SMART Local 219 (Rockford, Illinois) sheet metal worker Josh Reynolds is a first-year apprentice who learned about the union from his friend, fellow member Isaiah Myers. After completing his pre-apprenticeship and starting his career at Local 219, he says the trade has already “changed my life for the better.” Read his BE4ALL “How I became a SMART member” submission:

“My buddy Isaiah Myers told me about Local 219, and I’d been trying to get into the field for a while prior. I came from website development and design and jumped straight into the sheet metal field – I haven’t looked back since, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I was lucky enough to get a spot as a pre-apprentice; I proved – through hard work and dedication – that I could be taught well, and landed an apprenticeship as a first year (which I currently am). This journey changed my life for the better simply by introducing me to this trade!”

Local 473 (London, Ontario) member Patrick Gordon took a long, somewhat convoluted journey into the union sheet metal trade – one that brought him face-to-face with the exploitation and disregard that often afflicts nonunion workers, and demonstrated first-hand the union difference. That makes his current job as an organizer even better, he says: “I feel blessed that my job now is to go and talk to nonunion workers about how great it is to join SMART.” Read more from Gordon’s BE4ALL “How I became a SMART member” submission:

“After I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I wanted for a career. I went to an unemployment centre in my small town; they suggested a trade, and I chose sheet metal. I was sent to work for a nonunion company – after working there for three years and not being signed up for an apprenticeship (as required by law), I was let go from that job due to circumstances beyond my control. Little did I know: That was a blessing in disguise.

“I couldn’t find any jobs in the small community I lived in. A friend of mine was living in a larger neighbouring city and already working as an apprentice in the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters. He suggested I join the sheet metal workers union – I exclaimed that I didn’t even know such a thing existed! I was so excited to start a new career in a union, where I would be protected from unjust discharge among other great things.

“Unfortunately, I had another setback due to a contractor. However, this time a brother stuck up for me and had my back, and made sure the business manager knew that the contractor was in the wrong. That was a huge moment for me: to see someone pick me up when I was down and have a brother have my back. I definitely knew that this was the career for me; not only that, but that I belonged to an organization that would always look out for my best interests.

“This past spring, I received my 15-year pin as a member of SMART. I have served as an executive board member for nine and a half years, and I’ve been working as an organizer for five and a half years. I am so proud to be a SMART member, I am so grateful for the opportunities this organization has provided for me and my family, and I feel blessed that my job now is to go and talk to nonunion workers about how great it is to join SMART.”

Another entry from the Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) fall challenge: Bob Bomboy, a sheet metal worker member of SM Local 44 (Northeastern Pennsylvania) shares how he overcame career-change nerves and joined SMART!

“I was a mechanical/architectural draftsman with an associate’s degree in architectural engineering before becoming a sheet metal worker. As a draftsman, the pay scale wasn’t what I wanted, so I started to look for a part-time job on the Internet. I came across a union sketcher opportunity. So, I got in contact with the union organizer. I met up with him, and we discussed the career and all the perks to being a union worker. I told him it would take me a few days to think about it because I was nervous about leaving my career after seven years. But I discussed it with my family and decided to take the opportunity.

“I started my apprenticeship and also started sketching for a local contractor. I was strictly a sketcher for the first couple years of my apprenticeship, using 3D software and 2D software to sketch our projects. I also went to job sites to do 3D scans of point clouds and shoot layouts for hanger points to insert them into our models at the office. When things got slow in the office, I was sent out into the field to install duct work, GRDs and set equipment. I also would work in the shop, fabricating ductwork, to learn more about the craft.

“I finally finished my apprenticeship and became a journeyperson. All of the hard work and training has paid off. It was the best choice that I ever made for my family.”

As part of the Belonging and Excellence for ALL (BE4ALL) Committee’s fall challenge, Anthony LaBeau, an eight-year member out of Local 104 (Northern California) recently shared how his life changed when he joined SMART:

Northern California sheet metal worker Anthony LaBeau

“I was 24, working dead-end restaurant jobs for six years when I first heard about any trade unions. I went home and researched anything I could find about the trades. I narrowed it down to pipe fitters and sheet metal, and my decision was made after I attended a trade fair where I met the sheet metal workers and we made mini tool trays. I was instantly intrigued and had this feeling that I was born to do this. After I went through the application process, I was called into action as a service technician and immediately started work installing and servicing residential equipment in track and custom homes.

