“What can women do in the trades” was the Google search that changed everything for Lisa Davis, who was recently hired as the administrator for the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC).

After working a series of odd jobs both in and out of the trades and experiencing pervasive discrimination, she had almost given up on the building trades as a career path. But in 2008, after Googling that question, Davis found the website for Oregon Tradeswomen, an organization that focuses on providing opportunities for women in building trades apprenticeships. She enrolled in the organization’s trades and apprenticeship career class, which eventually led her to the apprenticeship program at SMART Local 16 (Portland, Ore.).

Today, Davis would be the first to tell you what women can do in the trades: She is now the first woman to serve as administrator of NEMIC.

“I am very excited to be a part of the NEMIC fund — there are so many powerful initiatives that this brilliant team is working hard on moving forward to help bring more work to our members,” she said, also expressing her gratitude to those who came before her. “I’m looking forward to continuing to collaborate with our contractors on what efforts best serve our industry to give us the edge, and to bring public and stakeholder awareness to issues that matter the most, like energy efficiency and public safety.”

“Lisa is a fantastic choice to lead NEMIC into the future,” said David Bernett, former NEMIC administrator and current SMART international representative for U.S. Northeast Region 1. “She worked closely with our NEMIC team over the last several years, and her work ethic, integrity and honesty shine through in everything she does. Honestly, on more than one occasion I wished I had hired her instead of the ITI [International Training Institute], because she is just that good.”

Davis took an unconventional career path into the sheet metal industry. She originally attended the University of California, Davis, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology. With aspirations of becoming a doctor, she then moved to Oregon to attend the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. She also became a perfusion assistant, helping monitor the medical equipment that keeps patients’ hearts and lungs functional during surgeries.

The job was grueling. Davis worked 20-hour shifts and was on call day and night. She felt burned out after only two years and realized medicine wasn’t for her.

Davis had worked in a bowling alley as a mechanic during her undergraduate studies, so she found a similar position in Oregon. Not only was the work taxing — as the only woman on the job, she faced consistent misogynistic behavior from the mechanical staff. It was around that time that she entered that fateful Google search.

While her studies at Oregon Tradeswomen restored her faith that she could find a career in the trades, it took almost two years for her to be accepted into the Sheet Metal Institute, Local 16’s five-year apprenticeship program. It was 2008, and the country was at the height of a recession. Jobs were sparse.

Once Davis began her training at the Sheet Metal Institute, she proved to be a dedicated and skilled apprentice. Within a year of journeying out, she was recruited by her alma mater to develop and implement a service apprenticeship program. In 2016, Davis was hired as a full-time service apprenticeship program instructor at Local 16, and she began working at the ITI just two years later.

“Lisa has had the words ‘first woman’ attached to her name a lot over the past several years,” said Dan McCallum, executive director of the Funds, which comprise NEMIC, ITI and the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT). “While the distinction is important and notable, it didn’t factor into our selection process. Lisa was, by far, the most qualified candidate for the job.”

Aaron Hilger, CEO of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), concurred.

“I couldn’t agree more with Dan’s assessment,” he said. “Lisa is the most qualified person for the job, and I am very excited to work with her. Lisa’s strategic leadership at NEMIC will help SMART members and SMACNA contractors gain market share and work hours, and help guide us through the complex waters of indoor air quality and ventilation verification.”

On June 28 and 29, General Committee 2 held its second General Convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The first such convention held since the merger of General Committees 1 and 2, this marked an important milestone: honoring and enacting the Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department’s commitment to union democracy under the SMART Constitution.

Thirty-two delegates from 20 local unions were present for the purposes of electing General Committee 2 leadership, voting on changes to the bylaws, and discussing union and industry business more generally. The results of the elections reflect the department’s unity: both Directing General Chairperson John McCloskey and Financial Secretary-Treasurer/Assistant General Chairperson Jason Busolt were reelected to their roles by acclamation. Elections for other positions in General Committee 2 were also a success. Executive board members elected include Keith Petrie (Local 139), Matthew Haile (Local 78), Troy Weakland (Local 472), Craig Tallini (Local 149), Joe Persaud (Local 396), Marcus Williams (Local 363), George Jeffers (Local 462), Bill Scalia (Local 526) and Jose Navarrete (Local 209). Finally, Brian Opland (Local 165), Kevin Downing (Local 363), John Daly (Local 526) and Tom Kennedy (Local 367) were elected trustees.

