SMART Leadership Conference fireside chat with Sec. Buttigieg
DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, and SMART General President Michael Coleman.

The 2023 SMART Leadership Conference concluded Wednesday, Aug. 2. The joint session featured a wide variety of pro-labor speakers and allies from Congress, the Biden administration and beyond, demonstrating the strength of our union’s relationships as we work to seize this moment of opportunity.

SMART Army award winners honored for practicing union values

Each year, SMART awards the Joseph J. Nigro SMART Army award to local union members who dedicate themselves to building their local SMART Armies and serving their union – and their communities.

A SMART-TD member and two sheet metal members from Canada and California were the latest honorees to be recognized by General President Michael Coleman.

TD Local 1409 SMART Army Award winner Dan Bonawitz

The first recipient, SMART-TD Local 1409’s (Kansas City, Kansas) Dan Bonawitz, Jr., accepted the honor with modesty, and he admitted he had some embarrassment at being singled out for his activism in safety, organizing for our union and helping honor fallen heroes.

The TD National Safety Team Alternate Director for the East Region and local legislative representative declared that it’s not an individual honor, but one that came as a result of the support system that the union provides, from his local level on up to the national headquarters.

“Nothing happens without an entire army, an entire team. I may be the schmuck up here speaking before you, but this is a collective effort,” he said, running down a long list of local, state and national officers and staff who helped reinforce and uplift his efforts.

GP Coleman presented Bonawitz with a railroad spike to symbolize his constant efforts to promote safety and bring together members of his local union.

Next, Coleman introduced sheet metal award winners Jeff Lind of SM Local 280 (British Columbia, Canada), and Manuel Zapata of SM Local 105 (Los Angeles, Calif.)

SMART Local 280 SMART Army Award winner Jeff Lind

Lind, who helped create and craft the Local 280 SMART Army, has made the SMART Army both a place for members to come together and a place of service. Among the projects were the fabrication of metal tables for the local Meals on Wheels, volunteering for events like the Terry Fox Run for cancer research and much more.

“It’s an honor to accept this award, but really this is all about the membership of Local 280,” Lind said, thanking local leadership, his fellow Local 280 sisters and brothers and the members and leaders of SMART Canada.

Zapata, a longtime servant of Local 105, is the creator and leader of Autism Spectrum Athletics, a community organization in Los Angeles that provides a safe space for kids and families to play and socialize.

The organization started with 30 kids — it now has more than 140 participants playing sports including baseball, basketball, bowling, flag football and soccer.

“Brother Zapata exemplifies the values of our organization,” Coleman said.

“It’s an honor to be here, I’m truly humbled to be given this award. As a sheet metal worker, I’m as proud as I can be,” Zapata said, thanking Local 105, his wife and children while accepting his award.

SMART Local 105 SMART Army Award winner Manuel Zapata

Following the SMART Army award presentation, SM Local 100 Business Manager Richie Labille joined GP Coleman for a truly inspiring announcement and demonstration of our union’s solidarity.

“I am proud to announce that the Maryland Special Olympics will receive $173,582 from us,” Coleman declared.

As a token of appreciation, Special Olympics of Maryland Global Ambassador and Coach Tim Gowen presented General President Coleman and Labille with medals.

Visitors from Congress, Biden administration Cabinet

The joint session’s first visitor was pro-labor U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, who has worked to prioritize infrastructure funding and union jobs at the state and federal levels.

“I’ve been with you all along, you’ve been with me all along, so we have a very good partnership,” Dean said.

Dean, who is in her third term representing Pennsylvania’s fourth district, noted the extraordinary opportunity at hand to invest in America and do so by using union labor. Dean was instrumental in passing three transformation laws over the last several years: the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Those laws, she explained, will define America’s future: Updating our country’s infrastructure to build climate resiliency, investing in manufacturing to meet the demands of modern technology and more. Union labor, she said, will be essential for implementing all the investments in that federal legislation.

Congresswoman Madeleine Dean

“These huge investments are reaching communities across the country, and that’s where we work with you,” she said.

“Those three bills are important to our nation and to how we will leave the world,” she added. “Your devotion to country, to your families is and has been good for America. It inspires me and my own work. I am grateful for the continued strength and contribution of America’s labor unions as we reimagine and reinvest in America’s future.”

Next, GP Coleman and Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson welcomed U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for the Leadership Conference’s first-ever “fireside chat,” during which the secretary answered questions from both presidents, engaging in a candid conversation on how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests in transportation and union jobs; how our bus and transit operators need better on-the-job protections; and more.

Buttigieg described the test that faces both the Department of Transportation and the labor movement as funding continues to flow in from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Passing the bill was one thing, he noted, but implementing and performing the work is the key. It’s an opportunity to reverse decades of disinvestment in our country and an opportunity to put skilled tradespeople to work.

Secretary Buttigieg with members of Local 20, Indiana TD SLD Kenny Edwards and Michigan TD SLD Don Roach.

“Part of the idea was to create good-paying union jobs that are going to be the foundation of middle-class lives and livelihoods in the years ahead,” Buttigieg said. “This is a big test. Getting the bill done was one test. Now the bill got passed and the president signed it, we spent most of the last year expanding on these programs, including 45 major programs just at the DOT alone — some of them multi-billion-dollar programs.”    

Coleman also asked Buttigieg about the work being created by federal funding – HVAC retrofitting, indoor air quality and more – and which organizations local unions should get in touch with to secure that work.

Federal funding from agencies like the Department of Transportation is often implemented by local bodies, from state governments to local airport authorities, and Buttigieg said that DOT is working closely with fellow agencies, like the Department of Labor and the EPA, to ensure that federal funding is creating good-paying, union jobs for SMART members.

“America is expecting a lot from all of us. Not only from this administration, but from the skilled trades in order to actually get these things done,” Buttigieg said. “This is an infrastructure decade, which means people can plan a career and plan to educate their kids and buy that house, and in that sense, we’re just getting started.”

President Ferguson asked Buttigieg about the ever-expanding length of trains on the railroad, and what DOT is doing to mitigate the effects of that, especially after a ProPublica and InvestigateTV report showed videos of children risking their lives, moving between and crawling under stopped trains to get to school.

“You can’t help but notice these trains, two miles long … three miles long, four miles long,” Buttigieg said. “Common sense tells you this is going to have an impact.”

To measure just what sort of impact, DOT is putting resources toward data collection and improving or eliminating rail crossings and more, Buttigieg said.

FRA also has resumed work on implementing a two-person crew law, opting not to wait for Congress to act but to undertake the steps available at the federal agency level to procure information for any future rulemaking and/or enforcement, he added.

Incidents involving attacks on SMART bus members in North Carolina and California – and on other unionized transit workers and bus operators – have escalated in their ferocity and frequency. Ferguson asked Buttigieg to describe what steps DOT is taking to protect bus and transit operators nationwide.

“The definition of an essential worker is one who makes it possible for other essential workers to get to work,” Buttigieg said. “We counted on transit operators in a way that was very visible during the first days of COVID. None of these assaults are acceptable.”

DOT, Buttigieg said, is working with local transit agencies and helping develop a regulatory process that would empower workers in the process of developing safety protocols that protect operators.

“It is a danger to the operators, it’s a danger to the traveling public,” Buttigieg said. “We are not going to let this go until there are zero assaults.”

Finally, Ferguson read a question submitted by a SMART-TD member, who asked what DOT is doing to gather information from workers and to address safety concerns on the railroad.

Buttigieg, noting that the last presidential administration’s rulemaking process included scant input from workers, urged the Transportation Division and its members to continue taking advantage of procedural measures like public commenting on notices of proposed rulemaking. He also listed steps DOT is taking to ensure commitment from the Class I carriers to participate in the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (3CRS) and to enforce that commitment, and said his agency has been ordered to actively seek labor’s input through open dialogue.

