If you’re like me, then the arrival of another election year is no cause for excitement.

Politics can feel divisive and tedious, particularly in recent years. That’s why many of us choose to exercise our power through the labor movement, where we can band together with fellow workers and take action. We show up at union meetings to win strong contracts and worker protections; we walk the picket line to support our union brothers and sisters; we make collective decisions to fund our pensions and keep our local unions healthy.

Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is this: Anti-worker corporations and the ultra-wealthy will always be involved in the political process, funding politicians who oppose workers’ rights and union jobs. If we leave the playing field, we will forfeit every gain we made to them and their agenda. They will be the only voices heard by those empowered to write the laws that govern your workplace.

One thing we have learned is that their money is no match for our solidarity, and recent victories have shown how crucial it is that we show up in the electoral arena.

SMART members leapt into political action in the last several years, electing pro-union politicians in 2020 and mobilizing for laws that benefit our families. The results speak for themselves: a recently passed federal two-person crew regulation that protects our railroaders’ safety and job security; federal funding for high-speed rail projects that create jobs for SMART sheet metal workers and railroaders; a surge of megaprojects putting members to work across the United States and Canada; funding that saved SMART members’ pensions; massive investments in public transit and Amtrak; updates to prevailing wage regulations that lift pay for construction workers; and so much more.

“Politics can feel like a chore, but when we work collectively to win pro-union politicians and policies, we materially benefit our jobs, our families and our futures.”

That’s just at the federal level. We know that even more impactful change happens locally. For example, SMART members in Oregon and Connecticut gained enormous amounts of indoor air quality work by partnering with pro-union state legislators and education officials.

Compare those wins with the anti-worker policies of the past. It wasn’t too long ago that we were fighting a Federal Railroad Administration that withdrew a proposed two-person crew rule, and a Department of Labor that tried to replace our apprenticeships with Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs). We were constantly on defense.

I prefer offense — winning real gains, not trying to hold on to what we already have.

Brothers and sisters, this isn’t about party affiliation or who says the right thing when they stump for our votes at the union hall. This is about acting for us: the working people who power our nations. Politics can feel like a chore, but when we work collectively to win pro-union politicians and policies, we materially benefit our jobs, our families and our futures.

So I urge you to do just that. Whether it’s a phone bank, a labor walk or simply telling your friends and family to show up to the ballot box, join me in getting involved in the political process this year.

In solidarity,

SMART General President Michael Coleman

As we enter 2024, I hope all of you — no matter your faiths, traditions or beliefs — were able to enjoy well-deserved time with your loved ones during the holiday season. You are the men and women who keep our two nations moving, whether carrying freight, transporting passengers or building the battery plants and chip factories of our new industrial revolution. On behalf of myself and the SMART General Executive Council, I want to thank you for all that you do.

Last year we began to not just see, but to live the rewards of the hard-won battles we fought in the past. Federal legislation that we helped pass in 2021 and 2022 — such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act — helped spur record levels of public and private investment in the construction industry. This is already changing lives for SMART sheet metal workers and our families. As just one example, a Ford megaproject in Kentucky has helped SMART Local 110 nearly double in size as we organize and recruit to meet workforce demands — boosting the local’s collective bargaining power, lifting area working conditions, benefiting Local 110 retirees and so much more.

“We know we have more to do, from organizing nonunion sheet metal workers, to ending the pernicious wave of assaults on bus and transit operators.”

Around this time in 2023, railroaders were just emerging from a long, bitter contract dispute with the Class I railroad carriers — one in which the carriers infamously argued that “capital investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contributions by labor.” It would have been easy for members to be discouraged. But instead, railroaders stood together in unwavering solidarity, making use of new media attention and public support to go on offense. At one time, the carriers maintained that they would never negotiate on quality-of-life issues, but in the last year alone, SMART-TD members have ratified tentative agreements with Norfolk Southern, BNSF and Union Pacific that make substantial improvements to sick pay, scheduling and more — setting an important precedent and demonstrating the true power of labor.

Those are just two of our fights from the last year. We know we have more to do, from organizing nonunion sheet metal workers, to ending the pernicious wave of assaults on bus and transit operators. I promise you, we will continue to fight these battles, and we will see victory in the end.

2024 is an election year. We all know what that entails: a wave of political posturing and overtures to working Americans through November. But we also know how important elections are — we’ve seen their impact in the last year alone. This election will present us with a stark choice: pro-union candidates who act on our behalf to secure our future, or two-faced politicians who are beholden only to their corporate donors. I know which option I’m choosing.

So, brothers and sisters, as we look towards 2024, let’s seize this moment. Let’s build a future that will benefit our families and our communities for generations to come.

In solidarity,

SMART General President Michael Coleman

Incoming SMART General President Michael Coleman
Incoming SMART General President Michael Coleman

Like retiring SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Michael Coleman has decades of experience in both the sheet metal trade and union leadership. He began his career as a SMART sheet metal worker in 1985, when he joined what was then Local 65 in Cleveland, Ohio (Local 65 merged with Local 33 soon after).

“I was 18 years old, about to turn 19,” Coleman explained. “I had a job working for a moving company, but there wasn’t much of a future in that. And somebody I knew said, ‘why don’t you try taking the apprenticeship test to become a sheet metal worker?’ And like most people at the time, I said: ‘I don’t even know what a sheet metal worker is.’”

He took the apprenticeship test, honed his craft as a member of Local 33 (northern Ohio) and — despite having never considered union leadership — ended up running for election as a member of the local’s executive board. From there, he became business representative, then Local 33 president and business manager in 2012. Seven years later, the SMART General Executive Council asked him to move to Washington, DC to work as SMART’s director of business and management relations — and shortly after that, General President Sellers asked him to become assistant to the general president. In all, it amounts to more than 20 years of dedicated leadership at the local and international level.

Watch an interview with incoming SMART General President Michael Coleman

“Much like General President Sellers, everything I have is because of this organization,” Coleman said. “I was floundering working for that moving company — becoming a sheet metal worker and a SMART member has provided me everything I have, along with my family. So I’m very dedicated to this organization. I’m driven because I think I owe everything I have to this organization.”

Coleman has seen first-hand the battles and victories of the last several years: from the fight against IRAPs and anti-worker rail policy, to huge wins like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the current megaproject boom. As he prepares for his new role as general president, he says, those challenges and opportunities are top of mind.

“Now is our time,” he said. “These opportunities are once in a generation, and I’m very excited and very thankful to General President Sellers for positioning us as he did.”