More than 4,000 tradeswomen and allies converged for Tradeswomen Build Nations 2023 (TWBN) in Washington, DC, from December 1–3 for an awe-inspiring display of sisterhood, strength and solidarity. Highlighted by the annual banner parade, where tradeswomen took the streets of DC to showcase their union pride, the conference was an example of the progress and momentum carrying both SMART and the labor movement into the future.

Plenary speakers illustrate progress made, work ahead

Plenary sessions on Saturday and Sunday brought various speakers from the labor movement, the United States government and the construction industry to TWBN, all of whom spoke to the progress that has been made for women in the trades — and the importance of building on that progress in the years to come.

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) President Sean McGarvey delivered remarks on Saturday that largely focused on the union difference, particularly with a labor-friendly administration in power and an extraordinary amount of work on the horizon. After highlighting worker wins across North America, from infrastructure legislation and projects in the United States to clean energy tax credits in Canada — which mandate provinces to require inclusive restrooms on jobsites — McGarvey homed in on the important role unions need to play.

Collective bargaining agreements, project labor agreements and community benefits agreements are making the construction industry more equitable and inclusive, he said, helping bring women and underrepresented communities onto jobsites. And since 2016, NABTU affiliates like SMART have increased women participation in apprenticeships by 50%, thanks in no small part to pre-apprenticeship programs. But there is more work to be done, particularly when it comes to childcare obstacles, eliminating hazing and discrimination on the jobsite, and more.

“We are on the right track,” McGarvey declared. “You are the future of our unions.”

McGarvey was followed by Stanley Black & Decker President Maria Ford and United States Speaker of the House Emeritus Nancy Pelosi, two glass-ceiling-shattering women who discussed the importance of gender equity and inclusiveness in business and in government. Ford detailed her journey from intern to president and stressed that diversity and inclusion aren’t just about statistics and quotas, but about strengthening industries — pointing to the National Football League as an example of a company whose value spiked as it made strides to include more women. Pelosi, on the other hand, talked about how unions have built America into the country it is today, and how union jobs with prevailing wages can change women’s lives for the better. She also underlined the importance of passing legislation that creates more union jobs, expands childcare accessibility and more.

“We believe that when women succeed, America succeeds,” she declared.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler took the stage to reflect on the extraordinary growth TWBN has achieved during its 13 years, from small gatherings in conference rooms to standing-room-only rallies in enormous ballrooms. After thanking NABTU’s Tradeswomen Committee — which includes SMART Director of Special Projects Louise Medina — Shuler talked about taking the momentum of TWBN back to local unions across North America.

“We need every woman in America to see that construction is for them,” she said. “You are the best organizers.”

Shuler described some of the threats facing workers in North America, including corporate-controlled technology such as artificial intelligence. But, she noted, “you can’t build nations with an algorithm.” The strikes that defined 2023 demonstrate the determination of workers to seize their power, and it is imperative that SMART sisters and allies work to build on the foundation that has been laid.

“We’re going to keep growing, we’re going to keep marching, we’re going to keep winning together,” Shuler concluded.

On Sunday, Local 16 (Portland, Oregon) Organizer Korri Bus took the stage to tell her story and shed light on one of the most devastating recruitment obstacles in the trades: the lack of accessible, affordable childcare. Bus has been in the trade for approximately 17 years but had to step away temporarily in 2007, when she was forced to choose between her job and her need for reliable childcare. America’s existing childcare system is inadequate and far too expensive for workers across sectors — especially tradespeople, who work long hours outside the 9–5 schedule.

“It’s not just a personal struggle, it’s a collective challenge,” Bus said. “Together, let’s build a future where no parent in the trades has to choose between professional commitments and parental responsibilities.”

Other speakers throughout the weekend included International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) President Jimmy Williams, Jr., Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su and others. All speakers noted that TWBN 2023 was a signifier of fantastic growth — and urged attendees to perform the work, from organizing to pushing for proworker legislation, to make sure that progress continues.

“I came to Tradeswomen Build Nations for the first time in 2015 — there were 30 of us in the room. Now there are over 300 of us here.”

Shamaiah Turner, a SMART Women’s Committee member and Northeast Regional Council Business Development Representative

SMART sisters and allies get to work in breakout sessions

Breakout sessions on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning put TWBN attendees to work, learning more about pressing issues facing women in the trades and brainstorming together on how to push forward. Sessions included “Women-Mentoring-Women in the Building Trades;” “Federal Policies Impacting Tradeswomen and the Infrastructure Generation;” “Moving Beyond Recruitment to Retention;” and many more.