“All of that connective tissue in an administration that, not that I wouldn’t do this anyway, has very clear directions from the very top to make sure we never miss an opportunity to get the input, the views and concerns of workers into all of our processes, official and informal, so we really understand safety from the people who have the most at stake and the people who know the best,” he said.

Educating future workers

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona spoke next, addressing how the Department of Education partnered with SMART on issues like indoor air quality and reopening schools in the midst of the pandemic. He also talked about how the Department of Education is shifting focus away from the idea that a four-year undergraduate degree is the only path forward for young people.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona

“Union workers don’t just get the job done. They get the job done right. That’s because union workers are highly skilled workers,” Cardona said. 

Echoing Rep. Dean, Cardona pointed out that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act are creating millions of jobs, including for SMART members, and the country is going to need skilled people to fill them.

“We have a job tsunami on the horizon. Career opportunities that will support families, strengthen communities, and fuel America’s competitiveness for decades to come,” he said. “If we don’t prepare our young people for these careers – then shame on us! If we don’t fundamentally change our high schools to make sure we have pathways to these high skill-high paying careers, then we are failing our kids.”

SMART, Cardona noted, is already doing the work by partnering with high schools and CTEs everywhere from Idaho to Georgia to bring young people into the trade.

Cardona pledged to lead a Department of Education that partners with organized labor to continue that progress; that creates pipelines into the trades that benefit SMART, students and communities as they work to transform U.S. high schools and treat trade education and college as options of equal weight to grow a future career.

Labor secretaries past and current

Former U.S. Labor Secretary and National Hockey League Players Association Executive Director Marty Walsh next received a warm welcome as a fellow member of the labor movement. Walsh gave two shout-outs to start his speech: General President Emeritus Joseph Sellers, and Local 17 President Robert Butler, who, Walsh said, “has been with me in every race I’ve ever run.”

Former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh

He also offered his condolences for the passing of General Vice President John D. Whitaker III and TD General Chairperson Gerald Wallace, noting that any loss to our union family is a tragic one.

Walsh then got into the meat of his speech, which focused primarily on one theme: Elections have consequences. There’s nothing more important, he said, than making sure elected officials support union workers, understand our value, understand what we do and act on our behalf. That’s how pro-labor policy is made – and that’s how we create an economy that works for SMART members.

“The labor movement is the greatest force for economic justice that’s ever existed,” Walsh said.

As Labor Secretary, he added, he was proud to work for a pro-labor administration in President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The American Rescue Plan, he said, put working families back on the job and reopened the economy. While the last presidential administration talked about passing an infrastructure bill, this one actually did it with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The CHIPS Act is bringing manufacturing back home – when fully implemented, Walsh noted, it will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. And the Inflation Reduction Act is creating green energy jobs to combat the climate crisis and lower costs for working families.

All of that can only happen, he reiterated, when unions work with pro-labor elected officials to make it happen.

“We stand on the shoulders of the founders of our local unions,” Walsh said. “It’s our obligation to continue what they started so the next generation has the same opportunity. That’s why elections matter.”

During his time as labor secretary, Walsh said, the Department of Labor worked to make sure labor protections, the right to join a union, project labor agreements and pathways to the trades were included in federal investments.

“We’re investing in today’s union jobs. We’re investing in tomorrow’s union jobs, and we’re investing in our retirees as well,” Walsh said.

Unemployment has been brought down to levels not seen since the 1960s. That strategy is part of a move away from decades of trickle-down economics, replaced by an economy built from the bottom up and the middle out, he said.

“We didn’t get a drop of the trickle,” Walsh said. “And only because organized labor was able to save what was left of the middle class, otherwise we wouldn’t have a middle class in this country.”

Now, he said, union members need to spread the message far and wide – both to their communities and to their fellow members – to make sure working families are voting for candidates who act on their behalf.

Finally, he talked about the importance of confirming Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su.

“I want you to know that she has your back, just like I had your back. Brothers and sisters, I will always stand with you,” he concluded.  

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su

Su was next up in the joint session, with GP Coleman declaring: “We will not rest until she has won her confirmation as labor secretary in the U.S. Senate.”

Su stated that she was here, with SMART and in her place at the Department of Labor, to finish the good work that she and Secretary Walsh started. To demonstrate the importance of a union career, she told the story of recently retired Local 28 member Leah Rambo, who now works in the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau.

“Leah’s career as a SMART sheet metalworker gave her a life she couldn’t have imagined for herself — homeownership, pension, a pathway to middle class,” Su said. “Today, I am so proud to work alongside Leah at the Department of Labor, where she is part of our women’s bureau and pays it forward every single day by making sure we are connecting people, including women, to jobs across the country.”

As the entire theme of this conference demonstrates, these are historic times, she said. But federal investments don’t turn into good, union jobs by accident – that’s the work that the Department of Labor and unions like SMART must perform to build an economy that is truly pro-worker.

At the DOL, Su said, that takes several forms. First — empowering and educating workers in everything the department does, putting workers at the center of the agenda, supporting workers’ rights to organize and the collective bargaining process.

“We see workers’ ability to demand more at the bargaining table not as a threat, but as a critical tool to advance and build a strong economy,” she said.

Second — equity. Embedding equity in everything the department does, including in the federal investments going out.

Third — Enforcement. Using every tool available at the DOL to combat wage theft, protect pensions, and more. Part of that work, Su noted, is having the department update Davis-Bacon laws, for the first time in 40 years.

“Marty started that, now we’re going to finish it,” she declared.

Su’s mission, she said, is to fundamentally change the American workforce so that everyone can get ahead; so that every community has the opportunity to gain a pathway into the middle class.

“We need to build the bridge from poverty to prosperity … the bridge that families need to the middle class,” she said. “This is our time, this is your time, so let’s build together.”

Commerce and climate crisis poised to define future jobs

Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves

Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves visited the joint session to update attendees on the work that the Department of Commerce is doing to help create an economy for and by working people.

“There’s great things happening all across the country,” he said. “As you all know, the work of you and your members is integral to the infrastructure of our country.”

The Biden administration’s “Investing in America” agenda is making the once-in-a-generation investments that we should have been making for decades, Graves said.

“We believe that SMART members are going to be at the forefront of that work.”

Most people think of the Department of Commerce as the Department of Business. Under this administration, he explained, it’s the “Department of People, Communities, and American Workers.” Along with Secretary Raimondo, Graves added, he is working to distribute billions of dollars in federal funding with the goal of American competitiveness – so SMART members, union workers and communities thrive. CHIPS funding alone, he noted, will spur hundreds of billions of dollars in private capital investment, creating thousands of union jobs and sparking the recruitment and retention of a diverse skilled workforce.

“The construction jobs we’re going to create are going to change lives.”

Under President Biden’s direction, he said, the Department of Commerce is calling on companies and contractors to work with unions, requiring companies to submit workforce development plans that allow workers the freedom to organize.

“Every project using these funds needs to pay prevailing wages,” Graves declared, adding that the Department of Commerce will continue to work with SMART moving ahead. “Thank you for your leadership, thank you for your partnership, and thank you for pushing us.”

White House Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi

The joint session’s final speaker was White House Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, who discussed the progress that SMART has made in making it known that green jobs – like those in energy efficiency and public transit – are real jobs and good, union jobs that tackle the climate crisis while bringing people into the middle class.

“This is the essential part of the transformation that we seek,” he said. “We’ve got the solutions – now we’ve got the workers that will build those electric buses that will hit the road across the country. … It’s because of your membership that we’re able to get that done, not just in a way that deploys that technology, but in a way that builds it in the United States.”

