Local 47 (Ottawa, Ontario) sheet metal worker Stuart Simpson started his tradesperson career at a nonunion sheet metal shop. Unlike many nonunion contractors, though, his employer ended up actively encouraging Simpson and his coworkers to join SMART – resulting in a “truly life-changing” shift that Simpson says has transformed the trajectory of his career, leading him to become Local 47’s training coordinator. Read more in his BE4ALL member story:  

“I got into sheet metal at a local shop in 1996. I became a registered apprentice and went through my five-year apprenticeship, attended three intakes at our local college (eight weeks each time), wrote my certificate of qualification and became a licensed journeyperson in 2002.

“I joined SMART back in 2011 – before becoming a union member, I worked for a nonunion shop. We normally worked long hours, usually for straight time, and we were paid time and a half when it was available. My employer at the time decided that we should all join the union because of the benefits SMART membership provided. It was a good employer that wanted to give its employees a better future. We were provided with a good pension plan and great benefits, as well as a nice wage increase! My employer did the best it could to provide good benefits and a pension; however, joining the union was an amazing decision. I am truly grateful for that. I was fortunate to work for that company for 19.5 years before it closed its doors.

“Once I became a union member, I started attending union meetings and learned more about what the union has done and could do for its members. By attending more union functions, I got to know the officers of the union, and when my union reached out looking for an instructor to assist with safety training, I submitted my name. Thankfully they liked what I had to offer, and I became one of the safety trainers. Shortly after I also became the part-time training coordinator, and after a few years they brought me on full time to serve as the permanent training coordinator.

“Over the last five years our local has expanded its safety training, brought in two more instructors, and most recently we were awarded our TDA (training delivery agent) status, which will allow us to start teaching the 308A Red Seal sheet metal and the 449A Red Seal roofer programs in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I am so grateful to be a part of SMART, for the education it has provided me, as well as the many skill upgrade opportunities I’ve been able to access. Honestly, joining the union was transformational for me, not only from a financial position, but also because the things I’ve learned and the courses I’ve attended have truly changed my life. When I meet new apprentices, I tell them to take every opportunity to grow their skills, as learning is a lifelong journey. Thank you SMART for all you have done and continue to do for us!”

In this Talking SMART special episode, SMART General President Michael Coleman, SMACNA President Anthony Kocurek and returning guest host Dushaw Hockett discuss the Belonging and Excellence for All initiative, also known as BE4ALL.  

Their conversation, which took place at the end of August 2023 during the SMART Leadership Conference, explores why BE4ALL is so vital for the unionized sheet metal industry as we enter a period of unprecedented opportunity.  

“We have to look at all kinds of different ways to bring in a workforce that’s not the traditional way we did that. And the issue with that is we need to be welcoming when we do this.”

– SMART General President Michael Coleman

“We have some projects where the workforce for that project alone exceeds the amount of members we have in that entire local,” said GP Coleman. “We cannot apprentice our way out of this problem. The numbers don’t line up. So, we have to get outside our comfort zone. And we have to look at all kinds of different ways to bring in a workforce that’s not the traditional way we did that. And the issue with that is we need to be welcoming when we do this.” 

The values of belonging and inclusion are not only a core part of the solidarity that defines our organization and the labor movement – they will be crucial to ensuring that local unions can meet the workforce demands created by megaprojects, federal legislation and a new emphasis on our industry. Only by bringing all workers into our union will we be able to secure the jobs, hours and collective bargaining strength that lie before us.  

Dushaw Hockett is the founder and executive director of Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs), a Washington, DC-based organization that is working with SMART and SMACNA to move forward with the BE4ALL initiative. 

Return to the Talking SMART index page.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern California sheet metal worker Anthony LaBeau

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

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

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

The theme of the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference was “This Is Our Time!” In recognition of this important moment — for both our union and the industry — we invite SMART members to practice the five skills of the BE4ALL (Belonging and Excellence for All) leader.

These core skills help to create welcoming workspaces that foster belonging for all. They are also consistent with the vision and mission of BE4ALL, a joint initiative supported by SMART, SMACNA and the International Training Institute (ITI).

The five practices:

1. Intergroup contact. BE4ALL leaders make intergroup contact a daily practice. Intergroup contact requires that leaders step out of their comfort zone to engage people who are different (or those they perceive to be different). If done on a regular basis, this practice can be life changing. In the book Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, author Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford social psychologist, notes that “personal connections can override the power exerted by implicit bias.” There are several ways to practice intergroup contact. In the workplace, the strategy may involve regular lunch meetings or check-ins with coworkers in which two people get to know each other beyond job titles and roles. In private life, intergroup contact could take the form of participating in a diverse social club or community association.

2. Micro-affirmations. BE4ALL leaders also practice micro-affirmations. Micro-affirmations are small — but important — ways that we can acknowledge the humanity, dignity and worth of others. They include:

  • Name recognition. Asking a person for their name, and then remembering and repeating their name later, is one of the most powerful ways that we can signal to another person: “I see you.” “You matter.”
  • Life events. Inquiring about important events in people’s lives. These include birthdays, anniversaries and important holidays. You can record the dates in your calendar – then, when an important date arrives, take a moment to acknowledge the person by sending a card, email or text.
  • Feedback and affirmation. Take time to give other people feedback (positive or otherwise). But remember, for feedback to be effective, it needs to be specific and genuine. It’s also important that you have enough of a relationship with the other person that they will be open to receiving what you have to say.