“It was a bit of a culture shock coming from a completely different industry, but my union family put me at ease. I had no construction skills, no college education, and not a dollar to my name when I started, but the promise of on-the-job training, raises every six months, benefits, and a great retirement was all I needed to continue on this path. Once I fully learned about everything this trade consists of, I decided to pursue further education and become a building trades sheet metal worker.

“I made a lot of quality friends on the jobs and in the classes I’ve attended in the last eight years and am scheduled to be a journeyperson next month. Since starting in 2015 I’ve been able to support a family of my own and live comfortably while doing it. If I had never attended that workshop or met another sheet metal union member, I may never be where I am today. Building America with the quality craftsmanship that we learn and providing for my wife and two kids brings me the most pride and give me the greatest sense of fulfillment.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro holds a metal replica of the U.S. Capitol building made by Local 100 sheet metal apprentices.

General Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Powell opened the day two SMART 2023 Leadership Conference sheet metal session, appropriately, by calling on union leaders: “Let’s get back to work.” He then brought Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) Administrator Aldo Zambetti on stage to present his report.

“I’m excited to share the resources we are working with and the resources we have for our members,” Zambetti said. “Our mantra is: How can we help?”

Zambetti detailed the ongoing work of the SMART Member Assistance Program (MAP). The SMART MAP team spends the year travelling across the country, helping provide local unions with the skills and resources needed to give SMART members mental health support. He also described the ongoing preparation SMOHIT is conducting to provide similar support for sisters and brothers in Canada. More than anything, he stressed, SMOHIT is constantly working to make sure all local unions are aware of the resources at hand. No local ever refuses the resources SMOHIT provides, Zambetti said – but they aren’t always aware those tools exist. He encouraged all local leaders to reach out to SMOHIT and make resources available to members, including the SMOHIT helpline, toolbox talks and other information.

“This is for you, this is for your family, this is for your members, this is for anyone you care to share it with,” Zambetti concluded.

SMOHIT Administrator Aldo Zambetti

GST Powell then called Mike Harris to report on the International Training Institute (ITI). Earlier in the year, Harris said, the ITI underwent a strategic planning process to further the ITI’s mission: supporting career development and apprenticeship, ensuring the unionized sheet metal industry is on the forefront of technology and more. He noted three core goals for the ITI moving forward: completing development, gaining Department of Labor approval, and supporting the successful rollout of a Competency-Based Apprenticeship Model; providing support, resources and engagement to help Joint Apprenticeship Training Centers (JATCs) continue delivering world-class training; and focusing on megaprojects (and the regions and local areas impacted by them). Harris also overviewed a variety of grants and curricula that are available for local unions – those interested should contact the ITI.

Harris then shifted focus to recruitment and retention: an all-important priority as SMART seeks to grow our union to meet this moment. That includes reviewing standards of entry for apprentices, working with local apprenticeship readiness and pre-apprenticeship programs and more.

“We need to remove barriers to entry,” Harris said. “It’s 2023 – this is our time. Make sure people are welcome, don’t keep people away.”

Part of the work of growing, he added, is ensuring that those we recruit stay in our union and our trade. The ITI has implemented Bias and Belonging and Train-the-Trainer programs, both of which are designed to ensure that JATCs are prioritizing welcoming and belonging for all apprentices.

“We are a resource – use us as such,” Harris said. “We all need to work together.”

ITI Administrator Mike Harris

An important facet of recruitment and retention is making sure that material barriers – like access to childcare – don’t hinder people from joining our trade. To that end, General President Coleman introduced Eric Cutler, chief marketing officer of TOOTris – an innovative childcare service that helps connect parents and providers in real time. Cutler described the importance of childcare for workforce development, retention and productivity: “When people have childcare access, you see an improvement in workers’ ability to stay on the job,” he explained, also pointing to the positive affects that childcare access has on workforce diversity.