If we only go from a dirty energy economy to a clean energy economy, we will have missed the moment, Zaidi said. We can’t just lift ourselves to a clean energy economy. This has to be a moment where we lift up the middle class and inspire a manufacturing renaissance.

“Folks, we’re doing that,” he declared, citing the 800,000 manufacturing jobs created by the Biden administration. “You all are the engine that’s driving us forward to not just a strong economy, but a clean energy economy.”

There are huge workforce needs in the clean energy space, Zaidi said, pointing to the work that SMART is doing to diversify and expand the pool of workers being brought into our union.

By growing the labor movement and combating the climate crisis simultaneously, he concluded, we can create a green energy future that works for all.

“I’m so optimistic about our chances, because you are the ones on the front lines.”

Then, for the last time, sheet metal and Transportation Division union leaders parted ways, bringing an end to joint activity at a productive and educational leadership conference.

Read about the sheet metal session here.

The 2023 SMART Leadership Conference’s final sheet metal session, like the joint session, brought an array of pro-labor guests to union leaders, solidifying our union’s relationship with figures in the Biden administration and beyond. Then, conference attendees heard department reports from officers in the International, laying the informational groundwork for the work that lies ahead.

Guest speakers show strength of important relationships

Helmets to Hardhats Executive Director Martin Helms took the stage to begin the sheet metal session, where he urged local union leaders to take advantage of Helmets to Hardhats’ (H2H) system and bring veterans into our trade. SMART is one of the leading affiliates in recruiting veterans, Helms said, pointing to a recent success story out of SM Local 18 (Wisconsin). Nonetheless, he challenged us to do better, making use of H2H, the GI bill and other resources to strengthen our union AND help our veterans.

H2H Executive Director Martin Helms speaks to union sheet metal leaders
Helmets to Hardhats Executive Director Martin Helms

“There’s nothing better than when you get to change people’s lives and pass that on,” Helms said. “Please get in contact with us to pay it forward.”

Sheet metal leaders were next joined by General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Robin Carnahan, who has led GSA’s efforts on initiatives including indoor air quality in federal buildings and project labor agreements on federal projects that cost more than $35 million.

Carnahan has a long history of working with SMART and labor leaders, dating from her time as the Missouri secretary of state. She used her speech to describe what GSA does: Essentially, delivering on the Biden administration’s agenda of investing in America, whether managing the country’s largest portfolio of buildings or buying and managing power. That makes GSA a crucial partner for unions like SMART as we look to seize this moment.

GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan

GSA, Carnahan said, is working to modernize facilities across the country, creating good-paying, union jobs across the country.

“Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, we are investing in sustainable building materials, updating HVAC systems and improving indoor air quality in building systems,” she declared – all of which create opportunities for SMART members.

GSA estimates that its investments alone will create 15,000 jobs. Carnahan listed some of the specific initiatives that GSA is working on, including upgrading border crossing facilities – which will create 6,000 jobs at the northern and southern borders, including on HVAC work. GSA is also investing billions of dollars in sustainable building practices, such as funding for HVAC and heat pumps, and the agency is “laser-focused” on implementing President Biden’s executive order on project labor agreements.

“Through these once-in-a-generation investments, we have the money and momentum to improve America’s infrastructure, bolster our economy, and support healthier communities,” she said. “We are going to need a lot of well-trained SMART members on projects all across the country.”

GSA and SMART have a lot of work to do together, Carnahan added, to fulfill a “win-win” situation for both GSA and union members. That means making sure local unions know how to find pipelines to work on GSA projects, collaborating to enforce prevailing wage for federal contractors and more.

“Once again we are witnessing this moment where organized labor is stepping up to lead the country,” she concluded. “Organized labor is providing the people we need to make these investments in America – organized labor is recruiting, funding and training the next generation of American workers. We need to tell that story more.

“Let’s get to work!”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan was the final speaker to join the sheet metal session, where he emphasized the challenge – and the golden opportunity – presented by the climate crisis.

“I want to express my gratitude for your tireless efforts to protect and empower workers across this country,” Regan said. “Your work on innovative technologies and advocating for strong climate legislation is impacting working people across the country.”

As climate change continues to impact our nation and our world, he continued, we have a chance to rebuild America with clean energy jobs – putting people to work and spurring economic growth through investments in clean energy. Funding from federal legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is putting union members on the job strengthening our climate resiliency. The Inflation Reduction act, he added, unlocks a surge of incentives to spark private investment and create hundreds of thousands of union jobs.

“At EPA we know that if we want a clean economy, we must invest in workers who will carry out this transition,” Regan explained. “We’re pushing ourselves to think ambitiously about creating high-quality jobs for a diverse set of Americans.”

There are tens of millions of dollars flowing to communities to improve indoor air quality across the country, he noted, and billions of dollars to help school districts switch to EV buses – many of which are made by SMART members. And EPA has updated its master grant terms and conditions to make clear that anyone who receives a grant from EPA will not use EPA funds to oppose union organizing. That, Regan said, is all part of EPA’s holistic focus on working with labor to create our green energy future.

“We need to hear from you, we need to lean on you, and we need to continue to work alongside you,” Regan concluded. “Addressing the climate crisis is a massive undertaking, but it’s also an opportunity. To protect our environment and to treat workers with dignity.”

Department reports illustrate SMART’s solid foundation

Louise Medina, director of special projects, took the stage to overview the department’s activities – which have been a massive success in a short period of time. Initiatives including the Recruitment and Retention Council, the SMART Women’s Committee, the BE4ALL Committee and the revamped SMART disaster relief system have helped our union take care of and protect members, advancing equity and belonging across our organization. That includes distributing bathroom kits, toolbox talks and the BE4ALL calendar, as well as creating websites for the Recruitment and Retention Council and the women’s committee.

Chris Paswisty, director of Canadian Affairs, provided attendees with an update on developments in Canada. SMART Canada represents sheet metal workers, roofers, architectural and building enclosure workers, production workers and dockyard & shipyard workers. Paswisty emphasized the need to put our members to work preparing for the ramifications of climate crisis. He updated attendees on progress made by SMART Canada to make sure architectural and building enclosure work is recognized as a Red Seal trade, as well as the work Canadian locals are performing to make sure stakeholders and politicians know: SMART members are the workers who can perform sheet metal, roofing and building enclosure work to keep Canadians safe.

“Our skills are in demand – let’s leverage that,” Paswisty declared. “The future depends on what we do today.”

Paswisty also detailed ongoing efforts to bring workers from all communities into SMART, as well as legislative victories including the Labour Mobility Tax Deduction, prevailing wage for Green Tax Credits, ant-scab legislation and more.

“We need all hands on deck,” he said. “We need to be telling stakeholders and politicians what we do – every single day. This is our time, brothers and sisters.”

Christy Foley – SMART manager of membership services – overviewed SMART’s scholarship fund and the work of the scholarship committee, explaining how local unions can get involved, thanking donors and playing a video of this year’s winner for best scholarship essay.

General President Coleman then thanked the SMART staff, the UNITE HERE Local 25 members who worked the conference, General President Joseph Sellers, General Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Powell, the General Executive Council and all participants in the conference.

“I want to thank you. A lot of you I know, some of you I just met,” Coleman said.

“We do great work. We change lives. How does it happen that that message gets lost?

“That’s what we do. We lift people up. So I say: Somehow, we still have enemies out there. They’ve knocked us down in the past, but we now have a level playing field. So I have a message to our enemies: mess around and find out. Because I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine. It’s one fight, all fight.”

