A year of progress: Looking back on BE4ALL’s 2023

February 1, 2024

The Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) Committee is a joint venture between SMART, SMACNA and the International Training Institute (ITI), with members of the committee pursuing one crucial goal: to create a diverse, inclusive, unionized sheet metal industry that is welcoming and fosters belonging for ALL people. Only by doing so can we sustain a thriving industry and bring more workers and sectors into our fold.  

BE4ALL launched in December 2021. Since then, various BE4ALL subcommittees have focused on implementing the committee’s goals, delivering material results aimed at ensuring our industry is welcoming and inclusive of all current and future members. In 2023, that work took various forms.

January-March: Subcommittees chart their course, mark victories

The year began with the successful launch and continuation of various programs meant to strengthen the unionized sheet metal industry.  

Through the ITI, BE4ALL distributed hundreds of bathroom kits to JATCs across the country – the result of appren­tices pointing out the absence of menstrual products in local training facilities – with SMACNA dispensing a “how-to” guide demonstrating the ease of providing such products on the jobsite. As then SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. stated in a letter to JATC co-chairs, trustees and coordina­tors, providing menstrual products “creates a better learning environ­ment” and lessens “potential stress.” The ITI also continued to host virtual bias and belonging training sessions, as well as in-person train-the-trainer bias and belonging trainings – helping ensure that leaders and instructors are creating welcoming and inclusive environments at all levels of the industry.  

BE4ALL also introduced its 2023 BE4ALL Calendar, which was sent to local unions, JATCs, contractors, and to SMART members via the Members’ Journal. The calendar, meant to help members, employees and colleagues learn more about the different cultures and faiths that make up our industry, included information about a wide range of observances and important dates, with a digital version complementing the print calendar with links to more resources.

In the first quarter of 2023, several BE4ALL subcommittees kicked off additional, year-long campaigns to provide resources, education and opportunities to get involved with making our industry welcoming to all. The BE4ALL Committee’s first-ever Toolbox Talk – titled “On Being a Good Crewmate” – hit local union halls, email inboxes and social media in the beginning of the year. The first of many Toolbox Talks distributed throughout the year, Toolbox Talk #1 touted the importance of creating welcoming workplace environments and developing a sense of camaraderie and mentorship on the job. (The committee distributed another Toolbox Talk, titled “Effective Communication,” in March.)

Education is power, whether knowing one’s rights in the workplace or the history of the unionized sheet metal industry. With that principle in mind, BE4ALL hosted its first Learning Journey of 2023 in January, focused on Martin Luther King, Jr. Guest speaker Dave Dennis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, joined SMART members, SMACNA contractors and others to discuss and celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, with participants joining in conversation, music and song. In February, the committee hosted another Learning Journey on Black History Month, and in March – to complement Women in Construction Week – BE4ALL launched a series of spotlights on social media, highlighting influential (and often overlooked) women in American and Canadian history.

And finally, the committee launched its first of four challenges to SMART members: the BE4ALL I Got Your Back challenge, designed to inspire union members to foster connection with one another. By making a connection with a coworker, posting on social media and sharing something new they learned about each other, members were entered to win a $100 gift card and a commemorative golden BE4ALL hardhat.

April-June: Continued progress, celebrating Juneteenth

The second quarter of 2023 represented onward progress in BE4ALL’s various year-long programs, as well as a coordinated campaign to recognize and provide education to SMART and SMACNA members about Juneteenth.

The committee continued distributing materials intended to promote techniques to practice inclusion; educate and spread awareness; and engage union sheet metal workers and contractors in the BE4ALL initiative. A June Toolbox Talk, titled “Building a Respectful Workplace,” emphasized the importance of solidarity and common courtesy at work – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because studies demonstrate a connection between respectful workplaces, worker safety and business performance.

Meanwhile, several Learning Journeys gave workers and contractors the chance to learn more about the movements that inform the unionized sheet metal industry. In April, SMOHIT Administrator Aldo Zambetti hosted a Learning Journey on mental health awareness – a vital topic whose profile has grown in the construction industry in recent years. In May, Dr. Sam Vong, curator of Asian Pacific American History, Division of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, a vice president of the California Federation of Teachers, and the founding president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, discussed the history of Asian/Pacific American labor in the United States. And in June, the committee put on a Learning Journey celebrating and teaching about LGBTQ+ Pride Month, featuring a brief history, practices for inclusion and testimonials from SMART members and contractors.

