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).

The last Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) challenge of 2023 asks SMART members to share their stories in response to the question, “Why are you proud to be a SMART union member?” For Local 71 (Buffalo) sheet metal worker and organizer Andre Mayes, the answer to that question encompasses a lifelong journey – one that took him from working dead-end jobs and knowing nothing about unions, to helping fellow workers gain the life-changing benefits of SMART membership. Read more:

Buffalo sheet metal worker and organizer Andre Mayes (left) donates nose strips for face masks during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If I had to sum up what being a SMART member means to me in one word, it would be ‘purpose.’

“I was a Black child of poverty who grew up in the post-Reagan 90s with few prospects for my future. A very small number of kids I went to school with planned on going to college after high school, despite the fact that we were in the beginning of the era where every child was told they’d be a failure without a four-year degree. I was fortunate to have my grandmother as a role model who introduced me to ways of living that others with my background didn’t get to see, as she was the public relations director for the CBS affiliate in Buffalo. It allowed me to aspire, but with no clear path on how to get there.

“Fast forward almost two decades and I was a waiter with no real plans other than to make cash tips and have fun with my friends. It wasn’t until I became a truck driver at a large mechanical contractor that I was introduced to what unions do for workers. I always believed unions were antiquated, a relic of a bygone era, and that they only got in the way of economic development. As a truck driver, I made $9.25 per hour with absolutely no benefits – no healthcare (this was pre-Obamacare), no paid time off, no retirement, and I was lucky when I got a lunch break – all while working 55-hour weeks. The UA (United Association) and SMART members I delivered to at the same contractor made as much as four times my wages, plus generous retirement and healthcare packages that dwarfed my hourly pay on their own. I began to question what I thought I knew about unions. I made the determination that I was going to belong to one of these trades no matter what.

“For two years, I kept working as a driver and biding my time until the day I was a member. After my interview to join SMART, I received my rank letter for the upcoming apprenticeship class. The amount of joy I felt to see I was #11 on the list, knowing the union would take up to 20 apprentices, was my first real sense of purpose as a member. I had spent two years working to achieve this goal – longer than I’d ever worked any other job by 15 months – and it was close to being achieved.

“I found purpose in learning the actual craft of sheet metal through an intensive combination of on-the-job and classroom training. I was finally being given a chance to hone a set of skills that I enjoyed. I felt like I wanted to share this pride and purpose with everyone. Any friend I had who would talk about their woes at work would get an earful from me about our trade: a real education where every single thing you learn is relevant for work; classmates who you’ll spend your career getting to know; the opportunity to build the physical infrastructure of our community; dignity in retirement at an age that allows you to still enjoy what life has to offer. This was more than a job — it was a calling.

“That purpose led me to learn everything I could in the field, from HVAC fabrication and installation, to TAB, surveying and CAD. This alone would’ve been a fine place to end as I talked about running work and counting the days to retirement, but SMART wasn’t done giving me purpose yet.

“After I turned over, I became the fourth-year HVAC instructor. I was excited just to get the opportunity to teach the next round of sheet metal workers, but at the end of the interview for that role, I was asked where I wanted to be in 10 years by our then-Business Agent Paul Crist. I told him that I’d always wanted to be an organizer and would hope to have a chance for that down the line. As it turned out, he was asking for precisely that reason. Our then-organizer, Joe DeCarlo, was retiring, and Paul encouraged me to apply. I followed suit, and as a result, I have been preaching the gospel of organized labor for four years.

“Even writing this, it’s hard to believe that in 36 years, my life has ended up at this point. I never could’ve dreamed I’d be here 20, even 10 years ago. Being a part of the social movement that is organized labor, being a SMART member and a local officer has given me a sense of purpose only surpassed by my wife and children, none of whom I’d have without this union. I will forever be grateful that I am a SMART member.”

Local 12 (Pittsburgh, Pa.) retiree Jeff Matthews was recently announced as the winner of the Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) fall challenge, which asked members to answer the question: “How did you become a SMART member?” Read Brother Matthews’ story below:

“When I was in high school, I knew I was not cut out for college, nor could I afford to go. Trade school for junior and senior years was an option. Of all the class options available, I thought about auto mechanics or auto body repair. Both would be fun for a hobby, [but] not a career, unless I had my own business. There was a heating and air conditioning class I felt was interesting and could lead to a career.

“In my senior year, my instructor was impressed with my aptitude and progress. He suggested for another student and myself to take both the steamfitter and sheet metal apprentice tests.

“I must admit: At age 17, I was not really interested in spending a Saturday of my time and paying a fee to take a test for a sheet metal union I knew nothing about. (At that time, I was unaware of union versus nonunion.)

“Something told me I needed to go through with this. The test was in a University of Pittsburgh lecture hall and filled to capacity. It was a timed test. At the conclusion, I was surprised that there were many participants that did not finish all the questions.

Matthews won a commemorative golden hardhat and a $100 gift card for his story.

“Several weeks later, I received my acceptance letter, which pleased my trade school instructor greatly. During orientation, they asked how many sons, daughters or friends of sheet metal workers there were. I was in the minority of people that didn’t know and/or were not related to a union member. (So goes the myth that you need to be related to or know someone to be accepted into the union.)

“I graduated high school in May and started working for Local 12 on July 1st. Apprentice school started in the fall, and one of the layout books we were using was the same one I used in trade school, so I was familiar with the beginning.

“I worked with great journeyworkers who took time to show me procedures and answer my questions. When I showed interest in following the blueprints and not just the task at hand, they would show me and challenge me to figure out the next step. This, along with my apprentice school training, prepared me to become a foreman once I became a journeyman.

