Preparing for the future of work isn’t new to SMART Local 33 in Cleveland. During the recession, contractors learned how HVAC Fire Life Safety skills could keep workers on the job while providing valuable services to commercial buildings in the area. With the pandemic in the rearview mirror, Local 33 hosted the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) during a Ventilation Verification/Indoor Air Quality Awareness course on March 15.

The idea was to let contractors know they already have the skills to test the health of buildings in their area. It’s all about perspective.

With all the federal funding available — not just for schools, but for commercial and residential buildings too — Corey Beaubien, president and business manager of Local 33, and Lisa Davis, NEMI administrator, thought it was an opportune time to show the local’s sheet metal contractors that the work scope for Ventilation Verification/Indoor Air Quality isn’t just for TAB contractors.

“It’s a great way for people to continue their connection with their customers after the building is built by maintaining their contact through ongoing Ventilation Verification/Indoor Air Quality audits and monitoring,” Davis said. “In this way, the building owners not only get continuing increased indoor air quality throughout the life of the building, but the contractors are there to provide other services as well when other needs come up.”

NEMI, ITI and SMART contributed to the one-day course, which presented the scope of Ventilation Verification/Indoor Air Quality, challenged attendees to a hands-on portion and educated them on grant and funding opportunities as well as training and certification resources.

In addition to finding ways to keep workers on the job — just as educating contractors on fire life safety did in the 2010s — Ventilation Verification/Indoor Air Quality also opens doors for state and federal grants that fund renovations of a building’s HVAC system, Beaubien said.

“The class has generated interest. They had a better overall understanding about how it works, and that’s the beginning,” he added. “The class was meant to get the ball rolling.”

The skills needed to complete Ventilation Verification/Indoor Air Quality are typically taught during apprenticeship, and it doesn’t take TAB expertise to complete, which came as a surprise to some in attendance. Like fire life safety, this course showed contractors a different perspective — it’s a chance to get more work, but it’s also an opportunity to teach building owners of assisted living facilities, government and commercial buildings how to keep their buildings healthy and safe for their occupants, Beaubien said.

“Fire life safety was a big success. It was an idea to generate work opportunities but also to save lives,” he added. “This is another opportunity to educate contractors and the end users about what is going on above their ceilings.”

Davis added: “We are looking forward to assisting contractors and Local 33 with implementation of Ventilation Verification/Indoor Air Quality in their area, whether that looks like assisting them in helping their customers apply for grants or going after code or specification changes that would include a skilled, trained, certified workforce.”

Today, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the adoption of the updated Minimum Energy Standards for new single and multifamily homes. According to HUD, “energy standards use tried and true cost saving insulation, air sealing, and efficient windows, lighting, and heating and cooling systems to lower monthly energy bills for families living in newly constructed HUD- and USDA-supported properties.” SMART released the following statement in response:

“The common-sense rule finalized today by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture is a win for families, communities and SMART members nationwide. Energy efficiency standards on new housing will save money for working Americans and benefit our environment — and SMART sheet metal workers are the skilled and certified professionals who can get the job done. All of us at SMART applaud this rule, and we look forward to taking on the jobs it will create.”

SMART members work to manufacture electric public transportation vehicles at BYD in Los Angeles, an example of the green union jobs SMART is pursuing.
SMART members work on green union jobs across our two nations, including the manufacturing of electric vehicles and transit systems.

Earth Day represents both an annual celebration of our natural environment and a call to action for our planet, our jobs and our families. Awareness continues to grow regarding the damaging effects of climate catastrophe, and governments are reacting accordingly by shifting towards green economic and energy systems. From offshore wind farms, to public school retrofitting, to electric vehicle battery manufacturing, climate change is requiring new innovations across all sectors of North America’s workforce.

SMART members have been on the forefront of green union jobs for decades. Buildings account for about 40% of total energy use in the United States, with more than 35% of the energy generated in the U.S. used to operate buildings’ HVAC systems. SMART’s manufacturing members produce energy efficient air movement equipment, heating and cooling machinery and insulated duct systems. Across our two nations, these production workers build dedicated outside air systems (DOAS) units, rooftop units, water-source heat pumps, underfloor air distribution systems and chilled beams – all designed to increase energy efficiency and keep our buildings running smoothly. These green, leading-edge technologies are not only designed and manufactured by SMART members; our union sheet metal workers install the products as well.