General Chairperson McCloskey was proud to see such a strong interest in union democracy and was impressed by the presence of international union leaders.

“It was such a huge honor to have four presidents attend our convention,” he noted. “With so many SMART International staff in attendance, it showed the delegates that General President Coleman is committed to our department. The delegates have elected a very strong executive board, and being the best representatives for our members will be a priority. We look forward to serving our members going forward.”

During the convention, delegates also heard presentations on Railroad Retirement, FELA, insurance benefits and other topics relevant to railroaders. SMART’s Communications and Organizing Departments also gave presentations on applying their resources and expertise to the needs of RME members.

RME International Rep. Joe Fraley reflected enthusiastically on the success of the convention: “It was great to have all our local unions united in solidarity as we forge ahead together. I cannot recall ever having so many strong local union leaders ready to take on the challenges of the railroad industry. This is our time.”

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.”

The Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) Helpline, available 24 hours a day at 877-884-6227 to SMART members and their immediate families, was put in place long before COVID-19 disrupted the world. The idea for the hotline emerged when stressors from an uncertain economy and a slew of natural disasters created financial and personal stress for many. Then, the pandemic brought unprecedented levels of hardship and anxiety, along with feelings of isolation and loneliness, to a workforce already facing significant risk of mental health problems.

One way to address the problems facing members was to expand access to mental health professionals via a helpline. The SMOHIT Helpline has provided a safe and confidential space where members, and/or their families, can talk to a trained mental health professional about their concerns.

According to Jeremy Holburn, who heads the SMOHIT Helpline, SMART recognized that an increase in call volume necessitated an expansion. In response, SMOHIT added a second staffer, J.D. Sparks, to answer calls on the weekends.

Jeremy Holburn, SMOHIT Helpline

“Our call volume is increasing,” Holburn said. “That’s a good thing because we’re reaching more people, and that increase shows a breaking down of mental health stigma. We’re finally getting it through to people that making a call to deal with your mental health is not a sign of weakness.”

Holburn noted the helpline may be just a first step for some people, or it can be a one-time safe space for people to talk out a single issue.

“We’re there to listen and provide support to anyone who is struggling,” he said. “Sometimes, we need to pair a caller with a local healthcare provider, which can take time. Sometimes, we can just provide a sympathetic ear, an authentic safe space for people to talk it out. Situations are unique.”

The SMOHIT Helpline offers immediate support and can be very helpful in crisis situations. The expanded helpline also remains free of charge. Any SMART member can access the service, regardless of their current situation.

One of the benefits of the helpline is confidentiality. Allowing callers to retain their anonymity, Holburn noted, can provide relief to individuals who may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help in person. They may be more comfortable discussing their concerns over the phone or online as a first step. People can feel safe talking about their feelings without fear of judgment or repercussions.

Another benefit of the service is its accessibility. People can reach out from the comfort of their own homes or any other location at any time of the day; however, there may be times when someone is unable to answer right away. Holburn urges people who don’t get their call answered to leave a message if they are comfortable getting a call back – or, if someone is in serious crisis, to call the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (just dial 988), which also provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day for people in distress in the United States.

“Our helpline is a 24/7 helpline, but we’re not a crisis line,” Holburn said. “Sometimes we’re on the line with someone else and cannot break away to answer another call. You need to leave a message or call back a bit later. We will call you back. Crisis lines like 988 get answered immediately. So, for a true emergency, call there.”

One of the biggest benefits of the SMOHIT Helpline is the pairing of resources. The mental health professionals will help get callers connected with local support and can help navigate insurance challenges as well. And until callers can get the local help they need, they can keep checking in with the SMOHIT Helpline staff.

It’s OK not to be OK, and sometimes the first step toward feeling OK again is reaching out to a friendly and knowledgeable voice. SMOHIT’s Helpline is only ten digits away, at 877-884-6227.

SMART leaders across sheet metal and the Transportation Division gathered in Washington, DC, from July 31–August 2 for the second annual SMART Leadership Conference. With a conference theme of “This is Our Time,” attendees convened to make sure SMART seizes this moment of unprecedented opportunity across every craft and industry our union represents.

Day one sets the tone

SMART General President Michael Coleman kicked off the conference with his opening remarks, which made unmistakably clear that the conference theme is much more than a catchphrase. Read a detailed recap of day one.

“We still have plenty of work to do and battles to fight,” he declared. “But if we fight together, we will win.”