With that, General Secretary-Treasurer Powell and General President Coleman brought the conference to an end.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia L. Fudge

Union leaders continued the work of ensuring the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference theme – “This Is Our Time” – is more than just a catchphrase as the conference rolled into its second day in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the morning’s joint session, attendees were presented with evidence that the union has strengthened both financially and in membership, and with a vast number of opportunities ahead to ensure the prosperity of our membership and our two nations.

New VP sworn in to the GEC

General President Michael Coleman began the joint session by recognizing the career of SMART Sixth General Vice President and Northwest Regional Council President Tim Carter, who retired after the conclusion of the conference’s first day.

Carter oversaw extraordinary growth and progress in the Northwest, from welcoming the formation of women’s committees to new organizing across the region.

Brother Carter is replaced on the General Executive Council by Ray Reasons, president and business manager of SM Local 36 (St. Louis, Mo.), who becomes SMART’s 11th General Vice President.

Local 36 has long been on the forefront of growth and innovation, and members there played an important role beating back a recent attempt by state politicians to institute so-called “right to work.”

“Under his leadership, Local 36 has continued its tradition of success, and today he joins us on the dais,” Coleman said. “Congratulations, Ray – I look forward to working with you in the coming years.”

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance details its good work

One benefit free to all members of our union — sheet metal and TD alike — is membership in the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA).

Alliance Executive Director and CEO Walt Ingram joined the conference to discuss USA’s ongoing relationship with SMART — the fourth-largest union affiliate of his group.

Ingram described the USA’s events, which include dinners, 25 clay shoots around the nation and environmental restoration projects designed not only to provide an opportunity for union camaraderie, but also as a way to bring families and communities alike together.

USA’s Walt Ingram

“We’re a great tool to connect the local to the membership and then the membership to the community,” Ingram said, noting that SMART sponsors a pair of shoots in Port Republic, N.J., and Brighton, Colo. “Our mission is to unite the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage. We do that every day in a variety of different ways. We want to help you recruit apprentices for your program and also join the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.”

AFL-CIO president speaks

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, who has worked closely with SMART on issues ranging from green energy jobs to pension security, was unable to join the conference in person. She sent remarks via video, in which she discussed the importance of the conference theme: This is our time.

“What a perfect way to capture the moment we are in and the urgency that we should feel in taking advantage of it,” she said. “This is our time. This labor momentum that you hear people talking about — you’re living it every day.”

Shuler reminded attendees that 71 percent of Americans approve of unions — the highest level since 1965.

“We are finally seeing huge gains in the battles we have been fighting for years. Now the question is, how do we build on these wins and create even more power for workers?” she asked.

The organizing and solidarity displayed by SMART as TD members’ efforts secured paid sick leave and two-person crew victories in Ohio, Minnesota and Kansas will serve as examples to follow in the future, as workers fight to have a say and profiteers try to use tech, automation and AI to eliminate people’s jobs.

“Unions are going to rebuild this country – SMART members are going to rebuild this country!” she concluded. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I can’t think of anyone I’d rather fight alongside than the activists and leaders in this room.”

Supporting Maryland Special Olympics

Representatives of the Special Olympics of Maryland (SOMD), the designated charity of the Leadership Conference, talked about the importance of its work. Providing year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, SOMD gives participants the opportunity to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and share their gifts, skills, and friendship with others. 

“It is because of the dedication, compassion and love of the people from the Special Olympics community, and organizations like yours, that awareness and understanding is helping people to see that the intellectually disabled community is no different than those who are not,” said global Special Olympics representative and coach Tim Gowen. “We are capable, hard-working and have dreams, just like anyone else.”

Gowen has been part of the Special Olympics for 50 years, growing up in Silver Springs, Md., and through the program, eventually found supportive schools and communities.

“It changed my life and gave me the tools to succeed. … Having the opportunity to play and compete in sports is wonderful, but that’s not all we experience.,” Gowen said. “It’s the friendships I have made over the years, the companies and the communities that support us.

“I would like to thank you, the members of SMART,” he concluded. “It is amazing to play sports and win medals, but that wouldn’t happen without the generosity of people like you.”

Legislative leaders report

SMART Director of Governmental Affairs Steve Dodd and TD National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes took the stage to deliver a report on legislative and government affairs.

“Never in my life would I have ever thought that we would have the opportunity to be on offense the way we are right now,” Dodd said, noting that SMART has worked with federal agencies to implement a pro-labor regulatory agenda and provide funding for projects that will employ unionized workers.

In short, the Biden administration has delivered for SMART members, he said, and local unions have a great environment to take advantage of and spread the message of the progress labor has made.

“This administration’s been great for us, as you could see from the administrator of FRA being here yesterday,” Hynes said.

His report detailed the Transportation Division’s agenda, with two-person crews, Class 1 certification programs, train length and blocked crossings, bus and transit operator assaults, yardmaster hours of service, sick leave and more on the list.

Progress has been made on many of these areas at the state level, including rail safety, train length and blocked crossing legislation, he said.

SMART-TD has leveraged the extensive media attention given to railroads from the national contract negotiations and the East Palestine, Ohio, disaster to make real gains across the country, meeting with lawmakers and introducing legislation that protects members.

Dodd (left) and Hynes

“We’ve fielded more media than I have ever seen in my entire career,” Hynes said. “Jared [Cassity, SMART-TD Alternate Legislative Director], Jeremy [Ferguson, SMART TD President] for a period there, we were doing several interviews every day with affiliates all over the country — major networks, newspapers, the major news publications. What it did is put us in the mind of the general public, and members of Congress were very interested to talk with us.”

Dodd and Hynes both detailed SMART’s 2023-24 get-out-the-vote strategy. In 2023, three governor’s races in particular are of interest to our union. Turning their eyes to 2024, control of the U.S. House, Senate and presidency will be determined.

They both said that improving voter turnout and making sure members know which elected officials and policies truly support us – and getting members out to vote – are going to be key goals moving ahead.

Finances, DOE secretary and SASMI presentation

Controller Warren May said that the rough financial period the union weathered due to the pandemic has passed, saying that finances all around the union are moving in a positive direction.

“If any accountant saw this, they would say, ‘Oh my gosh, those are fabulous financials,’” May said.

Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, also delivered her speech via video. Granholm, who has used her position in the Department of Energy to advocate for good, union, clean energy jobs, met recently with both General President Coleman and NEMI Administrator Lisa Davis – affirming the Biden administration’s commitment to working with SMART and organized labor.

“Unions built the middle class, you know this. Unions run best-in-class training programs, for construction workers,” Granholm said. “Unionized employers have an easier time hiring because workers want union jobs, and that’s why our incentives require companies to pay prevailing wage, require them to hire registered apprentices. That’s why we attach strong labor standards to every single federal law.”

Ken Columbo followed with the rundown of SASMI’s programs, noting an explosive growth in the use of an improved travel benefit in the first quarter of 2023 compared with the same period the year prior – all due to Biden-Harris administration and infrastructure projects coming to fruition in the form of megaprojects.

A maternity benefit also has received a good reception, Columbo said, and also growing is the newly introduced HRC benefit card that participants can use to pay for prescription and over-the-counter medications.

SASMI also has extended COBRA benefits to the spouses of deceased members to 18 months and remains in solid financial health after a decline due to the pandemic.

Secretary Fudge

HUD secretary: SMART needs to lead the way

Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge closed out the session with a message encouraging SMART to continue to educate newer generations about the value of the labor movement and to maintain its position as a leader as the nation’s economy continues to transform. 

Secretary Fudge has a long history with GP Coleman from their time in Cleveland — when Coleman was president of Local 33 and Fudge was a civic leader, first as mayor of Cleveland suburb Warrensville Heights, then as a U.S. representative for Ohio’s 11th congressional district.  

She described the progress the Biden-Harris administration has made in constructing an economy from the bottom up and from the middle out. 

