Two years of pro-worker progress create jobs; SMART members directly benefit from new work opportunities

On Nov. 15, 2021, after years of political pressure from SMART and fellow unions, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), now known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will invest more than $1 trillion in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The law promises to create good union jobs and put SMART members into action, improving indoor air quality in schools and commercial and residential buildings.

The International Training Institute (ITI), National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC) and Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) will all benefit from the passage of this legislation, as the law will bolster the need for training more SMART members.

The law promises to create good union jobs and put SMART members into action, improving indoor air quality in schools and commercial and residential buildings.

Specific parts of the legislation will directly impact the SMART workforce. Below are some of the highlights of the law and where growth is anticipated over the next five years:

Energy efficiency in public schools

Under the law, the Department of Energy (DOE) will have $500 million to run a competitive grant program for public schools to make energy efficiency improvements. This program aims to improve indoor air quality and make repairs or renovations that directly reduce energy costs on school grounds.

In addition, states have been allocated funds to enhance energy security, advance energy initiatives and maximize the benefits of energy efficiency. Through additional grant programs, states are encouraged to establish initiatives to conduct commercial or residential energy audits or upgrades and retrofits.

Efficient building envelopes, testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) and indoor air quality will be instrumental in retrofitting school buildings and new construction projects.

TAB technicians and supervisors needed

The Energy Auditor Grant Training Program will provide funding — up to $2 million per state — to train individuals to conduct audits or surveys on commercial and residential buildings. Training centers that do not already offer TAB should look to pair up with their state to apply for these grants or contact the ITI for assistance.

Opportunities to change local building codes

A total of $225 million has been designated for a competitive grant program within the Building Technologies Office to enable sustained, cost-effective implementation of updated building energy codes. This funding is designed to be distributed over five years, averaging $45 million per year.

These grants are available to states and tribal governments — either alone or in partnership with local building code agencies, codes and standards developers, relevant professional organizations, local and utility energy efficiency programs or consumer advocates. The overarching goal is to help understaffed and underfunded local governments upgrade their building codes to the most up-to-date energy efficiency standards.

New markets and emerging technologies

Building information modeling (BIM) will be more important than ever. Experts are predicting that connected construction technologies like BIM will drive the construction industry in the future. A larger integration of modularization and prefabrication in the design and build process is at the forefront.

The law will open new markets for SMART members and present new challenges in the training and deployment of those members. Over the next five years, we will all need to work together to press for funding for our registered apprenticeship programs.

We have a substantial opportunity to change and update building codes at the local, state and national levels. And we have a once-in-a-generation chance to put more members to work.

Safety is paramount

When the initial hiring begins, a labor shortage is anticipated. One of the main concerns with filling a large labor gap is doing so in a safe manner. SMOHIT and the ITI have created training and have the resources needed for work to be completed correctly and safely.

Moody’s Analytics, an economic research company, projects that the law’s peak labor force impact will occur in the fourth quarter of 2025, when there will be 872,000 more jobs as a result of the law. Of those jobs, about 461,000 are expected to be in construction; 227,000 in manufacturing; 75,000 in transportation and distribution; 35,000 in government; and 73,000 in other industries.

Apprenticeships will be more important than ever as the law is implemented. While we have the tools to train the next generation of sheet metal workers, we need the companion Build Back Better legislation to provide more funding for training. If you haven’t done so already, contact your senators and tell them to pass the Build Back Better Act.

It is time to get to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo (Local 1503, Marysville, Kan.) accepted an invitation from the federal Department of Transportation to introduce DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids at a Jan. 28 event discussing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in Kansas City.

“It’s no accident when federal agencies call on our state directors to be at the table when these events happen,” said Dragoo, who has been Kansas SLD since January 2010. “Our legislative team is second to none in D.C. National Legislative Director Greg Hynes and Alt. National Legislative Director Jared Cassity are making great connections and advancing our cause.

“It’s proof when we get these calls. SMART-TD is a key stakeholder in D.C. and throughout the country.”

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas’s third district speaks at an event promoting the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Jan. 28 with DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg and SMART-TD Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo to her right.