3. Non-biased decision-making. In the Bias and Belonging training sessions conducted by the ITI, instructors offer several tools to assist with non-biased decision-making. These tools include the use of mental scripts. A simple mental script goes like this:

What if I’m wrong, and what’s happening in this situation is not (what I think it is)? But, instead, it’s (something else).

For example, what if the reason why the apprentice has been late three days in a row has nothing to do with a lack of work ethic? Instead, maybe the person is homeless and sleeping in their car.

Mental scripts invite us to pause and challenge our assumptions before making a decision.

4. Courageous conversations. BE4ALL leaders regularly practice courageous conversations. A courageous conversation is an exchange between two people. Usually, the conversation is initiated in one of two situations: a) when we feel that we have been wronged by another person and/or; b) when we have done or said something (real or perceived) to wrong another person.

In a recent article, we laid out the seven “As” of a courageous conversation.

But there are two that are foundational for every leader. They are

  • Anchoring: Preparing yourself — mentally and emotionally — before the conversation. This provides a reserve of energy to tap into for what can be a long and uncomfortable process. Preparation may include listening to music or going for a walk or run.
  • Acknowledging: Share with the person ways that you may have contributed to the problem or tension. To do this, simply say: “I want to acknowledge that, at times, I can be (or I may have done) ______________. And this may have contributed to the problem or tension we have.

The above practice is often referred to as looking in the mirror leadership versus looking out the window (where we blame and point fingers at others).

5. Remembrance and repair – the two “Rs” of history. Finally, the effective leader takes the time to understand the history of diverse groups. In BE4ALL Learning Journey sessions, we often talk about the two “Rs” of history — remembrance and repair. Remembrance is the practice of reflecting on the past, and looking for lessons that we can apply to the future. Repair is the practice of taking action — as individuals or through our organizations — to repair any harm caused by the past, and to ensure that the past does not repeat itself.

One of the easiest ways to practice remembrance is by visiting museums, either in person or virtually. Below are several resources — each with virtual exhibitions, teaching resources and more that can be accessed via each resource’s website — that leaders can use to support their practice work. Do not just “visit” the exhibits once. Instead, make it a ritual.

The exhibits and resources are:

National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). The NMAI collects and preserves the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts and is committed to serving the greater public as an honest and thoughtful conduit to Native cultures — present and past — in all their richness, depth and diversity.

Asian Pacific American Center (APAC). Bringing history, art and culture to you through innovative museum experiences and digital initiatives with the goal of enriching the American story with the voices of Asian Pacific Americans.

LGBTQ+ History. Resources curated by the Smithsonian with LGBTQ+ connections, including archival collections, videos and online exhibits.

National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history and culture.

American Women’s History Museum. Decades in the making, the American Women’s History Museum’s physical location is not yet complete. With a digital-first mission and focus, the online museum amplifies a diversity of women’s voices, highlighting contributions women have made to America’s most defining moments.

Museum of the American Latino. Currently being built to recognize the accomplishments, history and culture of Latino communities.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders world-wide to confront hatred, prevent genocide and promote human dignity.

The Belonging and Excellence for ALL (BE4ALL) Committee launched its first-ever Toolbox Talk on January 19, 2023 — the initial step in an ongoing effort designed to educate, spread awareness and help strengthen SMART and the unionized sheet metal industry. Toolbox Talk #1, titled “On Being a Good Crewmate,” touted the importance of creating welcoming workplace environments and developing a sense of camaraderie and mentorship on the job.

Studies have shown that new employees, including apprentices, who receive support and mentorship are twice as likely to complete their training and remain successfully employed,” the Toolbox Talk read. “A positive work environment has been shown to alleviate stress not only on the jobsite but in other areas of life as well. We must support each other!”

The BE4ALL Committee will be distributing Toolbox Talks every other month as part of its ongoing work. Those talks will then be given and discussed at local unions, JATCs and jobsites across the country. The goal, the committee says, is for the Toolbox Talks to reduce bullying, harassment, hazing and discrimination on jobsites, and to promote solidarity among SMART members.

“BE4ALL’s mission is to create a culture of excellence, foster a welcoming work environment for all of our members and retain our skilled workforce,” said SMART General President Joseph Sellers. “Our trade relies on teamwork and the solidarity that comes from having each other’s backs, and we hope that these Toolbox Talks will strengthen the connections between all our brothers and sisters.”

Read the first Toolbox Talk here.

June is an important month for SMART: It marks 18 months since the launch of the Belong­ing and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) effort. This repre­sents a significant milestone for our organization. It underscores our commitment to creating environ­ments where all workers feel seen and heard, and where they know that they belong.

BE4ALL launched in December 2021 with a stated vision: to create a diverse, inclusive and unionized sheet metal industry that is welcoming and fosters belonging for all. Three organi­zations — SMART, SMACNA and ITI — guide the work of the initia­tive. Each is represented on the joint BE4ALL Committee, which includes members appointed by General President Joseph Sellers.