Members of the SMART Transportation Division are also doing their part to reduce harmful pollution, particularly in the transit sector. Whether moving passengers from point A to point B on electric buses in California or bringing citizens to work on commuter rail systems in Chicago, New Jersey and beyond, TD workers are helping accomplish the dual achievement of reducing automobile emissions and efficiently and safely transporting Americans to their destinations. And at BYD in Los Angeles, the sheet metal and transportation sectors combine, as SMART Local 105 members help manufacture electric busses for local communities.  

“Whether schools, hospitals, offices or apartment buildings, SMART workers are helping reduce energy output and keeping our nations working in cleaner, healthier ways,” said SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. “These green union jobs are vital for our countries and our membership.”

SMART Local 0023 bus drivers pose for a picture in front of a bus.
SMART Local 0023 members working for Santa Cruz Metro.

In Canada, meanwhile, the government’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 has placed a new emphasis on SMART’s skilled workforce.

“The transition to net-zero is a once-in-a-lifetime economic shift, not seen since the industrial revolution, and it is absolutely vital that this work is performed by union members,” noted SMART Director of Canadian Affairs Chris Paswisty. “Whether retrofitting buildings across Canada to increase energy efficiency, performing indoor air quality work or installing green roofs, the incentives included in the 2023 Federal Budget will put our members’ labour in high demand, creating green union jobs.”

The electric vehicle industry has proven to be fertile ground for SMART, with hundreds of members currently working to build EV battery factories in states like Kentucky and Ohio. But the burgeoning sector also presents a warning – unlike the “Big Three” automakers of old, many electric vehicle manufacturers are extremely nonunion. That’s why SMART members and locals must do more than merely take on the green energy work of today, Sellers added. Labor needs to organize and engage lawmakers to ensure the economy of tomorrow works for future generations.

“There was once a time when green energy goals were at odds with the labor movement. But SMART sheet metal and transportation workers know the importance of ensuring the jobs of the future are good, family-sustaining, green union jobs,” he explained. “Across our two nations, SMART members and local unions must push our communities to adopt green energy policies with strong labor standards attached – from decarbonizing schools in Rhode Island to installing green roofing technology in Canada. We will continue bringing workers into our union to meet these new workforce needs, and work with our elected officials to make this transition to green energy with union labor.”

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.”

Local 17 member Shamaiah Turner introduced the vice president.

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.

Today, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, officially codifying this groundbreaking piece of legislation into law. In response, SMART issued the following statement.

“By signing the Inflation Reduction Act, President Joe Biden has once again acted on his campaign promise to be a president for working Americans. Once implemented, the Inflation Reduction Act will help alleviate rising prices for working families by cutting the cost of healthcare, lowering utility bills and making massive investments in green energy and American manufacturing – all with strong labor standards that will help create good, union jobs. Unlike the past administration, this legislation will see absolutely no tax increases for small businesses and families that makes less than $400,000 a year – instead, corporations will finally be held accountable and pay their fair share. And most importantly for our members, SMART workers will be called upon to take on the green energy jobs that this bill creates. We commend President Biden for signing this bill, and we look forward to meeting its demands.”

Today, the United States House of Representatives passed the Inflation Reduction Act, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law. In response, SMART issued the following statement.

“SMART applauds the work of the United States House and Senate for pushing this vital piece of legislation across the line for working families across our country. The Inflation Reduction Act will combat rising prices, cut the cost of healthcare for working Americans and invest billions of dollars into clean energy facilities and making homes and commercial buildings energy efficient. Importantly, the strong labor standards attached to the tax credits for production, energy efficiency and investment will help create good, union jobs – and SMART members are the workers with the skills and expertise to take on those jobs, from retrofitting schools to building green energy facilities. Our members are ready to meet the demands of this bill and will play a crucial role in solving the climate crisis.”