SM Local 88 (Las Vegas, Nevada) won the first annual Southern Nevada Building Trades softball tournament. They forged a dominant run through a crowded field of 18 other teams, none of which were able to stand up to the hitting prowess and fielding only Local 88 could muster. Congratulations!

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.”

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) hosted the Mikva Challenge’s annual “Democracy is a Verb!” celebratory reception on Sunday, April 23 in Washington, DC. During the reception, Mikva Challenge — whose mission is “to develop youth to be empowered, informed, and active citizens who will promote a just and equitable society” — honored former SMART General President Joe Sellers with the organization’s Legacy Award, recognizing his contributions to and support for the program and local communities.

Sean McGarvey, president of NABTU, introduced Sellers. “Joe is very involved in apprenticeship and training, since back at Local 19. Some of the progressive programs he put together at SMART have been fantastic.” He added that Sellers “is like a steady rock. He’s always there. He’s always there with you. He’s been there for SMART members, and he extended that to groups like Mikva.”

Sellers then took the stage, telling Mikva Challenge: “Your civic engagement is unmatched, and the issues you’re working on are vitally important to not only your neighborhood but our country. Listening to what you do enthused me to make a difference in the way you’re making a difference.”

Founded in 1998, the Mikva Challenge began as a small pilot program with an all-volunteer staff in four Chicago schools; 23 years later, Mikva has grown to serve over 17 states, 3,200 teachers and 135,000 students annually. According to the organization’s website, Mikva has spent the last two decades developing an education model based on the principles that: 1. Youth voice matters; 2. Youth are experts on the issues that affect them; 3. Our communities and schools are stronger when youth leaders are involved in all aspects of civic life.

“I am impressed with how you create goals and you follow those goals with action plans,” Sellers remarked to reception attendees. “And there is nothing that gets me more jazzed up than action plans!”

The Mikva Challenge provides schools with strategies and tools to engage young people in high quality, student-centered learning about the democratic process — an objective that aligns with the way SMART provides state-of-the-art training to apprentices while encouraging members to engage with their local union. Mikva’s programs are designed to develop social and emotional skills, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. The organization also focuses on improving school and community culture while enhancing teacher effectiveness through inquiry-driven, project-based study, creating opportunities for engaging in democracy.

Sellers concluded his remarks by addressing Mikva students.

“Make sure you understand about our apprenticeship programs,” he said. “Our goals are aligned with yours, and with an apprenticeship you can go back and harness your power as a union member to amplify your voice.”

From May 15–19, 2023, the SMART Recruitment and Retention Council — along with the Roofing and Building Enclosure and Production and Sign Councils — met in Memphis, Tennessee, where SMART leaders from across the United States and Canada reviewed and planned out activities for the year and beyond.

With the continent-wide need for workers at a generational high, now is the time for locals to recruit new members and apprentices for upcoming megaprojects in both nations. Lauren Sugarman and Lark Jackson from Chicago Women in the Trades discussed recruitment strategies to build a diverse pool of potential members to strengthen the union. Tiffany Finck-Haynes from the SMART Government Affairs Department gave an overview of federal funding available to local JATCs to assist with recruitment and retention of members from across all ethnic and gender backgrounds.

Darrell Roberts, SMART’s assistant to the general president, and Josh Garner from the SMART International Organizing Department led a presentation on recruitment tactics, while SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson led a discussion on recruitment and retention and its unique role in the industries the SMART Transportation Division represents. He was joined by John Pitts (organizer from SMART-TD Local 608), James Sandoval (general chairperson for SMART-TD Local 0023) and Chad Yokoyama (SMART-TD Local 1687).

Michael Childers speaks to SMART councilmembers.

Attendees at the Roofing and Building Enclosure Council meeting were also updated on cutting-edge tools and training for new panel systems. These will give SMART architectural sheet metal workers and roofers a leg up over the nonunion competition as SMART continues to expand market share and collective bargaining power for members.

The Production and Sign Council heard from Michael Childers, the department co-chair of the School for Workers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Childers spoke about the collaboration between the labor movement and civil rights movements, and how that solidarity translates to work being done today as SMART looks to spread our message of opportunity to people of all races and backgrounds. Local 464 (Ponca City, Okla.) Business Manager Mechelle McNew, a longtime leader on the council and founding member of the SMART Women’s Committee, was also honored at the close of the council meetings for her contributions to the organization as one of the first woman leaders in the SMART sheet metal industry.

Former SMART General President Joseph Sellers and General President Mike Coleman addressed attendees at all three meetings and updated them on progress at the International level. Each committee later honored General President Sellers for his contributions to the union and the substantial progress made during his time in office. Among the items Sellers received was a fishing rod to use during his retirement, when he will have the chance to spend time with his family.

Remarking at the end of a presentation from the SMART Women’s Committee, whose members were also in attendance, Sellers noted that he “looks forward to seeing the work you continue to do, because you’re shaping SMART.”

