Local 19 retiree Keith Gilmer

Thanks to the strong support of his SMART pension, retired SM Local 19 (Southeastern Pa.) member Keith Gilmer has been able to spend plenty of time pursuing one of his passions: the outdoors.

“As a member, I was able to retire at the age of 55, and enjoy a few more years of good health than a lot of friends I know,” he explained. “I have been fortunate enough to make several hunting trips, and on my most recent one, I traveled to Newfoundland on a moose hunt.” Gilmer joined Mountaintop Outfitters — including the owner of the company, Art — for a successful trip: “I harvested a nice bull with a 40-and-a-half-inch spread … Previously I harvested, along with other bulls, a woodland caribou that is currently in the Boone and Crockett world record books.”

Because he was able to retire at 55 years old, Gilmer has the opportunity to devote a great number of years to exploring the natural world. It’s not something he takes for granted. “Thanks to groups like the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, along with our local unions, we get to enjoy parts of our ‘golden years’ outdoors,” he added. “Thank you for your past support, as well as the days and years to come.”

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.

Adriana Farren has always been into numbers. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources with a minor in finance and worked in the front office of the former Sheet Metal Workers Local 41 in Puerto Rico before moving to Pennsylvania in 2011.

This was where her life took a much different turn, and it all started with a job working in the office of Comprehensive Test and Balance in Dover, Pa.

After two years overseeing Farren working in the office — reading plans, going over forms and entering data — Todd Walter, owner of the company, approached her with a question: Would you be interested in becoming an apprentice?

“I said, ‘yes.’ Then, he said, ‘You’ll have great benefits,’ and I said, ‘yes’ twice,” Farren recalled with a laugh. “By looking at the reports, I thought it would be a career I would be interested in.”

The first lesson: integrity and honesty are important in testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB).

Walter saw Farren working on bids and learning the necessary drawings, documentation and paperwork, and he offered her the chance to have a career instead of a job. A second-generation sheet metal worker, Walter also took the opportunity to guide Farren through the process and mentor her as others had mentored him.

The first lesson: integrity and honesty are important in testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB), he said.

“No matter what you do, they have to believe what you tell them. Adriana had good personal skills. She had the insight. She is very smart, and she was at the top of her class. She fit the bill,” Walter added. “It’s something my father said a long time ago — you can have a job, or you can put your head into it and make it a career.”

During the first two years of her apprenticeship at SMART Sheet Metal Local 19 (Central Pa.), Farren knew she wanted to do testing, adjusting and balancing. So, at night, she took air and water classes and was certified as a technician in 2015 while she was still an apprentice.

Since her graduation in 2017, Farren has continued to gain certifications. She said testing keeps the skills fresh in her mind. To date, she holds a welding certification in addition to duct leakage testing and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) testing.

“It’s a continuous learning process. I want to continue learning more about the balancing concept. I like to learn new things every day.”

– Local 19 member Adriana Farren

“It’s a continuous learning process. I want to continue learning more about the balancing concept. I like to learn new things every day. I would like to expand my knowledge in different areas related to TAB,” she said. “Having a certification shows people you’re certified in that concept and you know what you’re doing. In order to be a TAB tech, you don’t have to have the certification, but if you do, it proves you know what you’re doing.”

Knowledge, in Farren’s case, was definitely powerful. Although she took English classes on her native island of Puerto Rico, it was her second language. Being the only female balancer at Comprehensive Test and Balance — something Walter would like to see change — has its challenges, but all the challenges she’s faced have been nothing she can’t handle, she said.

“Back when I was in college, I thought I wanted to look after the employees and watch over them from a human resources point of view,” Farren said. “Looking back, 12 years later, that would have been very boring for me. I would have had to be in an office with the same four walls. No offense to the people who do it, but I like the fact I’m always somewhere different and learning something new.”

Walter took a chance asking Farren if she would be interested in a career. Now, as a full-time balancer at Comprehensive Test and Balance, she sees how her love of numbers led her to the career she now has. An interest in math, problem solving and finance isn’t relegated to an office and four walls. Those interests also can lead outside to various locations, continuous learning and a skill set that can last a lifetime.

“If you think you can do it, give it a try,” Farren said. “You don’t lose anything by trying, not just in this career, but anything. Trust your gut feeling. If you think you can do it, you probably can.”