From megaprojects to the bipartisan Railway Safety Act, from media focus on bus and transit operator assaults to rank-and-file organizing campaigns in Alaska, from pro-labor elected officials in office to SMART’s efforts to recruit and retain members from across races, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientation, Coleman repeated again and again: This is our time.

“We are in a defining moment in the history of this union,” he said. “There are incredible opportunities on the horizon.”

General Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Powell expounded upon several of the topics Coleman addressed, describing the state of our union and SMART’s need to grow at a rate that outpaces the construction industry; the progress of the SMART strategic plan; and more. The Transportation Division, Powell said, grew by 4,581 members – even after having endured contentious contract negotiations, rail safety disasters, assaults on transit operators and more.

“That represents a significant 9.38% increase over the previous year,” he added; a tremendous organizing win for our union.

Powell also described ongoing growth in Canada, where megaprojects and collaborations with pro-labor federal and provincial governments have spurred huge opportunities. The definition of prevailing wage in the 2023 federal budget is one of the strongest in Canadian history, and megaprojects are breaking ground from Alberta to Ontario.

TD President Jeremy Ferguson reviewed how the SMART Transportation Division has advanced the interests of workers in the year since the first SMART Leadership Conference in San Francisco. He reflected upon a recent CP-SOO contract victory that the late VP John Whitaker and General Chairperson Gerald Wallace of GCA-261, who passed away July 16, achieved: “The best tribute to both of these officers is that we got the new contract ratified with 95% in favor of.”

The national contract fight freight members went through brought unprecedented national attention to what rail workers experience regarding attendance and working conditions, he added.

“The media picked up on our issues — it was not about the pay, it was about the quality of life. Carriers said they were never going to negotiate on attendance policies,” Ferguson said. “Guess what? They did.”

However, the troubling trend of assaults upon bus and transit workers has continued.

“That’s one fight we can’t back down on,” Ferguson said. “We cannot stop on those issues. We should not have to put up with that in our country. In most states it’s a misdemeanor. That needs to change.”

The opening session closed with appearances by Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose and National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy.

“Thank you for what you do every day,” Bose said. “The sheer breadth of workers represented in this room … is evidence that it takes many workers with many skill sets to make our nation run.

“This is a watershed moment with the nation’s attention turned on rail safety.”

Homendy, whose agency is tasked with determining the causes of transportation accidents, praised our union’s diversity and dedication to safety: “You have my commitment to fight beside you, because it is our time to fight for safety,” she said.

Sheet metal attendees then heard from North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) President Sean McGarvey and Maryland Congressman David Trone.

Federal funding from legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act is creating extraordinary workforce opportunities — and demands. Now it’s on the building trades to meet this moment, McGarvey emphasized, organizing and recruiting from all communities to build North America’s climate resiliency and a green energy future.

“Not since the end of World War II have working people had an opportunity like this,” he explained. “Nobody’s more important in the fight against climate change than SMART and sheet metal workers.”

Congressman Trone noted that the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act will help spur a new American industrial revolution. Over the next four, six, eight years, he said, the jobs created by federal investment will put SMART members to work and change the lives of countless people. That makes it even more crucial to fund registered apprenticeships, implement project labor agreements and support unions like SMART.

Forward progress on day two

The second day’s joint session provided attendees with comprehensive information on the state of our union, from partnerships available to locals, regional councils and general committees, to the state of legislative affairs, finances and more. Read a detailed recap of day two.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, who has worked closely with SMART on issues ranging from green energy jobs to pension security, delivered remarks by video. Shuler reminded attendees that 71% of Americans approve of unions — the highest level since 1965.

“We are finally seeing huge gains in the battles we have been fighting for years. Now the question is, how do we build on these wins and create even more power for workers?” she asked.

The organizing and solidarity displayed by SMART-TD members who secured paid sick leave and two-person crew victories in Ohio, Minnesota and Kansas will serve as examples to follow in the future, as workers fight to have a say and profiteers try to use tech, automation and AI to eliminate people’s jobs.

“Unions are going to rebuild this country — SMART members are going to rebuild this country!” she concluded. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I can’t think of anyone I’d rather fight alongside than the activists and leaders in this room.”

Attendees also heard from two key, pro-labor figures in the Biden administration. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, gave her speech via video. Granholm, who has used her position in the Department of Energy to advocate for good, union, clean energy jobs, met recently with both General President Coleman and National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) Administrator Lisa Davis — affirming the Biden administration’s commitment to working with SMART and organized labor.