Accompanied by Kansas Assistant State Legislative Director Chad Henton (Local 506, Herington, Kan.) and Kansas SLB Secretary & Treasurer Dan Bonawitz (Local 1409, Kansas City, Kan.), Secretary Buttigieg, Rep. Davids and SLD Dragoo took part in a roundtable discussion at the University of Kansas Medical Center campus with local elected officials, labor leaders and community members.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law is innovative legislation that will bring thousands of jobs to the state of Kansas,” Dragoo said in his introduction of DOT Secretary Buttigieg and Rep. Davids. “My organization is uniquely qualified to reap its benefits because we are the men and women that physically transport the products created by our great unions and building trades. We are moving from the Great Resignation to the Great Innovation. From SMART members building new HVAC systems for our nation’s schools and hospitals to SMART members transporting the much-needed resources to build and innovate this country. We get it done!

“Representative Davids was there when this much-needed legislation was drafted, and she voted to pass it into law. I am proud of both her and Secretary Buttigieg’s work to highlight the new law’s benefits.”

The event also spotlighted how, when implemented, the IIJA will create local jobs and spur economic growth across the third district of Kansas that Davids represents, including in communities that are traditionally overlooked, Dragoo said.

Buttigieg described the funds coming to invest in the nation’s infrastructure as being of historic levels and said that good-paying union jobs would be created in the state of Kansas and nationwide because of the bipartisan legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden last year.

“We are preparing to deploy historic levels of funding to help modernize transportation across the country thanks to this law,” he said. “This law is going to do so much in every part of the United States, and certainly here. It’s going to help us build more electric buses, to help kids get to school without being exposed to toxic fumes. It’s going to help us expand public transit to make commutes faster and traffic lighter.”

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, right, meets with Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo and his family at an event Jan. 28 in Kansas City, Kan.
A portion of the day’s events took place during an outdoor press conference at the Rock Island and Cesar Chavez bridges, and Secretary Buttigieg, Rep. Davids and the SMART-TD contingent were joined by Kansas DOT Secretary Julie Lorenz and Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Tyrone Garner. The event highlighted the bridges for their complementary purposes as infrastructure and economic projects in Davids’ district:

Among the attendees were local labor and business community leaders, elected officials and transportation authorities. Dragoo’s family — Jessica, Kennedy, Quinn, Savannah and Jax — also attended some of the day’s activities.

“This was an amazing opportunity and one that our members in Kansas can be proud of,” Dragoo said.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate today passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, its $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation, by a 69-30 vote, sending the bill to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration and taking a step to end a substantial period of largely flat federal investment in the nation’s roads, rails and bridges.
The bill contains $786 billion to address a backlog of national infrastructure needs, $66 billion for Amtrak and $39 billion for public bus, transit and subway systems.
“This legislation marks the end of a long period of stagnation in the upper chamber of Congress when it comes to putting additional money into the nation’s infrastructure,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “There was a lot of talk of Infrastructure Week and the like in prior years, but nothing ever was accomplished with the bills dying in the Senate. Now we see a strong effort to protect bus and transit workers to shield them from assaults and a major influx of money that will allow Amtrak to provide expanded service and help its national passenger service to flourish. These are very encouraging signs and the bill’s passage is a major win for our Amtrak, bus and transit members.”
Absent from the Senate bill was a two-person freight crew provision that was passed through the U.S. House of Representatives’ infrastructure bill known as the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684). Yardmaster hours of service, also in the INVEST Act, suffered the same fate.
The 10 bipartisan senators who authored the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act did not include those items when writing the more than 2,700 pages of the legislation, and no amendment adding a 2PC provision was introduced by senators as the bill was considered for passage. Only bipartisan amendments were considered during the amendment process, and no Republican senators offered to co-sponsor the two-person-crew or yardmaster hours of service items as an amendment.
This does not close the door on national two-person crew bill efforts with House leaders, including Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairperson Peter DeFazio, Railroad Subcommittee Chair Donald Payne and other supporters of rail safety, working to find a vehicle to get a legislative solution passed. Regulatory efforts via the federal Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will be intensified.
“We ask that members continue to be loud and clear about rail safety and the importance of a certified conductor and certified engineer being in the cab to elected officials via phone call, letter, and email and also by raising public awareness on social media,” Hynes said. “We have come further than we ever have in getting national two-person crew legislation accomplished this cycle. The battle is not over, and there is much more to be done.”