On Juneteenth, BE4ALL sent an informational poster to SMART, SMACNA and ITI headquarters, as well as local unions, contractors and JATCs – detailing the history of Juneteenth and the importance of recognizing it in 2023 (and beyond). The committee also hosted a Juneteenth Learning Journey with Tsione Wolde-Michael, a historian and former Smithsonian Museum curator, and shared information to social media, SMART’s video news program and other platforms.

July-September: Celebrating BE4ALL in Washington, DC; workers tell their stories

During the third quarter of 2023, the BE4ALL Committee found various ways to engage the broader SMART and SMACNA memberships. At the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference – which welcomed local union leaders from SMART’s sheet metal and Transportation Divisions, various political guests, SMACNA leaders and more – a BE4ALL booth in the exhibitors’ hall hosted a wide array of visitors, from International staffers to local leaders to SMACNA contractors. As part of the conference itself, BE4ALL Committee members hosted back-to-back breakout sessions, connecting with SMART members and leaders to bring them into the broader effort to create a welcoming and inclusive industry.

Education efforts continued with Learning Journeys and Toolbox Talks. SMART MAP’s (Member Assistance Program) Chris Carlough and Jeremy Holburn of the SMOHIT Mental Health Network were featured guests during a July Learning Journey on addiction and recovery, and in September, the committee welcomed Dr. Sandy Placido – assistant professor of history at Rutgers University – for a learning journey in observance of Hispanic Heritage Month. SMART members and SMACNA contractors also received two Toolbox Talks: one on the steps we can all take to build a respectful workplace, and another on the actions we can take to support our coworkers.

The committee’s third quarter challenge to SMART members asked union sheet metal workers across North America to submit their stories answering one simple question: “How did you become a SMART member?” The answers ran the gamut of experiences, from apprentices to retirees, Northern California to London, Ontario. A first-year apprentice in Rockford, Illinois talked about how Local 219 “changed [his] life.” A Local 12 retiree in southwest Pennsylvania thanked his union pension for allowing him to retire with “dignity and grace.” A Local 104 member out of northern California said that building America as a union sheet metal worker gives him “pride … and the greatest sense of fulfillment.” And a Local 47 (Ottawa, Ontario) instructor recalled how “joining the union was transformational for [him].” Overall, the submissions illustrated both the diversity of the unionized sheet metal workforce, and the solidarity that bonds members together.

October-December: After 12 months of hard work, preparing for the journey ahead

In October, BE4ALL hosted a Learning Journey on Indigenous history, featuring special guests Sarah Adams (Choctaw nation) of signatory contractor RedLand Sheet Metal, as well as Lyle Daniels, community and Indigenous director at the Building Trades of Alberta. It was the final live Learning Journey in the year; in November, however, the committee conducted a social media campaign spotlighting Canadian labour history, rounding out the committee’s 2023 program. The committee also kickstarted its quarter four challenge, asking members to answer the question: “Why are you proud to be a SMART union member?” The challenge is ongoing – winners will be announced in early 2024.

In November, members, contractors and JATCs received the final 2023 Toolbox Talk, on microaggressions. Local unions, contractors and training centers were also encouraged to take part in the 2023 Pedal to the Metal Toy Drive, an initiative designed to spread joy to children during the holiday season and raise awareness of family-sustaining careers in the unionized sheet metal trade. Local unions and contractors gathered toy donations to distribute to those in need in their communities; the BE4ALL Committee provided gift tags with QR codes that offer more information on becoming a union sheet metal worker. As part of the effort, SMART sisters and allies brought toys to SMART International headquarters in Washington, DC, during Tradeswomen Build Nations; the substantial haul was donated to Mary’s Center, which offers high-quality healthcare, education and social services to all.

As the year came to a close, BE4ALL set its sights on 2024 – and beyond. Immediate next steps include the publication of a rapid response protocol, aimed at helping local unions and contractors respond to incidents of bias, hazing and bullying. Additionally, the ITI and the SMART Education Department plan to expand bias and belonging trainings, and the ITI Accreditation Board has approved a requirement to deliver bias and belonging classes – at least one class annually – in its criteria for any level of JATC accreditation. BE4ALL will also continue bringing more members into the fold by increasing access to bathroom kits, hosting more Learning Journeys, providing additional Toolbox Talks, once again distributing a BE4ALL calendar, and much more.

The BE4ALL Committee has made substantial progress over the last two years – and there is much more work to be done. To get involved, text “BE4ALL” to 67336 (message and data rates may apply).