“Unions run best-in-class training programs for construction workers,” Granholm said. “Unionized employers have an easier time hiring because workers want union jobs, and that’s why our incentives require companies to pay prevailing wage, require them to hire registered apprentices. That’s why we attach strong labor standards to every single federal law.”

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia L. Fudge

Later, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia L. Fudge took the podium to close out the day two joint session. The Biden-Harris administration’s actions have launched a period of economic growth, creating 13 million jobs thus far in the United States, with an expected growth rate of 1 million additional jobs per year, she said. SMART members will be a huge part of these projects: operating energy-efficient buses and trains and performing energy-efficient retrofits to older houses, HVAC systems and other programs that her department oversees.

“These projects do not happen without skilled technicians or skilled tradesmen like you,” she said. “Because I know that with you, there is not much that we cannot do. We cannot build this country without you, so work with us.”

The primary guest speaker of day two’s sheet metal session was Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro — a leader who SMART members across Pennsylvania know as a friend and ally.

“Right now, we have a real opportunity to move our country forward by investing and building up our infrastructure,” he noted. “‘This is our time’ really epitomizes the unique and special moment we find ourselves in.”

Shapiro pointed out that federal funding from legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is making it possible for America to build again. He vowed to help unions do just that, starting with an executive order he signed that will invest up to $400 million in infrastructure funding for workforce training, with the intention of creating 10,000 new jobs in the commonwealth. The executive order, Shapiro said, will help fund training while prioritizing the use of union labor and jobs that are subject to project labor agreements and/or community benefit agreements. It will also assist workers with barriers to entry like childcare access, helping SMART recruit and retain from every community.

Demonstrating our union’s power on day three

The 2023 SMART Leadership Conference concluded with a varied lineup of pro-labor speakers and allies from Congress, the Biden administration and beyond, demonstrating the strength of our union’s relationships as we work to seize this moment. Read a detailed account of day three.

The joint session’s first visitor was Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, who has prioritized infrastructure funding and union jobs at the state and federal levels. Dean was instrumental in passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Those laws, she explained, will define America’s future: updating our country’s climate infrastructure, investing in manufacturing and more. Union labor, she said, will be essential for implementing all the investments in that federal legislation.

Next, General President Coleman and Transportation Division President Ferguson welcomed U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for the Leadership Conference’s first-ever “fireside chat:” a candid conversation on how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests in transportation and union jobs; long trains and rail safety; and much more.

“You can’t help but notice these trains, two miles long … three miles long, four miles long,” Buttigieg said. “Common sense tells you this is going to have an impact.”

Incidents involving attacks on SMART bus members in North Carolina and California — and on other unionized transit workers and bus operators — have escalated in their ferocity and frequency. Ferguson asked Buttigieg to describe what steps DOT is taking to protect bus and transit operators nationwide.

“The definition of an essential worker is one who makes it possible for other essential workers to get to work,” Buttigieg said. “None of these assaults are acceptable.” He added that DOT is working with local transit agencies and helping develop a regulatory process that would empower workers in the development of safety protocols that protect operators.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation in conversation with SMART-TD President Ferguson and GP Coleman.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona spoke next, addressing how the Department of Education partnered with SMART on issues like indoor air quality and reopening schools amid the pandemic. He also talked about how the Department of Education is shifting focus away from the idea that a college degree is the only path forward for young people, particularly as federal legislation creates workforce opportunities.

“We have a job tsunami on the horizon. Career opportunities that will support families, strengthen communities and fuel America’s competitiveness for decades,” he said. “If we don’t prepare our young people for these careers, then shame on us! If we don’t fundamentally change our high schools to make sure we have pathways to these high-skill, high-paying careers, then we are failing our kids.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona

Former U.S. Labor Secretary and National Hockey League Players Association Executive Director Marty Walsh delivered remarks focused largely on one theme: Elections have consequences. There’s nothing more important, he said, than ensuring elected officials support union workers and act on our behalf. That’s how pro-labor policy is made — and how we create an economy that works for SMART members.

“We stand on the shoulders of the founders of our local unions,” Walsh said. “It’s our obligation to continue what they started so the next generation has the same opportunity.”

The American Rescue Plan, he explained, put working families back on the job and reopened the economy. While the last presidential administration talked about passing an infrastructure bill, this one actually did it with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The CHIPS Act is bringing manufacturing back home. And the Inflation Reduction Act is creating green energy jobs to combat the climate crisis and lower costs for working families. All of that can only happen, Walsh reiterated, when unions work with pro-labor elected officials to make it happen.

