Joseph J. Nigro Award winners recognized for SMART Army solidarity

October 16, 2023

The Joseph J. Nigro SMART Army Service Award — given each year to selected sheet metal and Transportation Division members — is a recognition of the winners’ solidarity and dedication to their union, their SMART brothers and sisters and their communities. This year’s winners — who received their awards during the SMART Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, in August — embody the principles of selflessness and service that characterize SMART and the labor movement.

Watch interviews with each SMART Army award winner.

SMART-TD Local 1409 (Kansas City, Kansas) member and Legislative Representative Dan Bonawitz joined the SMART Transportation Division in September of 2006, when he hired on with Union Pacific. He became a legislative representative shortly after in 2009, lobbying for laws and regulations that protect his sisters and brothers and their communities. He now works as a Transportation Division international organizer.

Throughout his time as a member, Bonawitz has worked to build and bolster the Local 1409 SMART Army, strengthening the bonds between SMART members — including different TD locals in Kansas, bus members and sheet metal members — and between SMART and the community. Each year, Bonawitz organizes a Memorial Day SMART Army event, bringing fellow members to cemeteries in the area to decorate veterans’ graves with American flags.

“There’s no ‘I’ in SMART, there’s no ‘I’ in Army, there’s no ‘I’ in team,” Bonawitz said. “Here in Kansas City, we work as one big family.”

SM Local 280 (Vancouver, B.C.) Business Representative Jeff Lind was one of two sheet metal Joseph J. Nigro Award winners in 2023, a tribute to the work he has put in to create and develop the SMART Army in the Vancouver area since 2021. The first SMART Army endeavor Lind took on was the Langley Meals on Wheels project, during which members volunteered to build kitchen components such as stainless steel tables for the local Meals on Wheels. He then expanded that opportunity by seeking donations from the unionized sheet metal industry, raising approximately $60,000 worth of equipment and funds for the charity.

Lind has continued to organize Local 280 initiatives in the years since, including for events such as Steps for Life — which supports the families of workers who have suffered a workplace death or life-altering injury — and the Terry Fox Run, which raises money for cancer research. Through these projects, he focuses on building a sense of belonging in Local 280, finding opportunities for members to get together and support their communities.

“Full disclosure — it is an honor to accept this award, but really this is all about the membership of Local 280,” Lind said.

The final Joseph J. Nigro award winner was longtime SM Local 105 (Los Angeles, Calif.) member Manuel Zapata. He has been a union sheet metal worker since 1988, serving as a chief negotiation steward until 2013, as well as an all-trades project manager, supervisor and operations craft manager, managing 90 employees. He was also an executive board member Dan Bonawitz at the local for one term, and he served for 17 years as a part-time JATC instructor.

Zapata started Autism Spectrum Athletics in 2012, with the simple goal of bringing children on the spectrum together to play sports, have fun and socialize in a safe space. When he started, the program had 30 kids. Eleven years later, in May of 2023, he signed up 147 kids to play baseball – demonstrating the outsized impact that his efforts, with help from his Local 105 sisters and brothers, are having on his community.

“When I started on this venture many years ago, it was with one simple goal – a goal we sheet metal workers always have, and that’s solve problems. To provide a program and a place for children on the spectrum of autism where they can play sports without fear, without judgement, where most of all, they can have fun,” Zapata said. “I’m truly humbled to be given this award.”