TOOTris, Cutler said, can help provide SMART members – who often work outside of the office 9-5 workday – with options for childcare, as well as with various affordability and flexible payment options. Such childcare alternatives, he added, can help SMART recruit and retain members in every community.

Attendees were then joined by SMACNA President Anthony Kocurek, a longtime advocate for the unionized sheet metal industry who worked closely with SM Local 49 in Albuquerque, New Mexico to boost the industry and secure fire life safety legislation. Kocurek began by paying tribute to General President Emeritus Joseph Sellers, who Kocurek said “paved the way for a brighter, better future for our industry.”

Kocurek went on to note the progress that has been made in the relationship between SMART and SMACNA, as both organizations commit to the future of unionized sheet metal.

“As partners, we may not see eye-to-eye on everything,” he said. “But we see eye-to-eye on 90% of things, and that is more than enough to move our industry forward.”

The future is one of extraordinary opportunity and demand, Kocurek pointed out. Ever-changing environments, schedules and the growing presence of megaprojects across America present remarkable challenges. That makes it vital for SMART and SMACNA to work together, he said, to secure our future. That work has been done in the past, from introducing ventilation verification during the pandemic, to putting members to work on EV and chip plant megaprojects.

“We stand at a marked place in history,” Kocurek declared. “We need to open up our ranks, we need to be able to pull people into our industry and welcome them with open arms. … This is critical for us to grow our needed workforce.”

Gov. Shapiro speaks to SMART sheet metal union leaders.

Kocurek was followed by Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro – a leader who SMART members across Pennsylvania know as a friend and ally.

“I have been proud to stand with you every step of the way throughout my career in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he declared. “You are the ones who power the economy. … That is why, in Pennsylvania, we stand up for the union way of life.”

Shapiro described his record standing up for workers as attorney general, which included winning back pay for exploited workers and filing criminal charges against bad-faith employers – prosecuting the largest Davis-Bacon prevailing wage case in the history of the United States. He vowed to continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with workers, in Pennsylvania and across the country, especially in the face of anti-labor attacks in other states. Where some other governors might sneer at labor, Shapiro heaped praise on the union building trades workers who rebuilt a crucial stretch of collapsed highway in Philadelphia: “All the experts told us it would take months and months. We reopened I-95 because of the hands of organized labor in just 12 days.”

Infrastructure development, the governor said, will be crucial for working families and communities in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

“The men and women that you represent are vital not only today, but to the future of our commonwealth and our country,” he noted. “Right now, we have a real opportunity to move our country forward by investing and building up our infrastructure. ‘This is our time’ really epitomizes the unique and special moment we find ourselves in.”

Shapiro pointed out that the flow of federal funding from legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is making it possible for America to build again. But that can’t happen, he warned, if states and local areas are unable to meet workforce demands.

“If we fail to address our workforce needs right now, we’re going to fail to seize this unique moment right now,” he said. “That’s why yesterday, flanked by union leaders in Pittsburgh, I signed an executive order – the first of its kind in this country – to invest up to $400 million in infrastructure funding just for workforce training, to be able to create 10,000 new infrastructure jobs in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

The executive order, he said, will help fund training while prioritizing the use of union labor and jobs that are subject to project labor agreements and/or community benefit agreements. It will also assist workers with barriers to entry like childcare access, helping unions like SMART recruit and retain from every community.

“This is our time to take advantage of the opportunity to not only rebuild our infrastructure, but create real opportunity,” he declared. “When we put union workers on the job, we will not only get the job done – when those workers go onto the next project, they’ll be union members, and they’ll be ready to do the job the right way.”

Shapiro has taken various steps to prioritize workers since taking office, including an executive order to remove the four-year college degree variety from more than 60,000 state government jobs. All of this, he said, is part of his administration’s focus for the commonwealth: a focus on workers, on union labor, on training and skilled work, regardless of origin, education.

“We value you, we respect you, we appreciate you, and I want you to know we will always have your back,” Shapiro concluded.

