the work of the United States House and Senate for pushing this vital piece of legislation across the line for working families across our country. The Inflation Reduction Act will combat rising prices, cut the cost of healthcare for working Americans and invest billions of dollars into clean energy facilities and making homes and commercial buildings energy efficient. Importantly, the strong labor standards attached to the tax credits for production, energy efficiency and investment will help create good, union jobs – and SMART members are the workers with the skills and expertise to take on those jobs, from retrofitting schools to building green energy facilities. Our members are ready to meet the demands of this bill and will play a crucial role in solving the climate crisis.”
Today, President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, codifying legislation that will strengthen America’s ability to build, expand and modernize semiconductor facilities. In response, SMART released the following statement.
“We commend President Biden for taking swift action and signing the CHIPS and Science Act into law. Not only will the CHIPS and Science Act invest billions of dollars into the semiconductor industry – expanding our national capacity to develop chips and incentivizing companies to increase production – it will mandate that manufacturing to happen in America, and it will support good-paying, union construction jobs by requiring Davis-Bacon prevailing wage rates for facilities built with CHIPS funding. Companies are already responding to the passage of this legislation by making historic investments in American semiconductor manufacturing. SMART members are uniquely qualified to take on this work, and we look forward to taking on that responsibility.”
On April 4, 2022, members from across SMART gathered in Washington, D.C. to hear from SM Local 40 (Hartford, Conn.) Regional Manager John Nimmons about important indoor air quality (IAQ) legislation for sheet metal workers in Connecticut — based on an earlier legislative effort championed by SM Local 25 (Northern N.J.) Business Manager Joe Demark — that demonstrates how vital it is for SMART members to advocate in their local governments.
As of late spring 2022, multiple Connecticut State Senate bills, the most prominent being the Act Improving Indoor Air Quality in Public Schools (SB 423), are making their way through the legislative process with the backing of a labor coalition comprising SMART, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the United Auto Workers (UAW) and more. Despite a deeply divided political climate, SB 423 garnered overwhelming bipartisan support, with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont allocating $90 million in his proposed budget to IAQ. Importantly, Nimmons noted, “We got the language in [the bills] that we wanted, that will bring the work to us.”
“When we are involved in the legislative process from the start, we can ensure that the most qualified technicians — SMART members — are the people making sure our schools and buildings are up to par in terms of IAQ.”
The legislative journey started in February 2021, when Jeremy Zeedyk from NEMI met with Nimmons to talk about IAQ bills they hoped to pass. After forming a task force containing SMART, SMACNA, the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB), the UAW, various education and health commissioners, the state department of labor and more, Nimmons and several task force partners created a subcommittee, the Coalition for Healthy Air in Schools, which included contractors, teachers, school nurses and others. In weekly meetings, aided by labor lobbyists in Hartford and the state building trades, the worker-powered subcommittee hammered out the details of a bill that would meet the needs of all parties. “These are all the little coalitions that we had going along, and we used each one of them to pull [the bill together],” Nimmons said. “We didn’t get here overnight.”
In some ways, this legislation was years in the making: SMART members supported the candidacy of the retired teacher-turned-state senator who is now championing the bill. Additionally, it took working with a variety of parties — from the state commissioner of labor to the local vocational teachers union — to make sure every detail of the bill met high labor standards: using Connecticut OSHA requirements, providing adequate IAQ reporting procedures and whistleblower protections, and expanding the standards of existing schools to also apply to new construction.
The impact the bills will have on SMART members is tremendous: They will be the workers called upon to retrofit and construct facilities to meet improved IAQ standards. “This will dramatically change the work hours for my local,” Nimmons explained.
The Connecticut IAQ bills are closely modeled on legislation currently in the pipeline in New Jersey — which, similarly to Connecticut, could never have found forward progress without the efforts of SMART, particularly Local 25 Business Manager Joe Demark and NEMI Director of Training Chris Ruch. Currently, Demark is working to push the bill through the New Jersey Assembly, following prior collaboration with former N.J. Senate President Steve Sweeney. And while the bill has yet to become law, Demark, Ruch and John Hamilton, chief operating officer of TABB, are striving to make sure the legislation includes strong language that will benefit SMART members. As Demark noted, lawmakers — even those with a blue-collar background — don’t always have the knowledge or experience to guarantee that HVAC and IAQ work goes to technicians with the right levels of expertise. It’s crucial that SMART sheet metal workers make their presence felt throughout the legislative process for the benefit of local unions – and the local communities whose lives will be impacted.
“Government officials and communities across North America are beginning to realize how important indoor air quality is for keeping our kids, families, friends and neighbors safe and healthy,” SMART General President Joseph Sellers explained. “When we are involved in the legislative process from the start, we can ensure that the most qualified technicians — SMART members — are the people making sure our schools and buildings are up to par in terms of IAQ.”
“This is going to mean a lot of work hours for our people,” Demark added.
SMART has been instrumental in working to pass IAQ legislation across the country. In Nevada, Assembly Bill 257 requires all public and charter schools in the state 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. “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,” SMART Local 88’s (Las Vegas) business manager at the time, Jeff Proffitt, said in June 2021, when the bill passed. In California, meanwhile, AB 841 — signed into law in 2020 — will direct more than $600 million in energy efficiency funding to test, adjust and repair HVAC systems in public schools. The best part for SMART members: The legislation requires the work be performed by a TABB-certified technician to receive funding.
Whether in New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Nevada or beyond, IAQ legislation is emerging as a potentially bipartisan issue with robust benefits for local communities — and stellar work opportunities for SMART members. To begin lobbying for IAQ bills in your state, contact your local union leadership or director of government affairs.
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.”