SMART Local 20 (Indianapolis, Ind.) sister Tori Barth has been working in sheet metal for 10 years, with the last four spent as a union welder and fabricator. She looks forward to all the places the union sheet metal trade will take her in the future, she says – and she can’t wait to advance her skill set along the way. Learn more in her sister story.
What unique strengths do you bring to your trade?
I’m always willing/wanting to learn more, and I am determined to do my best while learning new skills.
What do you love to do when you are not at work?
Spend time with my kids and family, as much as possible.
Goals in the future — any ambitions or changes to your career, growth or education?
Starting classes to become a journeyperson and learning more in this trade as a sheet metal worker.
What surprised you about your trade?
How capable I am in a field that is still majority men.
What do you find frustrating about your job/trade?
There will always be men that don’t think you belong and don’t want you to be successful. So the hardest part is having to prove myself when I know I’m capable but others don’t think that.
How did you get into SMART?
I joined the union because my old boss left my last job, and I followed him for a better opportunity.
Tool you can’t live without?
What do you think about Tradeswomen Build Nations?
I think it’s needed. Yes, places are more diverse than ever – but they can always be better. Showing women in the trades and women being successful is only going to help this cause!
March 6-11 was Women in Construction Week – an annual celebration of women in the industry and, for SMART, the sisters who strengthen our union. With two profile videos, a photo contest, a kids art contest and a happy hour at the end of the week, SMART spent Women in Construction Week 2023 highlighting the achievements of women in the unionized sheet metal industry and showcasing the life-changing careers available to women across the United States and Canada.
“Women in Construction Week is a great opportunity to get more women members connected each year and more involved with their union,” SMART Women’s Committee Chair Vanessa Carman (Local 66) told SMART News. “It was great to see new sisters and allies attend and show their support.”
SMART News interviewed sisters Korri Bus of Local 16 (Portland, Ore.) and Tatjana Sebro of Local 206 (San Diego, Calif.) about their personal experiences with Women in Construction Week and the union. For Bus, Women in Construction Week plays an important role in showing tradeswomen that even if they’re the only woman on the jobsite, they’re never alone.
“It highlights all the other women who have blazed the trail for us,” she said. “Growing up in the trades, when I was a baby apprentice, I didn’t have other women that I worked around, so I didn’t really get to connect with any of them, learn from them, be mentored by any of them, understand any of the struggles that they were also dealing with. So I think it’s really neat that we all get to come together and be celebrated … knowing that there are other women in our trade kicking butt and taking names.”
Two such trailblazing women, Shamaiah Turner of Local 17 (Boston) and Leah Rambo of Local 28 (New York City), earned the spotlight for new career advancements. Turner recently transitioned from the field into union representation, becoming a business development representative for the SMART Northeast Regional Council. And in March, Rambo retired from Local 28 to become deputy director of the executive team of the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. Both women provide a strong example for the union sheet metal workers of the future.
Providing opportunity for women in construction
For unions like SMART, part of the aim of Women in Construction Week is to promote the value of entering the union building trades. Numerousstudies demonstrate that unionized women earn better pay and benefits than their nonunion counterparts. For that reason, it’s important to increase awareness of the unionized sheet metal trade and how women can get involved. Sebro emphasized that Women in Construction Week helps expand knowledge of the role women play in our union and our trade, as well as the obstacles many face in their journey.
“Sometimes people don’t really understand some of the struggles and the barriers that we go through as women in the trades, so to be able to have a whole week highlighted is definitely liberating for me,” she said.
The SMART sisters of Local 206 participated in a photoshoot with fellow trades sisters, sponsored by the IBEW Local 569 and hosted at the Ironworkers Local 229 union hall. For Sebro, that represented the type of sisterhood and solidarity that has helped her throughout her career – and that, as a new journeyperson, she hopes to pass on to the next generation.
“I want to continue to move mountains and to just keep rising and to bring people with me,” she declared.
North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) hosted an event titled “Meeting the Movement” on Thursday, March 30 in Columbus, Ohio. The event, part of NABTU’s Opportunity Pipeline series, featured NABTU President Sean McGarvey, SMART Local 24 (northern Ohio) member McKenzie Quinn, representatives from the Ohio governor’s office, state politicians from both sides of the aisle, local union workers and more, all talking about one thing: $200 billion worth of megaprojects breaking ground in Ohio.