Sheena Jones (Local 36, St. Louis) and Amanda Filpo (Local 28, New York City) present on BE4ALL during a Tradeswomen Build Nations breakout session.

In the “Childcare: Challenges and Solutions, and What the Building Trades are Doing to Help” breakout, attendees heard from panelists on how inadequate childcare is preventing people from entering the trades, as well as pilot programs being implemented to help tradespeople and potential long-term solutions. In Milwaukee, for example, TradesFutures — the nonprofit set up by NABTU and contractor partners — put together a program to cover half the childcare costs of program participants. And Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) in New York City created a similar pilot program, helping union tradeswomen choose the childcare options and provider they needed in order to get to work. Importantly, all panelists emphasized the need for lasting solutions — namely, legislation that makes childcare available to all workers.

SMART sheet metal workers and Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) Committee members Sheena Jones (Local 36, St. Louis) and Amanda Filpo (Local 28, New York City) took center stage during the “Pioneering Progress: Highlighting DEI Success in NABTU Workforce Development Programs like SMART BE4ALL” breakout session. Along with an Ironworker member of the Navajo nation — who discussed the importance of inclusion and taking on workforce challenges with an Indigenous-specific lens — Jones and Filpo provided an overview on how diversity, belonging and inclusion are core to the labor movement’s values, demonstrating how BE4ALL’s work is making our union stronger. The pair pointed to BE4ALL’s existing success stories, such as the distribution of bathroom kits with menstrual products to JATCs across North America, as examples of material steps unions can take to bring more people into the trades.

“This is how you prove that you want to keep people in the industry,” Filpo said.

SMART caucus brings members together for the journey ahead

SMART General President Michael Coleman and the SMART Women’s Committee addressed and answered questions from TWBN attendees during the annual SMART caucus, which outlined our union’s dedication to bringing more women and underserved populations into our trade.

General President Coleman and the SMART International Women’s Committee

SMART Women’s Committee member Amy Carr kicked off the caucus by talking about growth, pointing out how many women have joined SMART since her first TWBN conference in Chicago in 2017, as well as how many local unions now have women’s committees. Chair Vanessa Carman then had the Women’s Committee members introduce themselves before subcommittee chairs overviewed the work they’ve undertaken in the last year, from working to increase the number of women in SMART and facilitating mentoring programs, to helping women members across North America create, sustain and strengthen local union women’s committees — and much more.

The Women’s Committee website has information and resources related to the on-the-ground work the committee is performing, committee member Subrina Sandefur said, including sister stories, information on parental support and childcare, and so much more. In addition, the Women’s Committee hosted a series of virtual events throughout the year, including informational sessions on pathways to leadership and union-wide Women In Construction Week celebrations.

General President Coleman then spoke to the caucus, acknowledging the work and leadership of the Women’s Committee.

“It is an honor to be here today, and it is an honor to represent you every day,” he said. “You are true trade unionists.”

Coleman paid tribute to the determination and fearlessness of women across our union, and said the women at TWBN reminded him of trailblazing workers’ and civil rights leaders from throughout history.

“You are making a difference in this world,” he explained. “There are so many people that don’t have the opportunity to make a difference. You are making a difference, a tangible difference, that you should all embrace, every single day.”

Our SMART sisters are changing the lives of working women across North America, Coleman continued, leading by example as they fight for better pay, working conditions and contracts that eliminate the gender pay gap. He vowed to walk in lockstep with women across our union as they take on those battles. “I want you to know that I’ve got your back,” he concluded. “General President Sellers, he led. And I’m promising each and every one of you: I will lead in the same way. We are going to continue in this movement, and I will fight for every single one of you.”

In November, SMART-TD members voted — with approximately two-thirds in favor — to ratify a tentative agreement the Transportation Division reached with BNSF in September.

“This agreement our general committees have reached with BNSF continues to show the strength of our union’s leadership. Together we have made unprecedented inroads on attendance and quality-of-life issues — an area carriers had no interest to collectively bargain,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson. “We have cleared the way for our members on BNSF to expect predictability in their work rest schedules, while at the same time securing proper compensation on a variety of issues that were not agreed to in past rounds of national negotiations. It was long overdue that these issues be addressed. I’m very proud of everyone’s efforts to get this accomplished.”