SMACNA Executive Director of Labor Relations Jason Watson followed Shapiro by recognizing the work of General President Emeritus Joseph Sellers, who he called a “tremendous partner who truly cares about the future of our industry.”

Watson described the conference theme – “This Is Our Time” – as applicable not just to workforce opportunities and challenges, but to the labor-management relationship between SMART and SMACNA. The two organizations have been partnering on issues like lobbying for project labor agreements, megaproject staffing, ventilation verification issues, diversity and inclusion efforts, and more. Such initiatives are part of a holistic, industry-wide focus to ensure that the future of sheet metal is unionized.

“This is our time – it’s our time to prove that we can staff these jobs, that we have the skilled trades workers to complete these jobs without losing any market share on the back end,” Watson said.

Next came a presentation from Dushaw Hockett, a partner with SMART on the Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) initiative. His interactive session encouraged attendees to engage with one another and learn more about fellow union leaders. That, he noted, is a core part of the BE4ALL effort: Recognizing and reifying the ties that bind all of us together, both as union family and as human beings.

The BE4ALL committee has put those values into practice in various ways, Hockett continued: producing Toolbox Talks, developing a proactive rapid response protocol for incidents related to bias and belonging (to be released by the end of 2023), hosting Learning Journey sessions and more.

“This is not a DEI project, this is not a race project, this is not a gender project. Fundamentally, this is about creating workspaces that are welcome to every single worker and every single contractor that is a part of this industry,” Hockett declared. “At its very core, this work is about helping us to be better human beings to each other at a time when we need this the most. It’s about preparing our organization and our industry to take advantage of one of the most significant shifts in technology that we’ve seen in the past 100 years.” 

Finally, NEMI Administrator Lisa Davis presented her report, detailing the strategic plan for the fund and the resources available to local unions and training centers. As NEMI continues its mission to put members to work making buildings healthy, safe and energy efficient, Davis said, local union participation will be vital – particularly regarding legislative efforts across the country, as well as work with agencies on indoor air quality in schools.

“Please get ahold of us,” she urged attendees.

With that, General Secretary-Treasurer Powell concluded the sheet metal session, with leaders moving on to attend breakout sessions during the afternoon.

Following the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference day one joint session, Transportation Division and sheet metal union leaders went their separate ways for industry-specific sessions. General President Michael Coleman began the sheet metal session with remarks that detailed the material he touched on in his joint session speech, emphasizing how the International has streamlined its focus on supporting local unions; the importance of organizing and recruiting across all the diverse groups that make up our two nations; mobilizing members for the 2024 election; and more.

“We have spent decades working for this moment we face today,” he said. “This moment, right now, is our time – our time to take advantage of the opportunities that sit before us.”

Coleman described some of the programs implemented by the International to benefit local unions and mobilize members – including centralized communications, the SMART Army, peer-to-peer programs, the new member orientation kit and more. Coleman also listed the different initiatives put forth to help local unions staff megaprojects and maintain their core work. More than anything else, he stressed the need for growth, both by organizing new members into SMART and by recruiting in every community in which we work and live, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or creed.

“The future of both our nations is one of a diverse workforce and people – we can either choose to be a part of that future, or a relic of the past,” Coleman concluded. “This is our time to get back to our roots as a union and provide opportunity to all qualified individuals who choose to join us.”

SMART General President Michael Coleman and NABTU President Sean McGarvey

Coleman then introduced Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, who has been a fierce ally for SMART and all union building trades workers throughout his career. McGarvey started his speech by paying tribute to General President Emeritus Joseph Sellers, who he said has “been there for me as a friend, as a mentor, as a member of the board of presidents.” Sellers’ invaluable work for SMART and across the labor movement, particularly regarding pension security, will benefit workers for generations to come, McGarvey added.  

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with you, my friend,” he told Sellers.

McGarvey then noted that the conference theme, “This Is Our Time,” is spot on. “Not since the end of World War II have working people had an opportunity like this,” he explained.