“As the president often says, ‘The middle class built America, but the unions built the middle class.’ I never thought I would ever get to a point in my life where we would have to explain to people why unions are important,” she said after recounting the benefits that unions have brought to the working class — the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, pension plans and the weekend being among them. 

The Biden-Harris administration’s actions have launched a period of economic growth through its signature infrastructure law, creating 13 million jobs thus far in the United States, with an expected growth rate of 1 million additional jobs per year, she said. 

SMART members will be a huge part of these projects: operating energy-efficient buses and trains and performing energy-efficient retrofits to older houses, HVAC systems and other programs that her department oversees, Fudge added. 

“These projects do not happen without skilled technicians or skilled tradesmen like you,” she said. “Because I know that with you, there is not much that we cannot do. We cannot build this country without you, so work with us.

“Let me tell you what. You have a hammer. You need to use your hammer to hammer a warning about where we’re going in this nation. You need to use your hammer to take the lead in support of American workers. You can hammer out injustice if you just raise your voice,” Fudge said. “We all have the right to the American Dream. I’m saying to you, SMART, hammer it out!” 

Read more about the sheet metal session here.

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.

General President Michael Coleman opens the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference.

SMART leaders across sheet metal and the Transportation Division gathered in Washington, D.C., on July 31 to kick off the second annual SMART Leadership Conference. With a conference theme of “This is Our Time,” attendees convened to begin the hard work of making sure SMART seizes this moment of unprecedented opportunity across every craft and industry our union represents.

SMART General President Michael Coleman convened the conference by bringing SMART-TD Washington, D.C., Legislative Director Jarad Jackson and SM Local 100 President/Business Manager Richie Labille, who welcomed attendees to their home region. He also introduced the SMART General Executive Council (GEC).

A somber remembrance

To begin, SMART General President Michael Coleman called for a moment of silence to be observed for GEC member/International Representative and Transportation Division Vice President John D. “J.D.” Whitaker III, who sadly passed away from cancer July 27 — but whose legacy continues to be felt in our union, especially as SMART-TD affiliates negotiate and ratify groundbreaking tentative agreements.

Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson remembered time he spent with VP Whitaker fondly, including attending a winter hunting trip in the South with their children. But what defined Whitaker was his unflinching commitment to serving members, he said.

Ferguson recalled that even up to a week before his death Vice President Whitaker was working on union business. When President Ferguson urged him to rest, VP Whitaker told him that’s what kept him going.

“You fought the good fight, J.D.,” President Ferguson concluded his tribute. “Rest easy.”

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson

GP Coleman illustrates opportunity ahead

Coleman then kicked off the conference in earnest with his opening remarks, which made unmistakably clear that the conference theme – “This is Our Time” – is much more than just a catchphrase.

“This is our time,” he declared. “We still have plenty of work to do and battles to fight. But if we fight together, we will win.”  

SMART General President Coleman

Coleman paid tribute to the tireless efforts of recently retired General President Joseph Sellers, whose leadership helped position SMART to seize upon unprecedented opportunity. He also recognized the hard-fought battles union members fought in recent years, from working through the COVID pandemic to defeating the previous presidential administration’s anti-labor IRAPs scheme. For the most part, though, Coleman’s remarks were – appropriately – focused on the future.

“We are in a defining moment in the history of this union,” he said. “There are incredible opportunities on the horizon.”

From megaprojects to the bipartisan Railway Safety Act, from media focus on bus and transit operator assaults to bottom-up organizing campaigns in Alaska, from pro-labor elected officials in office to SMART’s efforts to recruit and retain members from across races, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientation, Coleman repeated again and again: This is our time.

The combination of megaprojects and continued focus on core sheet metal work – helped by the Biden administration’s pro-labor policy outlook and partnership with SMART on indoor air quality – is creating unheard-of workforce demands and spectacular growth in our membership. That problem is a good one to have, Coleman explained, but only if SMART steps up to organize nonunion workers and recruit from every community.

“We have proven we can change lives,” he reminded attendees. “I’ve seen it firsthand. So let’s get out there. Let’s bring workers in, all of them, regardless of race, gender, or creed.”

For Transportation Division workers, in a period of resurgence after massive industry cuts made because of Precision Scheduled Railroading, new public and media attention on safety issues has presented a rare chance to secure real safety across industries and crafts. Following the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, Coleman noted, Kansas, Ohio and Minnesota have all passed two-person crew laws, with other states considering rail safety legislation and the Railway Safety Act continuing to progress in the Senate. Additionally, the dangers facing bus and transit operators are affecting workers and riders alike, leading to increased attention across the board.

“For the sake of our communities and for the sake of our brothers and sisters,” Coleman declared, “we need to get [transportation safety] over the line.”

General Secretary-Treasurer’s update

Like General President Coleman, General Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Powell opened his remarks by reflecting on the accomplishments of retired General President Sellers, calling him “the measure that all future SMART General Presidents will be compared to.” He then expounded upon several of the topics Coleman addressed, describing the state of our union construction industry and SMART’s need to grow at a rate that outpaces the industry; describing the progress of the SMART strategic plan; and elaborating on the achievements of SMART Canada.

SMART General Secretary-Treasurer Powell

“To continue to increase both our membership and our collective bargaining power, we need to not only meet but exceed the growth rate of the entire industry,” he said.

The Transportation Division, Powell said, grew by 4,581 members – even after having endured contentious contract negotiations, rail safety disasters, assaults on transit operators and more. “That represents a significant 9.38 percent increase over the previous year,” he added; a tremendous organizing win for the union.

Powell also described ongoing growth north of the U.S. border, where megaprojects and collaborations with pro-labor federal and provincial governments have spurred huge opportunities. The definition of prevailing wage in the 2023 federal budget is one of the strongest in Canadian history, and megaprojects are breaking ground from Alberta to Ontario.

“Growth is on the menu and recruitment stands as the utmost priority when it comes to securing our place in the future of Canada’s infrastructure.

“It is clear that we are on the cusp of great opportunities,” Powell said.

Powell ended his speech by echoing General President Coleman’s call to action: “Our solidarity, our unity, and the hard work we have put in to get to this point are the bedrock that ensures we grow stronger than ever before. Together we will make the most of this moment.”

Transportation Division progress

TD President Ferguson returned to the podium to review how the SMART Transportation Division has advanced the interests of workers both recently and in the year since the first SMART Leadership Conference in San Francisco.

He reflected upon a recent contract victory that the late VP Whitaker and General Chairperson Gerald Wallace of GCA-261, who passed away July 16, achieved.

“Gerry Wallace was a good friend of mine. When his committee was in dire straits, he turned it around,” President Ferguson said. “It was only fitting that Vice President Whitaker would be assigned to GC Wallace. Sure enough, they had a solid bond.

“The best tribute to both of these officers that we got the new contract ratified with 95% in favor of.”

SMART-TD President Ferguson and FRA Administrator Amit Bose

Another recent victory was achieved in Alaska with the White Pass & Yukon Route, a tourist railroad, where General Chairperson Jason Guiler and Vice President Brent Leonard brought what had been an almost six-year negotiation to a satisfactory conclusion for members.

“They backed off on everything they wanted and we got the job done,” Ferguson stated.

However, the troubling trend of assaults upon bus and transit workers has continued in major urban areas.

“That’s one fight we can’t back down on,” President Ferguson said. “We cannot stop on those issues.” We should not have to put up with that in our country. In most states it’s a misdemeanor. That needs to change.”

The national contract fight freight members went through brought unprecedented national attention to what rail workers experience regarding attendance and working conditions.

“The media picked up on our issues — it was not about the pay, it was about the quality of life. Carriers said they were never going to negotiate on attendance policies,” Ferguson said. “Guess what? They did.”