“Join us in rebuilding America and join us in establishing your place in the middle class,” McGarvey said at the event, addressing the union tradespeople of the future. “… We look forward to building this together as a team, as a community for the benefit of all in our country.”
As a result of massive investment and new megaprojects from companies like Intel, Honda and more – spurred in part by federal legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act – the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council estimates that more than 115,000 union workers will work full time from 2023 to 2025. That enormous number of jobs opens a huge window of opportunity for SMART sheet metal workers, both current and future members.
“In Columbus right now, we have a lot of exciting upcoming projects,” Local 24 journeyperson Quinn said. “We have chip factories, data centers, electric vehicle battery plants, and this is going to bring hundreds of good-paying jobs in the next few years.”
That not only means family-sustaining jobs for Ohio SMART members – it creates a golden opportunity for local unions to recruit, organize and grow their market share.
“We need to do our best to continue recruiting people from every background,” Quinn noted. “This opportunity is available to everyone.”
Megaprojects, union apprenticeship programs create opportunity for all
“Joining a union has given me safety and security in my job and safety from discrimination, not only with wages but also gender-based discrimination,” Quinn said. “This is a great chance for everybody, including women and minorities, to get into the trades and have a great career.”
Local 17 (Eastern Mass.) fifth-year apprentice Kerry Sampson “had no idea what sheet metal even was” when a friend suggested that she consider entering the trade. Sampson, who previously worked as a hairdresser and makeup artist, had taken an interest in welding as she looked to work in a more consistent and better-paying field.
“Then he explained that I didn’t need to have any experience whatsoever, that I would go through a five-year apprenticeship program – for free – while working and making money, and I decided to give it a shot,” Sampson recalled in a Woman In Construction Week profile video. Now, she added, she’s the first-ever female SMART sheet metal worker in Rhode Island.
“I’ve learned quite a bit,” she explained. “I’ve learned CAD, I’ve learned drafting, I’ve learned welding, I’ve learned fabricating ductwork, measuring, and right now I’m learning testing and balancing.”
Like fellow Local 17 sister Adrian Mobley, the SMART video team accompanied Sampson through a day in her life as a sheet metal apprentice, as she explained her schedule, discussed her journey in the trade and more. Sampson is currently working on a job at Providence College, cutting the exhaust into the bathrooms and the dorm rooms of a new residence hall.
“Depending on the job, I’ll be doing different things,” she told SMART. “Some jobs have a lot of welding, and I might be the ground person or the fire watch. Other jobs I would be installing the ductwork in the air. Some of the jobs I’m just the helper. [Either way] the day really flies by because you’re constantly learning and working.”
Before entering the Local 17 apprenticeship, Sampson found a consistent, family-sustaining career hard to come by. Her hair dressing job, she said, didn’t pay very well but had some benefits; as a makeup artist, she made more money but had no benefits. Now, with the strong pay and benefits afforded by her union apprenticeship, she’s able to help her daughter go to nursing school, afford her own place and provide for her loved ones.
“I definitely have better work-life balance now that I’m in the union,” Sampson explained. “I make better money, I’m more comfortable, I have better benefits, I can do what I want to do with my free time. I love fishing; the first year of my apprenticeship I was able to buy a small aluminum boat, and now I own a 20-foot center console.”
Like Mobley’s profile, Sampson also discussed the mentorship she’s received at her local, her favorite parts of being a sheet metal worker, and the advice she would give a woman considering entering the trade. She also described her future plans – shadowing a testing and balancing worker for two years and getting her TAB license – and looked back on her Tradeswomen Build Nations 2022 experience.
“We marched around the [Las Vegas] strip chanting ‘wicked SMART, wicked SMART’” Sampson recalled near the conclusion of her video profile. “It was an invigorating, and empowering, and invincible feeling. It was a feeling of unity, support, togetherness and belonging.”