McGarvey described the Biden administration’s unprecedented engagement with the labor movement, building trades unions and working people in general. On the one hand, he said, that refers to the administration’s solicitation of policy direction from organized labor. On the other, federal funding from legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act is creating extraordinary workforce opportunities – and demands. Now it’s on the building trades to meet this moment, McGarvey emphasized, including new work building North America’s climate resiliency and a green energy future.

NABTU President McGarvey

“Nobody’s more important in the fight against climate change than SMART and sheet metal workers,” he noted, pointing to SMART members’ work on energy efficiency, HVAC and beyond.

McGarvey reiterated Coleman’s emphasis on bringing underserved communities into the labor movement and lifting workers into the middle class. Investments in infrastructure, workforce development and domestic manufacturing make it imperative for unions like SMART to open wide the doors of our training centers and union halls. NABTU, McGarvey said, is working to help unions do just that by piloting childcare programs for building trades workers, fully developing a culture of inclusion on the jobsite, partnering with organizations like Helmets to Hardhats to bring in veterans, and more.

“That doesn’t happen without the support of SMART and other union affiliates,” he declared.

Maryland Congressman David Trone followed President McGarvey. Trone opened his remarks by noting several of his priorities as an elected representative: combatting the opioid epidemic, helping Americans with their mental health and working for criminal justice reform – all issues that are near and dear to SMART members’ hearts.

“We need more leadership to say: people come first, and when they do, businesses do fine,” he said. “America’s values are inextricably linked to the values of the labor movement.”

Congressman David Trone

Trone noted that federal legislation that he supported – including the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act – will help spur a new American industrial revolution. Importantly, he said, the implementation of that legislation and the rolling out of funding has only just begun. Over the next four, six, eight years, the projects and jobs created by federal investment will put SMART members to work and change the lives of countless people. That makes it even more crucial to fund registered apprenticeships, implement project labor agreements far and wide, and support unions like SMART.

“In order to lock in these wins, we have to ensure that workers’ voices are heard and their rights are protected,” Trone said. “I’m incredibly proud to be your partner in this continued fight. I’m going to always stand with labor.”

Later in the sheet metal session, Sheet Metal Workers’ National Pension Fund (NPF) Executive Director Lori Wood provided an overview of the NPF – certified healthy in the Green Zone since 2022. Finally, General President Coleman welcomed Clark Ellis of Continuum to the stage, where he elaborated on specific details and outlined the continued progress of the strategic plan, underscoring the opportunity SMART has to recapture and expand market share.

“The strategic plan is the backbone that can help ensure SMART does the right things to grow and maximize our potential,” he said.

Following a busy morning, both sheet metal and TD leaders fanned out to continue their work in various breakout sessions, including meetings on forming a committee; lessons learned from a bottom-up organizing campaign at Ketchikan Vigor Shipyard; future developments in Canada; updates from the Biden administration; and much more.

SMART sheet metal and Transportation Division members mobilized throughout the 2023 legislative session in Minnesota, emerging with massive victories that will provide work opportunities and increased on-the-job safety for years to come.

On May 24, Minn. Governor Tim Walz signed HF 2887, making two-person crews on freight trains the law of the land in the state. The massive transportation omnibus bill was passed by the state legislature on May 21 and, along with the minimum crew size provision, includes infrastructure dollars to bring passenger rail jobs to Minnesota.

“The Minnesota Legislative Board began working on minimum crew size in 2015,” said SMART-TD Minnesota State Legislative Director (SLD) Nick Katich. “At that time, Phil Qualy was director, and I was his assistant. We passed it in the house once and the senate once, but never together.”

Minimum crew size began as its own bill in the state senate, with a companion bill in the house. (The legislation was later moved into the omnibus bill due to time constraints.) The bill passed through all committees despite the railroads actively opposing it.

“It was difficult when the railroads were testifying to keep a straight face,” commented Katich. “Some of their claims were so false or misleading it would make you sick. Our job was to help the lawmakers see through the smokescreen, and we did just that.”

