The Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) Committee launched its second Toolbox Talk on March 16 – part of the committee’s ongoing work to strengthen SMART and the unionized sheet metal industry by making all members feel welcome, on and off the job. Toolbox Talk #2, titled “Effective Communication,” addresses the important steps that can be taken to avoid miscommunication and conflict on the jobsite.  

“In the heat of the moment, sometimes simple miscommunications can lead to angry fireworks, which can create an environment where ultimately, we may regret our behavior,” the Toolbox Talk reads. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be this way. Most of our time, whether at work, school, or home, is spent communicating in some way with others. Drawings, instructions, verbal and nonverbal feedback, body language – there are many ways we interact with others to share our ideas and ultimately, to attempt to arrive at the same place: safely, ahead of schedule and under budget.”

Like the first Toolbox Talk, which was titled “On Being a Good Crewmate,” “Effective Communication” incorporates into BE4ALL’s broader mission to create worksites where all members – regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, experience and more – feel that they belong. Not only is this goal part of the core solidarity at the heart of the labor movement; we can only recruit and retain the workers we need in order to grow if we welcome ALL members into our union.

“We work in a trade in which teamwork and trust are absolutely vital – and we can only foster that sense of trust when we communicate with one another,” remarked SMART General President Joseph Sellers. “We hope members can use this Toolbox Talk to build connections and avoid miscommunications in the future.”   

The Toolbox Talk, which has been distributed to local unions, contractors, training centers, members and more, is intended to be read aloud at jobsites, union meetings and other group settings. Members can access all existing Toolbox Talks in the “Resources” section on SMART’s website.

SMART sheet metal locals across the country mobilized for the first-ever Belonging and Excellence for ALL (BE4ALL) toy drive in December 2022, which served the dual purpose of distributing gifts to those in need and spreading the word about our union’s best-kept secret: the benefits of a career in the unionized sheet metal industry.

“One of the initiatives that we decided to get involved in this year was to start a toy drive, or at least partner with our locals and our contractor industry partners that are already involved in toy drives,” said SMART International Organizer and BE4ALL Committee member Josh Garner in an interview with SMART News. “We wanted to provide them with a gift tag that has a QR code on it that takes the recipient of these gifts to a landing page where they can learn about what it is to become a sheet metal worker, they can learn about our trade, they can learn about our industries.”

Watch Garner discuss the BE4ALL toy drive on SMART News

The BE4ALL Committee designed a template for the gift tag, which included the QR code linking to a website designed to appeal to prospective sheet metal workers of all ages. Locals then requested either printed tags or emailed templates to be printed on Avery labels and affixed to gifts. Additionally, locals and contractors were encouraged to collect union-made, construction-themed toys, maintaining a cohesive theme for the event.

Garner explained that, as union members, SMART sheet metal workers are already involved in the community, giving back via their essential labor and through year-round community service. The BE4ALL toy drive offered the opportunity to further those service efforts while providing more information to the general public on what sheet metal workers actually do.

“We have a lot of young parents who may be looking for that opportunity to provide a better life for their families, their children,” he told SMART News. “This gives us an opportunity to bring awareness to our industry, to our trade, and hopefully pay it forward and pass those opportunities on to other individuals as well.”

The principles of solidarity and lifting people up are core to SMART and the labor movement at large. The BE4ALL toy drive embodied those values and demonstrated the fact that all workers benefit when we act to support one another.

“When you’re able to be involved in an initiative like this toy drive and you’re able to give back – there’s not a better feeling, there really isn’t,” Garner added.

SMART Local 2 in Kansas City participated in a new recruitment event in summer 2022. Earlier in the year, Business Manager Greg Chastain approached the Local 2 Women’s Committee to discuss how the local could reach a more diverse group when recruiting. The Women’s Committee immediately thought of Pride month.

Every June, Kansas City hosts a LGBTQ+ Pride parade and celebration that draws thousands of people — ideal for reaching every gender, age group and demographic. Local 2 supported the Women’s Committee’s suggestion by reserving two booths at the event.

When Pride month arrived, the Women’s Committee set up monitors with slideshows showing various aspects of the sheet metal trade and highlighting beautiful projects that have been made a staple of the city skyline. The booth also showcased multiple duct fittings and school projects, and the Women’s Committee passed out recruitment materials to visitors, including pamphlets about apprenticeships and benefits. The number one attraction at the booth was the virtual welder: Visitors of all age groups and experience levels were able to show their welding abilities.

All told, the Women’s Committee and Local 2 volunteers handed out swag and union information to more than 2,500 people. Several teachers and school counselors visited the booth, where they voiced that they would like to share information about apprenticeship programs and trades with their students to complement information about the college path.

Since June, Local 2 has seen an uptick in applications stemming from this event, and many applicants have already passed their tests and are awaiting placement. In other words, the LGBTQ+ Pride booths were a massive success.

This is a critical moment in the movement for equality, equity and justice in both of our countries, and SMART has taken steps to lead the way. When we welcome and support members from communities that are currently underrepresented in our membership, our union only becomes stronger.

The Recruitment and Retention Council was formed to create an action plan for locals to recruit, retain and include diverse groups in our organization. The council also looks to champion workplace equality within our industries and to promote respect, inclusion and safe, non-hostile work environments at all levels within SMART.

The council aims to facilitate members coming together as one organization, have these necessary conversations and collectively work on these important issues. The first meeting, featuring attendees from dozens of locals across North America, looked to introduce members to each other, with SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. joining leaders from across the union in kicking off proceedings by addressing its immediate goals. The council is working to create an action plan for locals to recruit, retain and include diverse groups within the organization, while ensuring these new members feel welcome. In meeting this goal, the council aims to ensure workplace equality by promoting respect, inclusion and safe, nonhostile work environments at all levels within SMART.

Louise Medina, a SM Local 265 (DuPage County, Ill.) member who chairs the council, remarked that, “this meeting was only a first step in a long road ahead. I look forward to taking a look at how we recruit and how we will help shape the future for our union brothers and sisters.”