Local 17 (Boston) sheet metal worker Adrian Mobley took her time entering the trade. She originally attended college on a full-ride soccer scholarship; after leaving to take care of her father, she became a nursing assistant for nine years. But that all changed when she entered the Building Pathways pre-apprenticeship program and met Local 17’s Shamaiah Turner.
“She’s awesome. She is a great mentor,” Mobley explained during a Women In Construction Week 2023 video profile. “She came in and talked to my class, [and] just seeing her and how passionate she was – I was like, ‘you know what? I want to be like her. I can do that.’”
The SMART video team followed Mobley through a typical workday, starting with her 5:40 a.m. commute and ending around 2:30 in the afternoon. She’s currently working on the South Station Terminal project in Boston, installing various pieces of duct. That project, she said, is indicative of what she enjoys about the trade.
“What I love about doing sheet metal is, honestly, driving past a building that I worked on and being proud, saying: Wow, I did that,” Mobley explained. “I love the welding aspect of it as well … putting the duct up, gunking, sealing, everything that comes with [sheet metal.] The camaraderie on the job … it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s different.”
She also pointed out the outsized impact that her union membership has made on her personal life. Mobley worked for several different agencies throughout her tenure as a nonunion nursing assistant, and she never had the financial security to move out of her parents’ house. Even worse, none of those companies provided her with health or dental benefits. That all changed, Mobley noted, when she joined Local 17.
“I got into the union, and I stacked: saved money, saved, saved, and now I have a two-bedroom condo and I’m loving it. So I thank the union for that,” she said.
Along with the benefits of her SMART membership and her favorite parts about sheet metal work, Mobley discussed her experience as an apprentice, Tradeswomen Build Nations 2018 and more. She concluded her profile with a word of advice to the SMART sheet metal sisters of tomorrow:
“If a woman approached me right now wanting to get into sheet metal, I would tell her go for it. If you see me doing it, you can do it. I saw another woman doing it, and I convinced myself I could do it.”
SMART Local 265 (DuPage County, Ill.) sheet metal worker Danielle Wilson has always impressed her fellow union members with her expertise and craft as a welder. In February, she also impressed contractor Walsh Construction, which featured Wilson – an employee at GT Mechanical – as part of its ongoing progress newsletter tracking the construction of a new Chicago Jesuit Academy (CJA) school building.
“Danielle currently lives in Coal City, Ill., and makes the hour-long commute to CJA every day,” Walsh wrote in its newsletter.
Though Wilson comes from a family of tradespeople – her father and brother are laborers, while her brothers-in-law are sheet metal workers – she originally planned to become a surgeon. After a short stint as a painter, she joined Local 265; since then, Walsh wrote, “she has never looked back,” developing her skills as a welder to such a degree that she is now the go-to stainless steel welder at GT Mechanical.
Her current job, the new CJA building, will serve as the future home for female students attending the academy. Wilson, a journeyperson, is currently working on installing and connecting ductwork for the building’s HVAC system – a vital task that will ensure the quality of the air that future students breathe. However, Wilson is more than a sheet metal worker to the students at CJA; she’s also a role model.
“Danielle recently spoke to the first class of 3rd and 4th grade girls to attend the school,” Local 265 shared on Facebook in February. “She did a fantastic job explaining all the ins and outs of the trade and answered a number of great questions from the students.”
By serving as ambassadors for the sheet metal trade and our union, members like Wilson do more than demonstrate the importance of skilled labor on the job: They pass on knowledge about the fulfilling, life-changing nature of a union sheet metal career. This is vital as SMART works to strengthen the union’s future and lift working families across our two nations.
“Local 265 is very proud of Danielle Nicole Wilson,” the local’s Facebook post concluded.
Vice President Kamala Harris visited the SMART Local 17 union hall in Boston on Wednesday, November 2, emphasizing the work SMART members will perform as part of the Biden administration’s push to lower energy costs. Harris announced a variety of steps the administration will take – part of the Inflation Reduction Act – to help working families stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer; many of which will create union jobs manufacturing, retrofitting and installing energy efficiency equipment.
The vice president was introduced by SM Local 17 member Shamaiah Turner, who proudly represented our union and the many boundary-breaking women and people of color in the union trades.