Negotiations with BNSF under Articles VI and VII of the National Rail Agreement began in January following wide national attention on rail labor’s fight to improve rail workers’ quality of life. The tentative agreement with BNSF was reached by the eight affected SMART-TD general committees months later; votes were cast through the month of October and tabulated on November 2.

The general chairpersons involved include GO 001’s Mike LaPresta, GO 009’s Scott Swiatek, GO 017’s Rich O’Connell, GO 020’s Justin Schrock, GO 386’s Larry Miller, GO 393’s Kevin Kime, GO 577’s Roy Davis and Tony McAdams from GO JTD. 

Under the next phase of this process, SMART-TD and BNSF will begin implementing the agreed-upon changes. Members who are eligible for additional vacation will have the opportunity to schedule that vacation in 2024. Implementation of other provisions of the agreement will take place over the coming weeks and months.

“We would like to thank our members for their patience throughout the negotiation process, and for casting their votes,” the eight general chairpersons of the involved committees said in a joint statement. “The overwhelming approval ratings prove that our members see the value in this agreement. We were determined to obtain meaningful improvements to our working conditions, and this agreement does exactly that. While our fight is never over, we are confident that this will serve as a substantial step in the right direction.”

The general chairpersons also expressed appreciation to Vice President Joe Lopez, who helped lead negotiations, along with Vice Presidents Chad Adams and Jamie Modesitt.

“Our general chairpersons showed exemplary leadership and cohesion through the up-and-down nature of these discussions,” the three vice presidents said. “We congratulate them on their accomplishments and commend them on their focus on what matters — improving the quality of life and working conditions of our members.”

In May of 2023, SMART dealt a major blow to Union Pacific when, after four years, we successfully received an arbitration award that sustained our claim for protective benefits for five SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) members that were furloughed by the carrier and replaced with contractors.

On October 1, 2019, Union Pacific sent a notice to SMART stating that it was furloughing nine employees working in the Water Service Department, and that the carrier intended to contract out the work. Union Pacific refused to follow the black letter of the collective bargaining agreement and instead arbitrarily selected which of the furloughed employees would receive protective benefits, denying benefits to others.

SMART filed a claim on behalf of the members that were refused protective benefits, and the case was heard before a Special Board of Adjustment in 2021. The claim was originally denied by the arbitrator; however, SMART asserted that the board’s decision was not based on the clear language of the agreement and filed a motion to vacate in district court. The court agreed with SMART and remanded the case back to the arbitrator, which meant going through the entire arbitration process a second time.

“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job. The money will go a long way.”

RME member Don Yei

The case was heard again in March 2023 — and SMART prevailed. Union Pacific was ordered to provide protective benefits to the members’ choosing based on the options set forth in the agreement. In total, these SMART members will receive more than $840,000 in protective benefits.

“Union Pacific is a huge railroad, and it fought hard to deny the members what was rightfully theirs,” said International Representative Joe Fraley, who handled the case. “But even when times got tough, the members had SMART’s back — and SMART had theirs. Together, we fought smarter, we fought harder, and we won. That’s what being SMART is all about.”

“I am honored and humbled to represent the members — the members are the real heroes here, and they deserve every penny that they will receive,” he added. “We would not have done it without all of us working together. We would not have done it without being SMART.”

For the victorious members, the case demonstrates the material difference of union solidarity.

“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job,” said RME member Don Yei. “The money will go a long way.”

The Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) Committee is a joint venture between SMART, SMACNA and the International Training Institute (ITI), with members of the committee pursuing one crucial goal: to create a diverse, inclusive, unionized sheet metal industry that is welcoming and fosters belonging for ALL people. Only by doing so can we sustain a thriving industry and bring more workers and sectors into our fold.  

BE4ALL launched in December 2021. Since then, various BE4ALL subcommittees have focused on implementing the committee’s goals, delivering material results aimed at ensuring our industry is welcoming and inclusive of all current and future members. In 2023, that work took various forms.

January-March: Subcommittees chart their course, mark victories

The year began with the successful launch and continuation of various programs meant to strengthen the unionized sheet metal industry.  