In addition to an all-time high pay raise, workers did make advancements on those quality-of-life issues, such as paid sick leave, in negotiations that are completed at some properties but ongoing at others.

“We are about 65% complete negotiating attendance and paid sick time,” Ferguson reported. The chief holdouts are properties on BNSF, some of the smaller Canadian-run branches and smaller carriers.

The opening session closed with appearances by Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose, who also presented at the first leadership conference in 2022 in San Francisco, and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy.

“Thank you for what you do every day,” Bose said. “The sheer breadth of workers represented in this room … is evidence that it takes many workers with many skillsets that make our nation run.

“This is a watershed moment with the nation’s attention turned on rail safety.”

Jennifer Homendy, the National Transportation Safety Board chair whose agency is tasked with determining the causes of transportation accidents, praised the diversity and our union’s commitment to safety.

“You have my commitment to fight beside you because it is our time to fight for safety,” she said.

With that, General President Coleman concluded the joint session, with sheet metal and Transportation Division attendees heading to their respective industry-specific session. Read more about the sheet metal session here.

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 General President Joseph Sellers opened the first-ever SMART Leadership Conference on Monday, August 8th, with local leaders from sheet metal and transportation gathering in San Francisco for three full days of hard work on behalf of SMART members across North America. The theme, “Growth Through Unity,” encompassed the focus of the gathering: In joint sessions, sheet metal and Transportation Division sessions, and breakouts, SMART leadership focused on how to secure the future of our union — together.

Leaders emphasize solidarity on day 1

California Fire Foundation President Rick Martinez used his remarks to speak on the mission of the foundation — SMART’s chosen charity for the leadership conference — which provides emotional and financial support for the brave men and women (and their families) who put their lives on the line to fight disastrous fires. During the conference, SMART raised nearly $350,000 for the foundation.

In his opening remarks, General President Sellers summarized the last several years, noting that political developments across North America have created unprecedented opportunities for our union: huge investments in the transportation and sheet metal industries under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, pension protection in the American Rescue Plan and project labor agreements on federal projects above $35 million in the United States, plus the achievement of the Labour Mobility Tax Credit and added apprenticeship funding in Canada. He also noted the proposed rule for two-person freight rail crews and the importance of working across sheet metal and transportation to secure that victory for rail workers.

“We must be proactive and seize our opportunities to strengthen and grow our union,” Sellers said. “We must build our capacity and capitalize on union-friendly administrations in both the United States and Canada.”

That being said, Sellers pointed out, all those gains will be in danger if anti-labor politicians take back Congress. Elections in battleground states don’t only matter for members in those states — they will impact the future of SMART.

“Either we determine the future of our union, or our adversaries will do it for us,” he declared. “So let’s organize, mobilize, recruit and fight like hell to increase our density and our market share across industries.”

Jeremy Ferguson, president of the SMART Transportation Division, spoke on the furious fight to safeguard and expand working conditions for TD members against a corporate onslaught, particularly from Class 1 freight railroads.

“When things get tough, I know that the one thing we’re not afraid to do in the face of adversity is to show up and step up,” said Ferguson. “We’re not fearful of the challenges that we see ahead, after what we’ve been through.”

Through all the difficulties of the last several years, he continued, a bright spot has emerged: friendly figures in government and federal agencies. Thanks to relationships with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Amit Bose, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and others, SMART members have a voice in the halls of power. And most importantly, Ferguson declared, the solidarity of SMART provides a road map to a better future for all members.

“The changes we made in 2020 that we were all a part of,” he said, “have opened the doors to lasting progress for our organization and hope, even as we fight through all that the carriers and their Wall Street oligarchs throw at us to grind us down, such as draconian attendance policies.”

To cap off Monday’s joint session, SMART welcomed San Francisco Mayor London Breed and United States Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chair Marty Oberman — both allies of workers and SMART. In his speech, Oberman discussed the STB’s efforts to investigate the decline of freight rail service in the U.S., specifically pointing to the reckless workforce slashing that has helped spur current freight rail disruptions: “It’s quite clear that the main force driving how the railroads are being managed these days are the pressures of stockholders.”

The work continues on day 2

After General President Sellers called the second day to order, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler took the stand, calling on SMART locals to bring more workers into the fold and mobilize members to achieve more victories: “Growth Through Unity is exactly what we need in this moment.”

Organizing is more important than ever, she elaborated, as we emerge into a future with ever-advancing technology, a needed focus on clean energy and other changes to our traditional sectors. As industries change and governments around the world implement new policies to mitigate the effects of climate change, unions like SMART need to ensure workers have a seat at the table. That can only happen, Shuler explained, if we have allies in elected office. The American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, proposed two-person crew rules and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are all vital actions that will put SMART members to work on an enormous number of projects in the future. Those opportunities likely evaporate if we return to an anti-worker Congress.

“To make our vision of the future a reality, we need to elect people who will have our back, who share our values,” Shuler said. She then gathered with members of the BE4ALL Committee, putting words into action to help SMART better represent all workers.

Shuler was followed by AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Greg Regan, who has worked closely with SMART TD leadership to help transportation workers. Like Shuler, Regan praised the unprecedented solidarity uniting railroad unions across TTD and vowed to fight tirelessly for the rights and protections workers deserve.

“There is a level of strength and solidarity in the freight rail labor movement right now that is unmatched,” said Regan. “We are going to win this fight; we are going to deliver on the contract rail workers have earned.”

Throughout the morning, the joint session highlighted SMART’s relationship with elected and federal officials. That peaked with a rousing speech from FRA Administrator Amit Bose, whose tenure has led to unprecedented access and a seat at the table for SMART. In his remarks, Bose touched on a variety of topics: the proposed federal rule requiring two-person crews on freight trains, funding to expand and modernize freight and passenger rail systems, and much more.

“As we forge ahead with new passenger and freight rail projects, the FRA understands the important role SMART members will play,” Bose said. “My staff and I will strive to continue to be available to you and listen to your concerns.”

Building our strength on day 3

The conference’s final day’s focused on developing community solidarity and legislative power. After General Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Powell called the conference to order, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi joined the conference by video, outlining recent legislative accomplishments of House Democrats and the Biden administration before ending with a promise: “We will not relent until the Richard Trumka PRO Act is signed into law.”

Following Pelosi’s speech, SMART Director of Government Affairs Steve Dodd and Transportation Division National Legislative Director Greg Hynes provided an update on SMART’s political advocacy. After referencing SMART victories on legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — which made specific investments in HVAC work, indoor air quality, transportation and more — Dodd and Hynes explained that such achievements are largely due to the level of access SMART has with the president, Congress and federal officials. As an example, Dodd pointed to historic pension relief included in the American Rescue Plan, which provided millions to SM Local 33 in Ohio (and to other unions as well). Hynes, meanwhile, focused on the difference the new president, Congress and federal appointees have made for TD members.

“We’re going for the [two-person crew] regulation and we’re going for the law, and we’re not backing down,” Hynes said to thunderous applause.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg also delivered remarks by video. After summarizing how the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are improving and modernizing U.S. transportation systems, Buttigieg acknowledged that “the most important part of a transportation system isn’t the physical infrastructure, it’s the people operating it every day.” He added: “We really are living through a new dawn in American transportation, and you all are at the center of it.”

Many speakers throughout the conference, including California Building and Construction Trades Council President Andrew Meredith, remarked on the importance of diversity and inclusion as we seek to grow our union, organize new sectors and lift workers into the middle class. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh emphasized many of those points in a video address, stating: “We need strong, diverse unions now more than ever. I know SMART is devoted to that.”