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su followed Walsh. Su stated that she was here, with SMART and in her position at the Department of Labor, to finish the good work that she and Walsh started. That takes several forms. First: by empowering and educating workers in everything the department does, putting workers at the center of the agenda, supporting workers’ rights to organize and the collective bargaining process.

“We see workers’ ability to demand more at the bargaining table not as a threat, but as a critical tool to advance and build a strong economy,” she said.

Su also detailed the department’s efforts to embed equity in everything the department does, including the distribution of federal funds, and to combat wage theft, protect pensions and more.

“We need to build the bridge from poverty to prosperity … the bridge that families need to the middle class,” she said. “This is our time, this is your time, so let’s build together.”

The joint session ended with visits from Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves and White House Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi. Graves updated attendees on the work that the Department of Commerce is doing to help create an economy for and by working people, distributing billions of dollars in federal funding with the goal of American competitiveness. Importantly, the Department of Commerce is calling on companies and contractors to work with unions, requiring companies to submit workforce development plans that allow workers the freedom to organize.

“We believe that SMART members are going to be at the forefront of [future] work,” Graves said.

Zaidi discussed the progress that SMART has made putting members to work on good, union jobs that tackle the climate crisis — like those in energy efficiency and public transit. If we only go from a dirty energy economy to a clean energy economy, we will have missed the opportunity, Zaidi said. This has to be a moment where we lift up the middle class and inspire a manufacturing renaissance.

“Folks, we’re doing that,” he declared, citing the 800,000 manufacturing jobs created by the Biden administration. “You all are the engine that’s driving us forward to not just a strong economy, but a clean energy economy.”

Sheet metal leaders were next joined by General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Robin Carnahan, who has led GSA’s efforts on initiatives including indoor air quality in federal buildings and project labor agreements on federal projects that cost more than $35 million. GSA is focused on delivering the Biden administration’s agenda of investing in America, whether managing the country’s largest portfolio of buildings or buying and managing power.

“Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, we are investing in sustainable building materials, updating HVAC systems and improving indoor air quality in building systems,” she declared. “Through these once-in-a-generation investments, we have the money and momentum to improve America’s infrastructure, bolster our economy and support healthier communities. We are going to need a lot of well-trained SMART members on projects all across the country.”

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan was the final guest speaker to join the sheet metal session. There are tens of millions of dollars flowing to communities to improve indoor air quality across the country, he noted, and billions of dollars to help school districts switch to EV buses — many of which are made by SMART members. And EPA has updated its master grant terms and conditions to make clear that anyone who receives a grant from EPA will not use EPA funds to oppose union organizing. That, Regan said, is due to EPA’s holistic focus on working with labor to create our green energy future.

“We need to hear from you, we need to lean on you, and we need to continue to work alongside you,” Regan concluded. “Addressing the climate crisis is a massive undertaking, but it’s also an opportunity. To protect our environment and to treat workers with dignity.”

General President Coleman then thanked the SMART staff, the UNITE HERE Local 25 members who worked the conference, General President Emeritus Joseph Sellers, General Secretary-Treasurer Powell, the General Executive Council and all attendees, bringing the conference to a close.

“We do great work. We change lives. How does it happen that that message gets lost?” Coleman concluded. “Somehow, we still have enemies out there. They’ve knocked us down in the past, but we now have a level playing field. So I have a message to our enemies: mess around and find out. Because I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine. It’s one fight, all fight.”

As we reflect on Labour Day 2023, let’s remember the reason for the holiday.

Labour Day is a day to mark workers’ sacrifices and contributions to our country. It’s a day to show our pride in the things we build, and what is possible because of what we build — hospitals, schools, skyscrapers, homes, factories and much more. Canada is powered by workers.

With the rising cost of living, workers and the value of work have gotten more attention recently, and with growing support for organized labour, let’s remember that it was workers and their unions who fought for many of the rights that Canadians now enjoy, like weekends, benefits, the eight-hour workday and health and safety at work. These protections are the result of advocacy and sacrifices made by working Canadians decades ago.

As Parliament reconvenes, we are entering an important time for Canada’s skilled tradespeople. The government is holding consultations on Investment Tax Credits introduced in the 2023 budget earlier this year. Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) are currently advocating for skilled tradespeople by urging the federal government to pass legislation on Investment Tax Credits — financial incentives for employers who adhere to labour standards outlined in the 2023 federal budget.