“I have had a very successful career as a sheet metal worker. I was able to provide for my family, take yearly vacations and send my daughter to college (with the help of a union scholarship).

“Without my teacher’s recommendation, this all could not have happened. I’m sure I could have made a living in heating and air conditioning, but it would not been as fulfilling as it has been as a union sheet metal journeyman.

“I am enjoying my retirement thanks to the union pension I paid into throughout my career.”

Helen Jury Armstrong was a union activist, feminist and anti-war leader who rose to fame during the 1919 Winnipeg general strike. Born in 1875 to a father who worked as a tailor and was a member of the Knights of Labour, Helen “Ma” Armstrong spent her life advocating for working-class women, unions, minimum wage and social security.

In the early onset of World War 1 in 1917, Helen revived the Winnipeg Women’s Labor League and became its president. She successfully campaigned to set minimum wage legislation for women in Manitoba in 1918, and she led the organization of unions for women workers – which included the Retail Clerks’ Union (organized in 1917), the Hotel and Household Workers’ Union and Housemaids’ Union (organized in 1918), and the biscuit-factory workers, laundry workers and knitting machine operators (organized in 1919). She was also appointed to the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council – the council’s only woman.

On May 1, 1919, unions representing Winnipeg’s metal and building trade workers went on strike for the right to form an umbrella union and grow their collective bargaining ability. Two weeks later, leaders from across the labour movement proposed a general strike, leading approximately 30,000 workers to walk off the job on May 15. About 10% of those 30,000 workers were women, who – along with general workers’ rights issues – were fighting against gender-based discrimination and advocating for equal pay.

Helen played a prominent role in the 1919 strike, serving as one of two women on the male-dominated strike committee. Not only did she convince women workers to join the strike as they arrived at their jobs each morning – she established the Labour Café, which provided women strikers with three free meals a day. She was arrested three times during the strike, for disorderly conduct and for her actions to prevent strikebreakers from selling newspapers.

Later in life, Helen and her family moved to Chicago, mostly due to her husband being blacklisted for his role in the strike. By 1929, however, Helen and her family had returned to Winnipeg, continuing the fight on behalf of women and the working class.

Learn more about her life and legacy.

The Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) initiative launched in December 2021. BE4ALL envisions a diverse, inclusive and unionized sheet metal industry that is welcoming and fosters belonging for all. The work of the BE4ALL Committee is a human endeavor, helping individuals take pride in the work they do and value the contributions, humanity and dignity of all. It also includes a business side, where workers and contractors come together to achieve the highest standards of performance and excellence in their technical skills and crafts.

When SMART, SMACNA and the International Training Institute (ITI) launched BE4ALL, the three organizations wanted the effort to be more than just words on a piece of paper. It was important that the initiative be backed by research and best practices. To that end, as BE4ALL moves into 2024, here are five reasons why this work is important. These are also the reasons why now, more than ever, is the time for this work.

1. A sense of belonging

Employees who feel a strong sense of belonging in the workplace work harder, are more productive, stay longer at their job and come into work more often. An article from the Harvard Business Review cites research that investigated the role of belonging at work. The results showed that when employees felt a strong sense of belonging, there was:

  • A 56% increase in job performance
  • A 50% drop in turnover risk
  • A 75% reduction in sick days

2. Financial incentives

That same article states that for a 10,000-person company, this would result in an annual savings of $52 million. Employees with a strong sense of belonging also saw a 167% increase in their willingness to recommend their company to others, and received more raises and promotions.

3. Attract and retain talent

An article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Business Case for More Diversity” reported on research conducted on companies in the S&P 500 index, looking at the age and ethnicity of each company’s workforce, the percentage of women in leadership roles, whether the company has diversity and inclusion programs in place for employees, and the makeup of the board. The research showed that the 20 most diverse firms were able to attract and retain talent and were more financially successful over the long term.

4. Diverse leadership leads to greater innovation

A 2018 study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) suggests that increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to greater innovation and improved financial performance. People who come from different backgrounds and life experiences bring different solutions to the same problem, increasing the odds of success.

The BCG study found that companies that report above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below average leadership diversity (45% of total revenue versus 25%).

A 2016 article from the Harvard Business Review supports the BCG study with a survey of company performance that revealed businesses run by culturally diverse leadership teams were more likely to develop new products than those with homogenous leadership. Harvard Business Review suggests that “enriching your team with representatives of different genders, races, and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s joint intellectual potential.”

5. Overall workplace performance and culture

The business case for diversity in the workplace is strong. Demonstrated benefits include:

  • The ability to attract a talented workforce
  • The ability to reach a wider, more diverse audience
  • Increased creativity and innovation
  • Better decision making and problem solving
  • Greater cultural and language competencies
  • Saving money on recruitment and training
  • Lower turnover rate
  • Lower rate of absent workers
  • Lower rate of discrimination lawsuits

Please join us in making the vision for BE4ALL a reality. There are four simple ways you can do this.

1 — Visit the BE4ALL webpage to learn more about the initiative.

2 — Attend a Learning Journey session (or watch a recording of a past session by visiting the SMART Resources webpage).

3 — View the BE4ALL Calendar to learn more about dates of historic and cultural significance to our members.

4 — Read and utilize the tips and tools contained in the four BE4ALL Toolbox Talks, also on the SMART Resources webpage.

For more information, please contact SMART Director of Special Projects Louise Medina at

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.”

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.”