Through the ITI, BE4ALL distributed hundreds of bathroom kits to JATCs across the country – the result of appren­tices pointing out the absence of menstrual products in local training facilities – with SMACNA dispensing a “how-to” guide demonstrating the ease of providing such products on the jobsite. As then SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. stated in a letter to JATC co-chairs, trustees and coordina­tors, providing menstrual products “creates a better learning environ­ment” and lessens “potential stress.” The ITI also continued to host virtual bias and belonging training sessions, as well as in-person train-the-trainer bias and belonging trainings – helping ensure that leaders and instructors are creating welcoming and inclusive environments at all levels of the industry.  

BE4ALL also introduced its 2023 BE4ALL Calendar, which was sent to local unions, JATCs, contractors, and to SMART members via the Members’ Journal. The calendar, meant to help members, employees and colleagues learn more about the different cultures and faiths that make up our industry, included information about a wide range of observances and important dates, with a digital version complementing the print calendar with links to more resources.

In the first quarter of 2023, several BE4ALL subcommittees kicked off additional, year-long campaigns to provide resources, education and opportunities to get involved with making our industry welcoming to all. The BE4ALL Committee’s first-ever Toolbox Talk – titled “On Being a Good Crewmate” – hit local union halls, email inboxes and social media in the beginning of the year. The first of many Toolbox Talks distributed throughout the year, Toolbox Talk #1 touted the importance of creating welcoming workplace environments and developing a sense of camaraderie and mentorship on the job. (The committee distributed another Toolbox Talk, titled “Effective Communication,” in March.)

Education is power, whether knowing one’s rights in the workplace or the history of the unionized sheet metal industry. With that principle in mind, BE4ALL hosted its first Learning Journey of 2023 in January, focused on Martin Luther King, Jr. Guest speaker Dave Dennis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, joined SMART members, SMACNA contractors and others to discuss and celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, with participants joining in conversation, music and song. In February, the committee hosted another Learning Journey on Black History Month, and in March – to complement Women in Construction Week – BE4ALL launched a series of spotlights on social media, highlighting influential (and often overlooked) women in American and Canadian history.

And finally, the committee launched its first of four challenges to SMART members: the BE4ALL I Got Your Back challenge, designed to inspire union members to foster connection with one another. By making a connection with a coworker, posting on social media and sharing something new they learned about each other, members were entered to win a $100 gift card and a commemorative golden BE4ALL hardhat.

April-June: Continued progress, celebrating Juneteenth

The second quarter of 2023 represented onward progress in BE4ALL’s various year-long programs, as well as a coordinated campaign to recognize and provide education to SMART and SMACNA members about Juneteenth.

The committee continued distributing materials intended to promote techniques to practice inclusion; educate and spread awareness; and engage union sheet metal workers and contractors in the BE4ALL initiative. A June Toolbox Talk, titled “Building a Respectful Workplace,” emphasized the importance of solidarity and common courtesy at work – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because studies demonstrate a connection between respectful workplaces, worker safety and business performance.

Meanwhile, several Learning Journeys gave workers and contractors the chance to learn more about the movements that inform the unionized sheet metal industry. In April, SMOHIT Administrator Aldo Zambetti hosted a Learning Journey on mental health awareness – a vital topic whose profile has grown in the construction industry in recent years. In May, Dr. Sam Vong, curator of Asian Pacific American History, Division of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, a vice president of the California Federation of Teachers, and the founding president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, discussed the history of Asian/Pacific American labor in the United States. And in June, the committee put on a Learning Journey celebrating and teaching about LGBTQ+ Pride Month, featuring a brief history, practices for inclusion and testimonials from SMART members and contractors.

On Juneteenth, BE4ALL sent an informational poster to SMART, SMACNA and ITI headquarters, as well as local unions, contractors and JATCs – detailing the history of Juneteenth and the importance of recognizing it in 2023 (and beyond). The committee also hosted a Juneteenth Learning Journey with Tsione Wolde-Michael, a historian and former Smithsonian Museum curator, and shared information to social media, SMART’s video news program and other platforms.

July-September: Celebrating BE4ALL in Washington, DC; workers tell their stories

During the third quarter of 2023, the BE4ALL Committee found various ways to engage the broader SMART and SMACNA memberships. At the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference – which welcomed local union leaders from SMART’s sheet metal and Transportation Divisions, various political guests, SMACNA leaders and more – a BE4ALL booth in the exhibitors’ hall hosted a wide array of visitors, from International staffers to local leaders to SMACNA contractors. As part of the conference itself, BE4ALL Committee members hosted back-to-back breakout sessions, connecting with SMART members and leaders to bring them into the broader effort to create a welcoming and inclusive industry.