Like others, Walsh noted proworker Department of Labor initiatives, like strengthening Davis-Bacon protections and fighting against worker misclassification. He also observed that while three quarters of young workers are interested in forming a union, only 10% know how — a gap that must be closed for the betterment of all working people.

The conference culminated with a focus on the SMART Army — our union’s cross-industry, every-member effort to make North America aware that SMART workers are part of the fabric of our communities. General President Sellers presented the 2022 Joseph J. Nigro SMART Army Service Award to two members who have selflessly devoted themselves to their union and their communities: Local 18 (Wis.) retiree Kevin Turner and TD Local 610 (Baltimore) and SM Local 100 (Washington, D.C.-area) member Johnny Walker.

“The SMART Army brings us together in the community, it makes us a part of the community,” Turner said.

“The community knows who we are. We’re there,” Walker added. “The important thing about the SMART Army is you’re a part of something that’s a lot bigger than you.”

The Joseph J. Nigro SMART Army Service Award — given each year to one sheet metal and one Transportation Division member — represents one of the highest honors a SMART worker can receive: a recognition of solidarity and dedication to their union, their SMART brothers and sisters and their community. This year’s winners — who received their awards during the SMART Leadership Conference in San Francisco in August— are a testament to the crucial role SMART members play across our country.

“This year’s winners — who received their awards during the SMART Leadership Conference in San Francisco in August — are a testament to the crucial role SMART members play across our country.”

Kevin Turner, a sheet metal retiree at SMART Local 18 (Wisconsin), has devoted himself to service since retiring. For many years, Kevin chose to support his community through Habitat for Humanity, which provides housing for less privileged families. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Kevin has attended monthly Waukesha County Labor Council Community Service Meetings; volunteered at the Walkers Point Center for the Arts (a United Way nonprofit organization); assisted with the Milwaukee River Cleanup; helped put on Local 18’s blood drive; helped feed the homeless and hungry at the Hope Center in Waukesha; volunteered at the union booth during the Waukesha County Fair, educating fairgoers about unions; performed spring and fall roof cleaning at the Association for the Rights of Citizens with Handicaps; and assisted with raising $1,500 for those in need through bell ringing with the Salvation Army outside a union grocery store.

Johnny Walker, a member of TD Local 610 (Baltimore) and SM Local 100 (Washington, D.C. area), has made his name synonymous with labor solidarity and community service. A former U.S. Navy Corpsman, Johnny has been known to drive overnight from Baltimore to Galesburg, Ill., to participate in a rally for rail labor; take part in the entire 40-plus-mile Blair Mountain March in solidarity with the United Mine Workers of America, as well as support UMWA workers striking at Warrior Met Coal; shovel his neighbors’ driveways during blizzards; and much more. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — in addition to working as an essential railroader — Johnny went out of his way to deliver food and goods to veterans and seniors, putting his life on the line to keep his community safe and healthy. He is a regular presence at SMART Army events, and he will always show up when called upon to support his union brothers and sisters.

SMART congratulates Kevin and Johnny on this well-deserved honor!

Day three of the SMART Leadership Conference focused on developing community solidarity and legislative power. From local efforts to engage members across sheet metal and transportation, to the International’s relationship-building with allies in federal and state governments, SMART sheet metal and transportation leaders performed the important work of creating Growth Through Unity via government and community action.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

After General President Sellers called the third day of the conference to order, United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi joined the conference by video. Recalling the support SMART provided when she first ran for Congress, Pelosi recognized SMART locals as “stalwart defenders of members’ jobs, benefits and security.” She outlined recent legislative accomplishments of House Democrats and the Biden Administration, including the CHIPS and Science Act – complete with significant labor protections – before ending her address with a promise: “We will not relent until the Richard Trumka PRO Act is signed into law.”

Following Pelosi’s speech, SMART Director of Government Affairs Steve Dodd and National Legislative Director Greg Hynes provided an update on SMART’s political advocacy. After noting the SMART industry-specific victories in legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – which calls for investments in HVAC work, indoor air quality, transportation and more – Dodd and Hynes explained that such achievements are largely due to the new level of access SMART has with the president, Congress and federal officials. As an example of the unprecedented emphasis on labor in U.S. policymaking, Dodd pointed to the pension relief included in the American Rescue Plan, which (among other unions) provided millions of pension dollars to SM Local 33 in Ohio.

Steve Dodd (left) and Greg Hynes

Hynes, meanwhile, focused on the difference the new president, Congress and federal appointees have made for SMART TD members – and described how the Transportation Division has consequently elevated its efforts to provide greater communication to members. Noting that favorability of SMART and TD locals has risen among members, Hynes listed some of the accomplishments won for transportation workers, including proposed legislation like the PUMP Act and the notice of proposed rulemaking requiring two-person train crews.

“We’re going for the [two-person crew] regulation and we’re going for the law, and we’re not backing down,” Hynes said to thunderous applause. “It’s important that everybody provides comments [for two-person crew rulemaking] – I’m talking about sheet metal and transportation.”

Submit your comment in support of two-person crew regulations here.

Finally, Dodd and Hynes ended their joint speech with a call to action: The access that SMART has right now can be taken away as quickly as it appeared. Locals across the country, across industry and across craft need to come together and elect more pro-worker candidates to secure our union’s future.  

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg also delivered remarks by video, demonstrating the exceptional status of the Transportation Division’s current relationship with federal officials. After summarizing the ways in which legislation like the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are being used to improve and modernize the United States’ transportation systems – as well as programs like PROTECT, which is making American roads, bridges and rails more weather-resilient – Buttigieg acknowledged that “the most important part of our transportation systems isn’t the physical infrastructure, it’s the people operating it every day.” He ended his speech by dedicating his work to SMART members: “We really are living through a new dawn in American transportation, and you all are at the center of it.”

After Buttigieg’s video, California Building and Construction Trades Council President Andrew Meredith delivered in-person remarks on the continued work of the building trades and SMART to organize, secure more work and continue to build labor’s ability to pull workers into the middle class. In particular, Meredith emphasized how focusing on diversity and inclusion in organizing can help unions like SMART grow their numbers and break into relatively unorganized sectors, like residential construction.

Andrew Meredith, president of the California Building & Construction Trades Council.

“As we’re addressing the housing crisis, we’re holding a firm line for diversity and inclusion language to be included in contracts,” he said. “We create pathways for everybody.”

Meredith acknowledged that the unionized building trades have not always been open to all workers, pointing specifically to past practices that excluded women, people of color and those who speak English as a second language. Now, he said, the building trades in California are working to include contract provisions like childcare and educational opportunities, offering more opportunity to workers from every background – in addition to the wages, benefits and workplace dignity that unions stake their reputations on.  

“I’m proud that your organization has a tremendous history of inclusiveness and diversity,” noted Meredith. “Make your programs the model for other organizations to follow.”

He concluded by echoing the call many others have made throughout the leadership conference, from General President Sellers to AFL-CIO President Shuler: It’s time to organize.

“It’s an unprecedented time for labor in this country,” Meredith declared. “Workers are clamoring to be organized.”

United States Labor Secretary Marty Walsh re-emphasized many of the points made by Meredith in a video address. Like others, he noted the extraordinary pro-worker achievements of the last two years, with specific Department of Labor initiatives like strengthening Davis-Bacon protections and fighting against worker misclassification. He also observed that while three quarters of young workers are interested in forming a union, only 10% know how – a gap that can and must be closed for the betterment of working people across our country.

“We need strong, diverse unions now more than ever,” Walsh concluded. “I know SMART is devoted to that.”