Eighteen months later, we have a lot to report. Here are a few highlights:

BE4ALL 2023 Calendar

BE4ALL launched its first calendar in January 2023. The calendar is a tool for members, employees and colleagues to learn more about the different cultures and faiths that make up our industry. Local unions and employers have been asked to post the calendar in a public space, such as a break room, lunchroom or community meeting area. The hope is that the calendar will spark conversation about the diverse cultures and lived experiences reflected in our industry.

Bathroom Kits

Through the International Training Institute (ITI), BE4ALL has distributed hundreds of bathroom kits to JATCs across the country. The kits are the result of appren­tices pointing out the absence of menstrual products in local training facilities. As General President Sellers stated in a recent letter to JATC co-chairs, trustees and coordina­tors, providing menstrual products “creates a better learning environ­ment” and lessens “potential stress.” In the future, the goal is for the kits to be present across the industry.

Bias and Belonging Training

BE4ALL has rolled out a new training program called Bias and Belonging. The program seeks to raise awareness about ways that implicit bias — stereotypes that we are not aware that we have, and that may lead to unintentional harm — impacts our day-to-day decisions. The training also offers evidence-based tools and strategies for how workers can reduce and interrupt their implicit biases. To date, more than 100 JATC coordinators and instructors have been trained. For 2023, the plan is to expand the training to the broader membership.

Toolbox Talks

The BE4ALL initiative recently launched BE4ALL Toolbox Talks. The first “talk” focused on Being a Good Crewmate and offered concrete tips for how to support coworkers and colleagues. Ideas included teaching people how to use tools and equip­ment properly, as well as checking in on your teammates and their well-being. Upcoming Toolbox Talks will be published every other month.

Learning Journeys

Another key accomplishment has been the BE4ALL Learning Journey program. These are 90-minute virtual workshops aimed at raising awareness about issues and topics important to our industry, including events of historical and cultural importance to our membership. To date, BE4ALL has conducted seven Learning Journey sessions. These sessions have focused on mental health aware­ness, Pride Month, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month, just to name a few.

This year, BE4ALL will host its second Juneteenth Learning Journey and will introduce other activities in observance of this important date in history.

What is Juneteenth?

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom for those who were enslaved. This did not immediately end slavery in the United States, but it did trans­form the Civil War, as every advance of federal troops expanded the range of freedom.

Two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The 250,000 enslaved people in the state of Texas began to learn of their freedom – and of the end of the war. The day became known as “Juneteenth” by the newly freed people of Texas, and honors the end of slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth is considered the longest-running holiday for Black Americans. In 2021, President Biden proclaimed June 19th to be a federal holiday. In his 2021 procla­mation, President Biden said: “On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice. And we celebrate the centu­ries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility.”

The observance of Juneteenth is not just for Black Americans, but for the entire nation. Renowned historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said of Juneteenth: “For a country built upon the love of freedom, any manifestation of the enjoyment of freedom should be celebrated by all our countrymen.”

Celebrations may include:

Attending Juneteenth celebra­tions in your community

  • Learning more about the history of Juneteenth and sharing that history with family and peers
  • Visiting museums and commemorative sites that honor the history of African Americans
  • Hosting or sponsoring guest speakers and/or educational opportunities
  • Supporting Black history organizations and Black-owned businesses

Call To Action: To receive regular BE4ALL text or email updates, text “BE4ALL” to 67336 (message and data rates may apply).

The Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) Committee launched its second Toolbox Talk on March 16 – part of the committee’s ongoing work to strengthen SMART and the unionized sheet metal industry by making all members feel welcome, on and off the job. Toolbox Talk #2, titled “Effective Communication,” addresses the important steps that can be taken to avoid miscommunication and conflict on the jobsite.  

“In the heat of the moment, sometimes simple miscommunications can lead to angry fireworks, which can create an environment where ultimately, we may regret our behavior,” the Toolbox Talk reads. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be this way. Most of our time, whether at work, school, or home, is spent communicating in some way with others. Drawings, instructions, verbal and nonverbal feedback, body language – there are many ways we interact with others to share our ideas and ultimately, to attempt to arrive at the same place: safely, ahead of schedule and under budget.”

Like the first Toolbox Talk, which was titled “On Being a Good Crewmate,” “Effective Communication” incorporates into BE4ALL’s broader mission to create worksites where all members – regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, experience and more – feel that they belong. Not only is this goal part of the core solidarity at the heart of the labor movement; we can only recruit and retain the workers we need in order to grow if we welcome ALL members into our union.

“We work in a trade in which teamwork and trust are absolutely vital – and we can only foster that sense of trust when we communicate with one another,” remarked SMART General President Joseph Sellers. “We hope members can use this Toolbox Talk to build connections and avoid miscommunications in the future.”   

The Toolbox Talk, which has been distributed to local unions, contractors, training centers, members and more, is intended to be read aloud at jobsites, union meetings and other group settings. Members can access all existing Toolbox Talks in the “Resources” section on SMART’s website.