Education efforts continued with Learning Journeys and Toolbox Talks. SMART MAP’s (Member Assistance Program) Chris Carlough and Jeremy Holburn of the SMOHIT Mental Health Network were featured guests during a July Learning Journey on addiction and recovery, and in September, the committee welcomed Dr. Sandy Placido – assistant professor of history at Rutgers University – for a learning journey in observance of Hispanic Heritage Month. SMART members and SMACNA contractors also received two Toolbox Talks: one on the steps we can all take to build a respectful workplace, and another on the actions we can take to support our coworkers.

The committee’s third quarter challenge to SMART members asked union sheet metal workers across North America to submit their stories answering one simple question: “How did you become a SMART member?” The answers ran the gamut of experiences, from apprentices to retirees, Northern California to London, Ontario. A first-year apprentice in Rockford, Illinois talked about how Local 219 “changed [his] life.” A Local 12 retiree in southwest Pennsylvania thanked his union pension for allowing him to retire with “dignity and grace.” A Local 104 member out of northern California said that building America as a union sheet metal worker gives him “pride … and the greatest sense of fulfillment.” And a Local 47 (Ottawa, Ontario) instructor recalled how “joining the union was transformational for [him].” Overall, the submissions illustrated both the diversity of the unionized sheet metal workforce, and the solidarity that bonds members together.

October-December: After 12 months of hard work, preparing for the journey ahead

In October, BE4ALL hosted a Learning Journey on Indigenous history, featuring special guests Sarah Adams (Choctaw nation) of signatory contractor RedLand Sheet Metal, as well as Lyle Daniels, community and Indigenous director at the Building Trades of Alberta. It was the final live Learning Journey in the year; in November, however, the committee conducted a social media campaign spotlighting Canadian labour history, rounding out the committee’s 2023 program. The committee also kickstarted its quarter four challenge, asking members to answer the question: “Why are you proud to be a SMART union member?” The challenge is ongoing – winners will be announced in early 2024.

In November, members, contractors and JATCs received the final 2023 Toolbox Talk, on microaggressions. Local unions, contractors and training centers were also encouraged to take part in the 2023 Pedal to the Metal Toy Drive, an initiative designed to spread joy to children during the holiday season and raise awareness of family-sustaining careers in the unionized sheet metal trade. Local unions and contractors gathered toy donations to distribute to those in need in their communities; the BE4ALL Committee provided gift tags with QR codes that offer more information on becoming a union sheet metal worker. As part of the effort, SMART sisters and allies brought toys to SMART International headquarters in Washington, DC, during Tradeswomen Build Nations; the substantial haul was donated to Mary’s Center, which offers high-quality healthcare, education and social services to all.

As the year came to a close, BE4ALL set its sights on 2024 – and beyond. Immediate next steps include the publication of a rapid response protocol, aimed at helping local unions and contractors respond to incidents of bias, hazing and bullying. Additionally, the ITI and the SMART Education Department plan to expand bias and belonging trainings, and the ITI Accreditation Board has approved a requirement to deliver bias and belonging classes – at least one class annually – in its criteria for any level of JATC accreditation. BE4ALL will also continue bringing more members into the fold by increasing access to bathroom kits, hosting more Learning Journeys, providing additional Toolbox Talks, once again distributing a BE4ALL calendar, and much more.

The BE4ALL Committee has made substantial progress over the last two years – and there is much more work to be done. To get involved, text “BE4ALL” to 67336 (message and data rates may apply).

Picture of the Pa. Captiol from then-Gov. Tom Wolf from Harrisburg, Pa. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Picture of the Pa. Capitol from then-Gov. Tom Wolf from Harrisburg, Pa. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Across the country, SMART members are running for elected office — and winning. As leaders in their communities, these members are able to influence the policies that matter to their fellow union workers, and they can ensure union issues are prioritized.

There are a variety of reasons why members run. They want to serve their neighbors and communities. They want to make sure labor has a voice in our decision-making bodies, and that our priorities — such as prevailing wages, project labor agreements (PLAs), registered apprenticeship utilization, health and safety protections and other workforce standards — get the attention they deserve. They want to push back against anti-union and anti-worker rhetoric from inside our governing bodies.