The joint session culminated with a focus on the SMART Army: our union’s cross-industry, every-member effort to make sure people across North America know SMART workers are the fabric of our communities. First, General President Sellers presented the 2022 Joseph J. Nigro SMART Army Service Award to two union members who have selflessly devoted themselves to both their union and their communities: Local 18 (Wisconsin) Retiree Kevin Turner and TD Local 610 (Baltimore) and SM Local 100 (Washington, DC-area) member Johnny Walker.

“The SMART Army brings us together in the community, it makes us apart of the community,” Turner said.

“The community knows who we are. We’re there,” Walker added. “The important thing about the SMART Army is you’re a part of something that’s a lot bigger than you.”  

Paul Pimentel of SMART Communications followed the awards presentation with an overview of the SMART Army and its efforts in the recent past and looking towards the future, particularly with so much on the line in the 2022 elections. Describing the ways in which SMART has dedicated resources to member communications –surveys, focus groups and more – Pimentel listed methods that locals can use to let members know which politicians are walking the walk for labor: unified messaging, face-to-face conversation, social media content that speaks to members and more. All of that is crucial, he said, as SMART seeks to recruit, retain and organize its way to greater strength for all members.

 “We are not on the defensive anymore, we are on the offense, and that’s something we need,” Pimentel announced.

And finally, Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson wrapped up the general session by reiterating the importance of two-person crews on trains, calling for members across our union to submit comments to the FRA.

“Because of greed on wall street, the railroads want to remove the conductor off the freight trains,” he said. “[But] it is important that have conductors on those trains to keep trains safe, engineers safe, America safe, and keep trains moving on time.”

Submit your comment in support of two-person crew regulations here.

Day two of the first-ever SMART Leadership Conference served as a continuation of day one: After hearing from a variety of speakers during the joint and industry-specific sessions, sheet metal and Transportation Division leaders decamped for more breakout sessions, carrying on the demanding work of educating themselves, forging relationships and pursuing Growth Through Unity for our union.  

After General President Joseph Sellers called the conference to order, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler kicked off the joint session with a compelling speech, calling on SMART locals to seize this moment across industries by bringing more workers into the fold and mobilizing members to achieve more victories.  

“I’m so honored to be here with you this morning, because I’m feeling pretty good about our future,” Shuler said. “Growth Through Unity is exactly what we need in this moment.” 

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler

After recognizing the efforts of railroad workers in their battle against brutal attendance policies and for a fair national rail contract, the first female AFL-CIO president turned her attention to the future. The news media, Shuler noted, has been dominated by stories of worker activity: from organizing in new areas like breweries, coffee shops, REI and Apple, to walkouts, pickets and strikes, this is a moment unlike any other in the recent history of organized labor. For that reason, she said, “We need to be taking risks. We want to capture the energy that we’re seeing out there.” 

Shuler referenced several of the ongoing fights in the labor movement, specifically the Amazon organizing campaign in Bessemer, Alabama – where AFL-CIO affiliates, including SMART, sent organizers in a strong display of unity. That type of bold, collaborative action, with unions across industries coming together for the betterment of workers, is crucial for the future of our movement. 

“CEO pay is 324 times higher than the average worker’s pay,” she said. “That’s absolutely unsustainable, it’s unfair, it’s wrong. So how do we balance those scales? We organize.” 

Organizing is more important than ever, Shuler elaborated, as we emerge into a future with ever-advancing technology, a needed focus on clean energy and other changes to our traditional sectors. Technology has transformed the sheet metal and transportation industries throughout our union’s history, and it will continue to do so at an even greater rate. But technological advancement can’t come at the expense of working people. 

“If someone wants to develop technology that’s going to improve our workplaces, they should start by talking to the people who will work with it – us,” Shuler declared.  

The same goes for clean energy. As industries change and governments around the world implement new policies to mitigate the effects of climate change, unions like SMART need to make their presence felt and ensure workers have a seat at the table. That can only happen, Shuler explained, if we have allies in elected office. The American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act – signed today – and the Senate’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are all vital pieces of legislation that will help put SMART members to work on an enormous number of projects in the new future. Those opportunities evaporate if we return to an anti-worker Congress.  

AFL-CIO President Shuler met with the BE4All Committee after her speech

“To make our vision of the future a reality, we need to elect people who will have our back, who share our values,” Shuler said, concluding her speech with a rallying cry for SMART leaders across the continent. “Let’s do what unions do. We join together and fight back … when they say game over, we say game on.” She then gathered with members of the BE4All committee, putting words into action to help SMART better represent all workers.  

Shuler was followed by AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Greg Regan, who has worked with SMART TD leadership on matters related to BNSF’s Hi-Viz attendance policy, national rail contract negotiations and more. Like Shuler, Regan praised the unprecedented solidarity uniting railroad unions across TTD and vowed to grow that unity; to fight tirelessly for the rights and protections transportation workers deserve.  

“There is a level of strength and solidarity in the freight rail labor movement right now that is unmatched,” he said. “We are going to win this fight; we are going to deliver on the contract rail workers have earned.”   

AFL-CIO TTD President Greg Regan

Walt Ingram, executive director and CEO of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA), took the stand to speak on the importance of using programs like USA to engage with members, from the jobsite to the great outdoors. He then presented the 2022 SMART USA Conservationist of the Year Award to Local 80 (Detroit, Michigan) Business Agent Bryan McConnell. 

Also speaking were Matt Haney, a California State Assemblymember representing the state’s 17th Assembly District, and Rick Martinez, executive director of the California Fire Foundation – an organization devoted to providing critical support to victims, firefighters and communities affected by wildfire and disaster throughout California.  

Haney spoke about the challenges facing San Francisco, particularly housing shortages and a need for improved public transit, and the role union workers will play in overcoming those obstacles: “We’re not here to talk about good jobs or middle-class jobs, we’re here to talk about good, middle-class, union jobs.”  

Martinez used his remarks to speak on the mission of the California Fire Foundation. The foundation is SMART’s chosen charity for the duration of the leadership conference – a mark of our union’s ongoing support for the brave men and women putting their lives on the line to protect Californians from the ongoing effects of disastrous fires. At the time of writing, SMART locals have already raised more than $100,000 for the California Fire Foundation. 

SMART TD President Jeremy Ferguson (left) and GP Joseph Sellers (center) applaud FRA Administrator Amit Bose (right).

Throughout the morning, the joint session highlighted SMART’s relationship with elected and federal officials. That peaked with a rousing, standing-ovation-garnering speech from Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Amit Bose, whose tenure at the FRA has led to unprecedented access and a seat at the table for our union. In his remarks, Bose touched on a variety of topics: the proposed federal rule requiring two-person crews on freight trains, funding to expand and modernize freight and passenger rail systems, and much more.  

“As we forge ahead with new passenger and freight rail projects, the FRA understands the important role SMART members will play,” Bose said. “My staff and I will strive to continue to be available to you and listen to your concerns.” 

Read about Bose and TTD President Greg Regan’s remarks in greater detail by visiting the Transportation News section of our website. 

After the joint session, Transportation Division and sheet metal leaders dispersed for industry breakout sessions; on the TD side, that included another session with FRA Administrator Bose, while sheet metal attendees heard updates from Dushaw Hockett on the work of the BE4All Committee; Erin Gatling on Voyager, a new software system designed to improve local union operations; Dave Bernett, administrator of NEMIC, who outlined how the organization is working to secure more work and market share for SMART; and Lori Wood, who reviewed the welcome fact that the Sheet Metal Workers National Pension Fund is in the green zone and provided an overview of the SMART Local Unions & Councils Pension Fund. Then, attendees separated for more breakouts, with topics including Time Management, Technology Shaping the Sheet Metal Industry, Indoor Air Quality and more.  

It was a long day, with local leaders committing to the work SMART members deserve. And just like day one, it was all in pursuit of one goal: strengthening our union.