SMART Army lands in Memphis

On Thursday, May 18, members of SMART Local 4 in Memphis were joined by SMART members across North America for a community litter cleanup in historic Soulsville, where union members also helped repair and plant in Urban Forest and Community Garden. Following the event, the SMART Army presented a $21,100 check to Memphis City Beautiful, the nation’s oldest beautification commission.

“As part of our Recruitment and Retention Council, Roofing and Building Enclosure Council and Production and Sign Council meetings in Memphis this week, we decided to collectively do what our union does best: uplift working families in local communities,” said SMART General President Michael Coleman, who participated in the volunteer event. “We are proud to partner with organizations like Memphis City Beautiful and the Urban Forest and Community Garden to give back to the neighborhoods in which our members live and work.”

The Local 105 (Los Angeles) SMART Army turned out to help Autism Spectrum Athletics (ASA) with its baseball tryouts in April. ASA, which was established in 2012, offers community- based socialization sports programs that are designed to be stress free and non-competitive, with positive peer support. ASA Chief Executive Officer Manny Zapata is a Local 105 member.

Business Manager Steve Hinson and Business Representatives Donny Sappington, Tim Hinson and Erik Villegas helped facilitate ASA’s baseball activities, demonstrating the power of union solidarity to bring fun and happiness to all.

Members of the SMART-TD Local 854 (Portsmouth, Va.) SMART Army mobilized in early May to help a neighbor in need. Sophia Alvarez, a young Virginian with autism, was unable to play outside at her home — there was no fence around her yard to keep her safe, Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbes explained. That’s why Local 854 donated materials and labor to build a fence; “she can now enjoy a little time in the backyard,” Hobbes said.

Great work, Local 854!

SMART Local 22 (central New Jersey) celebrated Memorial Day weekend with its annual flag placement in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“The veterans of our military services have put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms that we enjoy,” the local wrote on Facebook. “They have dedicated their lives to their country and deserve to be recognized for their commitment.”

SMART-TD members in Maryland mobilized on short notice to serve their community in April, joining a CSX and City Year Service Day spent rehabilitating and sprucing up Curtis Bay Elementary School near Baltimore.

“CSX asked all their employees to be there, and this was really kind of last minute — they hadn’t done these in about two years because of COVID,” said Johnny Walker, SMART-TD Maryland State Legislative Board secretary. “This was an opportunity for us to go ahead and do something in the community.”

Despite the lack of long-term planning, SMART-TD Local 610 discussed the service opportunity at its local union meeting, and six members and their families turned out at Curtis Bay Elementary. Members painted the inside of the school, spread mulch in the outdoor area, cleared brush from the school’s garden area and even helped fix the school parking lot. They also had the chance to meet management on neutral ground, including new CSX CEO Joe Hinrichs.

“Overall it was a great opportunity for all of us to get together, take a break from what we do in transportation and really give back to the community,” Walker added.

To Walker, SMART Army events and other service opportunities are most important because of the role they play in local communities. But they also demonstrate how vital union workers are in cities, towns and neighborhoods across the country — both on and off the job.

“Unions are still here, and we do things more than just get good contracts and good benefits for our workforce,” he explained.

“It’s really important for us to show everybody that we’re more than a sheet metal worker, a train conductor, a bus driver. We really care about the communities that we live and work in.”

That union solidarity will benefit the students and teachers at Curtis Bay Elementary for years to come.

When 64-year-old Orchard Park, N.Y. resident Chuckie Sonntag found himself in need of an entry ramp for his home, the SM Local 71 (Buffalo, N.Y.) SMART Army leapt into action — demonstrating the vital role unions play in American communities, on and off the job.

Sonntag, who helped form a local charity that gives economically challenged Buffalo-area kids the chance to attend their first NFL games, is a double amputee who lost his limbs to a bone disease — his arm at age 35, and his legs eight years ago. Until recently, he only had an entry ramp at the front of his home, giving him just one way to enter and exit his house. A former member told Local 71 leadership about Sonntag’s plight, and the membership mobilized immediately.

“Our members find the time to help somebody; our [members] are workers who get satisfaction in helping others,” Local 71 Business Manager Paul Crist told “When someone needs help in our community, why not us?”

“It’s important to help people who need,” added Local 71 Membership Development Organizer Andre Mayes. “We got a donated aluminum ramp, disassembled it at one location and then transported it over to Chuckie’s house just before the holidays (and in between two massive snowstorms that hit the Buffalo area, thankfully).”

Mayes, Local 71 Vice President Cary Hinterberger and eight-year member Scott Brodnicki then spent the afternoon reconfiguring and installing the ramp, which had been broken down into eight-foot segments, at the back of the house.

“I jumped on board and volunteered. That’s the way I was brought up,” explained Brodnicki. “It always goes back to my [late] father, who was also a SMART member: When someone needs help, you lend a hand – no matter who it is.”

SMART Army projects like the one at Sonntag’s house help spread the word about how all working people benefit from the presence of organized labor; they show clearly that unions are pillars of local communities. More importantly, such projects put labor’s principles into action, demonstrating the real, concrete power of community solidarity.

“I’m so happy — [Local 71] came through for me,” Sonntag told “They’re a bunch of really nice guys. [The ramp] works really well, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.”