“The Inflation Reduction Act … pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in terms of providing good jobs and a sustainable way to address the climate crisis,” Turner explained.
“Shamaiah, you represent the heart and soul of Local 17,” Harris said upon taking the stage. “Thank you for that introduction and all that you have done – and all that you have left to do.”
After thanking Local 17 sheet metal workers for their work building our nation, Harris outlined the Biden administration’s aim to “create millions of good-paying union jobs, to protect workers’ rights, to expand American manufacturing and to lower costs for American families.”
“One of the best ways a family can reduce the energy bill is to make their home more energy efficient. But here’s the challenge,” Harris added. “For many homeowners, energy efficiency upgrades are expensive. … And that is why we are investing $300 million right here in Massachusetts, and $13 billion nationwide, to help families upgrade their homes and to lower their monthly energy bills.”
As part of the White House’s plan to lower energy prices, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is providing $4.5 billion in assistance to help cut heating costs for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), helping families make necessary repairs and upgrades to their homes to increase energy efficiency. Additionally, the Department of Energy will allocate $9 billion in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to support up to 1.6 million households nationwide in upgrading their homes to decrease energy bills, including by installing heating pumps – efficient technology that can heat and cool homes and buildings using half or a third of the energy used by traditional heating systems. Importantly, Harris noted, the labor standards included in the funding incentivize the use of skilled, certified workers to perform such upgrades.
“These investments will also create jobs. Jobs for electricians, who do the residential wiring. Jobs for laborers, who install energy efficient windows and doors. Jobs for sheet metal workers, who build and install electric heat pumps. Jobs for union workers who will be trained right here in this building.”
In a fact sheet released ahead of the event, the White House specifically directed stakeholders to BetterAirInBuildings.org – a resource that enables interested parties to find skilled, certified SMART workers and SMACNA contractors for their building needs. The administration also announced its intention to designate funding for workforce development and training, helping local communities and unions like SMART expand access to good, union jobs.
Fourth-year SMART Local 18 apprentice Angela Poore received the September North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) Tradeswomen Heroes award – a recognition of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin sheet metal worker’s perseverance, skill and dedication to her craft.
“She is hard-working, shows up on time and soaks things up like a sponge,” the Local 18 Milwaukee Joint Apprenticeship Committee said when nominating Angela for the award. “Angela…exemplifies a great employee.”
Angela’s journey to the unionized sheet metal industry was an unorthodox one. Born and raised on military bases, Angela and her family spent 11 years driving from state to state, including Kansas, Alaska and Texas – finding adventure on cross-country odysseys. After settling in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Angela eventually moved out of her family home at 17 years old, working at two chiropractic offices for 15 years and starting her own cleaning business.
Like many workers in 21st century America, though, an economy devoted less to working families and more to Wall Street made economic stability hard to find, and while researching other career options, Angela was introduced to sheet metal by her stepfather, a Local 18 business agent. She spent some time honing her math skills, then signed up as a pre-apprentice at 34 years old.
“We would be lucky to have more apprentices, and future journeyworkers, like Angela.”
“It’s very intimidating being a female going into a ‘Man’s World,’ but I realized that the guys I was working with were like anyone else at a job,” Angela said. “They taught me so much, they showed me the wrong and right ways of doing things.”
Having spent all four years of her apprenticeship at JM Brennan Co., Angela has been able to experience the camaraderie of working in a union shop – and she’s taken advantage of every mentorship and learning opportunity that has come her way.
“The best part, so far, is working with so many different foremen/journeyen and learning their ways of doing things,” she noted. “It helps you find what way works best for you. I cannot wait to become a journeyperson or a foreman and see where this road takes me.”
The Local 18 Joint Apprenticeship Committee clearly feels the same way.
“Angela is always willing to take on new challenges,” the committee wrote in Angela’s nomination. “When Angela’s employer challenged the employees to differentiate themselves from others, she was the only one who approached her superintendent seeking guidance on improving her welding skills. Angela had always shown signs of success as a welder, but with this challenge took the opportunity to really focus and hone those skills.’
“We would be lucky to have more apprentices, and future journeyworkers, like Angela,” the committee concluded. Congratulations, sister!