To support workers and industry, the government should quickly follow through on implementing the Investment Tax Credits.

We commend the Canadian government on its commitments to implementing Investment Tax Credits for green technologies, which are tied to strong labour conditions. Now, CBTU needs your support to make these commitments a reality.

To support workers and industry, the government should quickly follow through on implementing the Investment Tax Credits, the strong definition of prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements, which will help grow our industry. These credits and their labour conditions will help create good-paying jobs for all workers and make sure that no worker is left behind in the transition to net zero.

To show your support and to ensure legislation is tabled that includes a strong definition of prevailing wage — based on union compensation — send a letter to your local member of Parliament and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. We need you to make your voice heard.

On a related note: The theme of this year’s SMART Leadership Conference was “This is Our Time,” and that couldn’t be truer. With wildfires burning across the country and health advisories being issued almost daily across North America, our skills have never been more important. Fresh air and ventilation verification are more crucial than ever. We must collectively use our expertise and meet with local, provincial and federal government leaders to ensure that our members’ skills are recognized and utilized in constructing healthy buildings and homes.

It is our time: our time to organize, our time to grow and our time to expand our contractor base. We must bring everyone that works in our trades and who carries the tools into our membership. We must use all our means to organize, and we need you to get involved in organizing by adopting the SMART Incentive Program. With you, our members, recruiting the next generation of sheet metal workers and roofers, we will strengthen our locals and set the standard for decades to come.

We have been building momentum as we strive for a better Canada and a brighter future. Please continue to stay active, get involved and stay safe!

In Solidarity,

Chris Paswisty
Director of Canadian Affairs

Unions in the United States have championed workplace safety from the beginning. In the 1870s, organized labor championed “State factory safety and health laws” — the predecessor of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) a century later. Whether it’s freight rail, bus or transit, workplace safety remains the foundation of everything we strive toward.

Our organization and labor have made tremendous headway, but as was clear over the summer, there is progress yet to be made and fights left to be won. We had two trainmen trainees killed in Maryland railyards.

We have been screaming into the megaphone to FRA, STB, NTSB, Congress, the White House, people in the media — frankly anyone else who will listen — that we will not stand for the current state of training on America’s Class I railroads. Please follow this link to read SMART-TD’s statement regarding the safety of our trainmen trainees, as well as the safety advisory we issued in hopes of directly speaking to our newly hired brothers and sisters and the conductors who mentor or train them.

It is our hope that our internal safety advisories will be a jumping-off point to inspire productive conversations. If carriers think they can get away with insufficient and unsafe training without SMART-TD opposing it, they are very much mistaken. Please take the time to read these materials.

While on the topic of safety, I want to proudly announce the formation of a new committee at SMART-TD focused on ending the epidemic of physical assault on our bus and transit membership. SMART-TD‘s Bus/Transit Assault Prevention and Safety (BTAPS) Committee was established at the SMART Leadership Conference in Washington, DC this August. It was born from the courage of Legislative Representative Christine Ivey of Local 1785 (Santa Monica, Calif.), who brought up the long-overdue idea that SMART-TD needed to form a committee to lead the charge for the transportation workers of this country — researching workable solutions to the increasing violence against on-duty members.

I agreed with the message Ivey eloquently and passionately shared and called for a vote on the formation of the committee on the spot, naming Sister Ivey as chairperson of the BTAPS Committee. It is not in this union’s DNA to sit idly by while our members’ safety and personal well-being are at risk.

Please read SMART-TD’s statement regarding the safety of our trainmen trainees, as well as the safety advisory we issued in hopes of directly speaking to our newly hired brothers and sisters and the conductors who mentor or train them

The BTAPS Committee and Chairperson Ivey have my full support and confidence as they strive for increased mandatory sentences for those who assault transit workers and craft the legislative language to protect our brothers and sisters. I thank her for her leadership on this important topic. BTAPS is looking for both bus and transit members to volunteer to serve. To be considered for an appointment to BTAPS, or if you know of someone we should be considering, please contact her at Chrissie.ivey.smtd.1785@gmail.com, or Dan Banks in our Cleveland office, at dbanks@smart-union.org.

On another positive note, I am happy to announce the retirement of SMART-TD Vice President Calvin Studivant, senior VP from our Bus Department. Calvin has dedicated his life to advocating for the safety, compensation and respect our bus operators and mechanics deserve. He has led the department since being elected VP in 2014. Along with VP Alvy Hughes, Studivant has led SMART-TD’s Bus Department to unparalleled success. We all wish Brother Studivant a long and happy retirement, and I thank him for all his years of dedicated service to our members.