In addition to minimum crew size, the omnibus bill fully funded the Northern Lights Express, Amtrak’s passenger service between Duluth and Minneapolis, at $194.7 million. This allows access to matching funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and means more work opportunities for our members. The legislation also included two more state rail safety inspectors, additional funding for passenger rail corridor studies and railroad-provided first responder training.

“I would like to personally thank the SMART-TD Minnesota Legislative Board for their unwavering support and confidence, the local officers who volunteered to pitch in and the members and retirees for keeping track and sending encouragement,” Katich added. “I would also add that I would like to thank our friends in the Minnesota AFL-CIO. They had our backs and watched for the railroad lobbyists lurking around where they shouldn’t be.”

Minnesota sheet metal workers notched a job-creating victory the same day, when Walz signed into law the energy, environmental and natural resources omnibus bill passed by the house and senate. As part of the sprawling legislation, which also includes rebate programs for heat pumps, the law stipulates that the Minnesota Department of Commerce must establish and administer an air ventilation program to award grants to public school boards in Minnesota, with the grants covering work such as testing and balancing, HVAC and energy efficiency upgrades and much more. Importantly for SMART members, the bill specifically includes strong prevailing wage language that requires work covered by grants to “be performed by a skilled and trained workforce that is paid the prevailing wage rate … and of which at least 80 percent of the construction workers are either registered in or graduates of a registered apprenticeship program for the applicable occupation.”

Gov. Walz with SMART Local 10 members following his 2023 inauguration.

“We see this program as a win, win, win,” said Local 10 (Minnesota) Business Manager Matt Fairbanks. “Jobs, clean energy, cost savings and human health. This program is dedicated to the work our members do day in and day out, starting with the front-end assessment that will identify deficiencies and flow into future system upgrades.”

“Not only will this provide our members with future hours and food on their plates, but it will also shine a light on our members’ stewardship to the community,” he added. “I think providing healthy air to children, cost savings for adults and clean energy for the environment is a pretty big deal!”

Such legislative wins would never have been possible without the votes and advocacy of members across the state. In the 2022 midterm elections, pro-worker candidates took control — albeit with a slim majority — of the Minnesota House and Senate, with Walz winning reelection, and immediately passed a slew of laws that will benefit SMART members. That includes what most in the Minnesota building trades consider the most expansive prevailing wage enhancements in state history: from increased enforcement, to attaching the law to state funds, programs, energy projects and more.

The legislature also passed paid sick leave for all workers; the banning of anti-union captive audience meetings; new protections for meatpackers, construction workers and Amazon employees; a huge expansion of paid family and medical leave; the largest increase in state history to the Minnesota work compensation system’s permanent partial disability fund; a universal free school breakfast and lunch program for the kids of working families; and more.

“Politics is a slow-grinding machine, and we ask our members to participate in all kinds of different ways: from volunteering in phone banks, to door knocks, lit drops, parades and — most importantly — voting,” Fairbanks added. “Because of our members’ trust and dedication, we got to see the tree bear fruit, and that feels great! Not only did our state see a historic session for workers’ rights and investments, we get to witness firsthand that hard work does pay off. Thank you to all the Local 10 members that stood with us and helped get so many things done this year.”

An image of the TSMC chip plant project in Phoenix, Arizona
Construction on the TSMC chip plant in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo courtesy of TSMC.

SMART released the latest episode of the Talking SMART podcast on February 23, featuring a discussion with SMART Director of Organizing Darrell Roberts, Local 265 President/Business Manager and SMART 11th General Vice President John Daniel and SASMI Executive Director Ken Colombo about new travel benefits and incentives available to sheet metal members.

A wave of new megaprojects – or projects valued at over $1 billion – is creating unprecedented job opportunities for SMART sheet metal workers across the United States and Canada, as well as driving new changes and growth in the benefits available to SMART members.

To meet the ongoing demand for sheet metal workers, SMART and SASMI are coordinating to expand travel incentives and benefits available to SMART sheet metal workers who are willing to travel for work, and the International is developing resources to help local unions organize to secure more work for SMART members.

Throughout the conversation, Roberts underscored how the large volume of pending work presents huge growth and organizing opportunities for SMART, as well as challenges for locals in terms of staffing these large projects.