As we wish Calvin the best, we are encouraged that he leaves our Bus Department in the capable hands of VP Hughes and James Sandoval from Local 23 in Santa Cruz, California, who has been elevated to VP. Brother Sandoval has served multiple roles in his career, and I have every confidence in his ability. The TD Board of Directors has approved General Chairperson Markeisha Haynes of Local 1785 as our new alternate vice president of the Bus Department. When sworn in, she will be the first Black woman to serve our union at this level of leadership. I am very proud to have Sister Haynes in the SMART-TD leadership team!

September marked the beginning of elections in most SMART-TD locals. Not only does this union need these leadership positions to be filled to function well, but they need to be filled with dedicated brothers and sisters willing to work to better the lives and careers of our members. This is not a top-down organization — it is supported and maintains its strength from the bottom up. The local leaders of today will spearhead the future of this organization and this movement. The first step is getting involved.

Please engage in your local and become well-informed about who is running. Make wise decisions in your leadership — these leaders have a hand in your safety and your family’s well-being.

Thank you for your continued support, and I want you all to have a great fall. Please don’t let the distractions of a new school year, football season and all the trappings take away from focusing on the safety of you and those you work with.

In Solidarity,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

The rallying cry of the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference, “This is Our Time,” goes beyond mere words: It captures the moment of transformation we find ourselves in. The construction industry, ever-changing, presents an environment ripe for our impact. With a steadfast annual growth of 2% in construction employment, our share in the sheet metal market is positioned for a significant surge. This growth empowers us at the negotiation table, enabling us to shape various facets of the industry in unprecedented ways.

However, growth alone won’t suffice. As large-scale projects materialize, one thing is clear: We must intensify our commitment. By aligning with the vision of General President Coleman, we can not only secure a place in these substantial projects but also strengthen our foothold in essential areas like HVAC and architectural work, central to what sheet metal workers contribute to our communities and our nations.

Our advancement is evident across borders and industries, within both the sheet metal and transportation sectors. The Transportation Division stands as a prime example of collective resilience. Despite adversities, its membership grew remarkably, a testament to our members’ unwavering dedication. In the midst of challenges in freight rail, transit, bus and passenger rail industries, your determination to stand united demonstrates the true essence of the labor movement — the power of solidarity in surmounting obstacles.

SMART sheet metal and Transportation Division workers stand up for good jobs and safety in California.

The past decade has been a period marked by trials, each fueling our evolution into the union we are today: one primed to seize the opportunities that lie ahead. From the hurdles posed by a pandemic to tough negotiations and assaults on crew consist, our steadfast commitment to progress is undeniable. The time is now to capitalize on our momentum. The majority of the American and Canadian public recognizes the significance of the labor movement, perhaps more so than at any time since the Great Depression. Our communities stand beside us, advocating for change and acknowledging our role in shaping a prosperous future. They’ve witnessed alternatives that prioritize cost-cutting, resulting in job losses and disasters like the events in East Palestine earlier this year.

Our unity, tireless effort and unwavering devotion provide a solid foundation for a future filled with even more promise.

Our unity, tireless effort and unwavering devotion provide a solid foundation for a future filled with even more promise. Collectively, we stand ready to shape our industries, our communities, and secure a legacy that resonates with future generations. Fueled by unyielding determination, we echo the resounding call: “This is Our Time!”

In solidarity,

Joseph Powell
SMART General Secretary Treasurer

On September 4, SMART members joined our fellow brothers and sisters from across the labor movement to celebrate Labor Day. From New Brunswick, Canada, to Los Angeles, California — and everywhere in between — we hit the pavement to show our unity and recognize the working men and women who fought for the workplace protections Americans and Canadians enjoy today.

Labor Day is more than just a long weekend that signals the unofficial end of summer. It is the only holiday that honors us. It is the one day that specifically pays tribute to the men and women who built our two countries — and who continue to do so.

As SMART members, we know that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Generations ago, the founding members of our predecessor unions — the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA) and the United Transportation Unions (UTU) — came together around the principles of solidarity and equality for all, uniting with their fellow workers for safety on the job, fair pay, quality healthcare and a stable retirement. Our union has fought on behalf of members, our families and workers all over the United States and Canada ever since. Together with our fellow sisters and brothers in labor, we are part of a movement that has been at the forefront of justice and equality, from the fight for the eight-hour workday to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The legacy established by the trade unionists who came before us continues to this day. Whether passing two-person crew legislation in states across America or securing job-creating federal legislation for sheet metal workers across both of our nations, we have built upon the progress that our predecessors won. Now, our time has come to seize this moment and grow our union.