“We’re going to have areas where we have megaprojects where the local will be impacted severely,” he explained. “We could see membership growing double to triple what their current membership needs are currently.”

Colombo, meanwhile, detailed the new and increased financial incentives for SMART sheet metal workers willing to travel for work. The SASMI travel benefit has been increased to a maximum of $1,800, up from the previous travel incentive of a maximum of $1,125. In addition, non-SASMI members will now be eligible for traveler incentives, providing they are dispatched to a job that has SASMI in the collective bargaining agreement.

Daniel emphasized how megaprojects and new work stemming from infrastructure legislation are driving SMART to innovate to meet workforce needs across our two nations – both by expanding travel benefits and by working to bring members of all backgrounds into our union.

“Our absolute need to grow, paired with the megaprojects, the infrastructure spending, that’s going to create the opportunity for us to meet the numbers that we need moving forward,” Daniel noted. “And it’s also going to drive us to evolve as an organization.”

At the end of this episode, SMART General President Joseph Sellers joined a SMART Local 24 (northern Ohio) member for a wide-ranging conversation about megaprojects, traveler opportunities and how members can get involved with the union.

Return to Talking SMART index page.

Talking SMART is a member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network — working people’s voices, broadcasting worldwide 24 hours a day.

Megaprojects in the News

SMART members across the country enjoy higher wages, better healthcare and stellar pensions thanks to the strength of our collective bargaining. But we can only maintain our power when we control substantial portions of a given area’s market share — and local unions can only grow their market share if they have a significant (and expanding) membership. In other words, it is vital that we bring nonunion workers into SMART.

“Organizing members is extremely crucial for SMART,” Local 28 (New York City) Business Rep. Marvin Tavarez said during a recent appearance on SMART News. “The more members we organize, the more companies we organize, the more capacity we have to go after the market share that we’ve lost.”

Increasing our membership and signing more union contractors is the most effective way for unions like SMART to compete with the open shop — particularly when it comes to forcing bad-faith contractors to play by the rules. It’s also the lifeblood of the labor movement.

“The only way that unions thrive and move forward is when we organize members,” Tavarez added. “That’s the way we create more market share.”

Watch the full interview in episode two of SMART News

Along with overviewing the importance of organizing, Tavarez pushed back on some of the misconceptions union workers sometimes have about their unorganized peers. Some current SMART members think that newly organized workers will take their jobs away. In reality, adding more members to our union gives us a greater chance of securing more work, providing more job opportunities for everyone. When our membership stagnates, the open shop gains more sway — allowing them to flood local markets with cheap labor that exploits workers and lowers area standards. By organizing, we grow our power and win more jobs for SMART workers.

Additionally, Tavarez said, some SMART members who entered the union via apprenticeship programs think that members who organized in are “card-buyers” who don’t care about the union. In practice, though, the opposite is usually the case. SMART members who previously worked nonunion are grateful for the opportunities they’ve gained and ready to fight tooth and nail for their SMART brothers and sisters. One case study: Tavarez himself.

“We’re all workers at the end of the day, and the only way we’re going to build real worker power is by organizing the unorganized.”

“Before I got organized, I had eviction notices everywhere I looked,” Tavarez told SMART News. “I didn’t have any medical benefits, I had subpar wages … it seemed like every day was a cloudy day.” After joining SMART, everything changed: He gained stability, financial security, healthcare and a family-sustaining career. Now, he works on behalf of his union every day as a business rep.

Laws like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS and Science Act have spurred a surge in new megaprojects across the country, from a Ford battery plant in Kentucky to a Micron factory in upstate New York. Locals in those areas need to grow in order to secure that work for current and future members — and all members have a role to play in making that happen.

“We’re all workers at the end of the day, and the only way we’re going to build real worker power is by organizing the unorganized,” Tavarez pointed out. “And that’s how members can help: By influencing [new members], embracing them, teaching them right from wrong and showing them that the union is the only way to go in order for them to feed their family, elevate themselves and really change their lives.”

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.

Watch Zemke discuss his visit to the White House in episode two of SMART News.

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.