We live in an era of opportunity — the kind we have not seen in generations. From strong labor language in Canada’s proposed federal budget, to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S., federal legislation is creating unheard-of workforce opportunities — requiring local unions to add more apprenticeship classes and organize like never before. Just recently, the Biden administration reintroduced a Davis-Bacon provision that was removed under the Reagan administration and lay dormant ever since. Now it is back and will create even more high-paying jobs for union construction workers across the U.S. by ensuring OUR wage rates set the standard on federally funded projects.

We live in an era of opportunity — the kind we have not seen in generations.

Media attention on railroad and transit safety is bringing our issues to the American public, providing our union with new momentum as we fight for laws and regulations that protect members. Recently released data revealed that 71% of Americans approve of unions, including 88% of Americans under 30. The workers of the future DEMAND the protections and rights that only we can offer.

So, brothers and sisters, let’s take advantage of this moment. Just like the founders of our unions fought for the basic rights and protections we enjoy today, let’s organize. Let’s bring everyone into our union, no matter their gender, their race or their creed. Let’s elect leaders who act on our behalf. And let’s secure the future for those who will remember us tomorrow.

In solidarity,

SMART General President Michael Coleman

Vice President John D. “J.D.” Whitaker III, whose vital and key roles in negotiating numerous contracts on the general committee and national levels that improved the lives of many SMART-TD rail members, passed away July 27, 2023, of cancer.

VP Whitaker was 50 years old.

“It is a tremendous loss for John’s family — his wife, Melissa, and their three sons — to his friends and to the SMART Transportation Division,” TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “Brother John was a trusted and tireless leader for the membership and had an absolute passion about what he did for everyone we represent. Our hearts are broken and there is a great loss caused by his untimely passing. Yet the legacy he leaves behind is one of strength, bravery and accomplishment. The union would not be what it is today without his contributions.”

SMART Transportation Division Vice President John D. “J.D.” Whitaker III addresses the Second SMART General Convention at the Mirage in Las Vegas Nevada in 2019. VP Whitaker passed away on July 27 after a battle with cancer.

In his position as TD vice president, Brother Whitaker engaged in the National Rail Contract negotiations that began in November 2019, in addition to all his assignments for many of the TD general committees. He also proudly fulfilled his duties as a General Vice-President on the SMART General Executive Council (GEC).

“His absence leaves a profound void, for he dedicated his entire life to representing and advocating for the members he served,” SMART General President Michael Coleman said. “Throughout his career, he achieved remarkable success, always putting the well-being of those he represented above all else. Our hearts and thoughts are with his family as they navigate through this challenging period of loss.”

Brother Whitaker was born Nov. 16, 1972, and began his railroad career in 1997 with CSX Transportation as a conductor. He was promoted to engineer in 2002. A member of Local 1106 in Rocky Mount, N.C., he was elected to the position of local chairperson for engineers in 2002.

After gaining experience as local chairperson, he ran for vice general chairperson for CSX General Committee of Adjustment GO-851 and was elected effective January 2006. Whitaker maintained that position through March 2011, at which time he was elected general chairperson for GO-851 representing approximately 2,000 members on the former Seaboard Coast Line, CSX Transportation, Florida East Coast Railway, Winston-Salem Southbound Railway, High Point Thomasville & Benton Railroad, Georgia Railroad, South Carolina Public Railway Commission and South Carolina Central Railroad, covering six states.

In October 2013, Whitaker was appointed alternate to the TD executive board and was elected by delegates for another term in 2014. In December of that year, he was elevated to the position of Transportation Division alternate vice president. Whitaker was elected to the board of the SMART TD Association of General Chairpersons (Dist. 1) in 2016. He was then elevated to the position of vice president in April 2019, upon the retirement of Dave Wier and was elected by acclamation to that position at the Second Transportation Division Convention in August 2019.

Vice President Whitaker is survived by his wife, Melissa, and their three sons, Russel, Chase and Nick (Nicholas).

A celebration of VP Whitaker’s life is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, at Plantation Oaks Farms, 45460 Hodges Road, Callahan, FL 321011.

View Brother Whitaker’s obituary.