“They want to make sure labor has a voice in our decision-making bodies, and that our priorities — such as prevailing wages, project labor agreements (PLAs), registered apprenticeship utilization, health and safety protections and other workforce standards — get the attention they deserve.”

“The more of our members that hold public office, the better we are as an organization,” said SMART Local 33 (northern Ohio) Business Representative and Toledo City Councilman Matt Cherry. “Our local has had some very big wins because of this position, including countless PLAs and licensing requirements.”

Anyone can run for elected office. Read through the tips below to learn how you can start the process:

Get involved locally:

Get active in your community. For example, SMART members currently in office have served on boards, committees and task forces in order to get to know their communities and other elected leaders before running for elected office.

Consult with your union:

Talking to local union leadership is the first thing every SMART member currently holding office has done.

Attend trainings:

Attend the AFL-CIO’s Path to Power training. This training is designed to teach union members and local activists how to run for public office and build power that will positively influence our communities.

Seek endorsements:

Make sure you get the endorsement of SMART. After talking to your local, contact your AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, state federation and state building trades council. These are bodies that can help you seek out other local union endorsements as well as endorsements from other community stakeholders.

Build a campaign budget:

SMART members currently holding office have raised funds from individuals, unions and/or through the local political party. Having the support of the labor community will be key to helping you raise money to support your campaign.

Aside from elected positions, there are many opportunities to get involved in local politics. All cities and counties have committees, boards and commissions that constituents can join. Serving in this capacity is an important way to help advance SMART’s priorities and build our political power.

“If you’re thinking of running, do it,” said East Haven, Conn. Town Councilwoman and SMART Local 40 member Kimberly Glassman. “By and large, most politicians have no idea the contributions that the unionized construction industry makes. They don’t know why prevailing wage laws are so important. They don’t know what a PLA is. But our opposition is well-funded and motivated to decimate our industry. Just being in the room where conversations about municipal or state projects are had is a huge win. It’s moving the dial for all of us. The more of us that hold elected office, the better.”

SMART members in New Jersey at a Passaic Central Labor Council labor walk.
SMART members in New Jersey at a Passaic Central Labor Council labor walk.

This election cycle, SMART members across sheet metal and the Transportation Division flexed their muscles at the ballot box, helping elect union-friendly candidates across the United States. That includes SMART members who ran for office themselves, pledging to pursue policy that supports working families.

In New Jersey, the SMART New Jersey State Council endorsed a bipartisan group of pro-labor candidates that won big. Johnnie Whittington of Local 27 (southern New Jersey) won his election to the East Windsor Township Council, while Glen Kocsis — also from Local 27 — won re-election to the Neptune City Council: putting the voice of SMART workers in powerful positions to benefit their union brothers and sisters.

“So far this election cycle, 82% of our labor candidates have won their elections,” said Joseph Demark, Jr., president of the New Jersey State Council for Sheet Metal Workers, president and business manager of Local 25 (northern New Jersey) and executive board member of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO. “Together, we made the difference and won!”

In Kentucky, SMART members endorsed and helped re-elect Andy Beshear as governor. His victory is a big win for workers — during his first term, he made Kentucky the battery manufacturing capital of America, and he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with union members from the picket line to the governor’s office. Thanks in no small part to Beshear’s leadership, SMART members are seeing an extraordinary amount of work in the Bluegrass State — and our union is growing as a result.

Up and down the ballot, in races across the country, SMART members fueled a score of impressive victories. Warren Faust, SMART International representative and former business manager of Local 44 (northeastern Pennsylvania), won re-election to the Wilkes-Barre School Board. And in Virginia, workers marched to the ballot box to help pro-union candidates take the state House and Senate, putting advocates for working families in control of policymaking.

Ultimately, 2023 reiterated the importance of the union vote. Election Day reminds all legislators: When you stand with union members, union members stand with you.

“From door-knocking, to phone-banking, to peer-to-peer text messaging, we showed the power of our vote,” said SMART-TD Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs. “When we stand together as one, there is NOTHING that can stop us in our tracks.”

For father-daughter sheet metal workers Anthony Smith and Amber Jones, joining SMART Local 4 (Memphis, Tennessee) and working for signatory contractor Ventcon has demonstrated the difference between a nonunion gig and a union career.

“Before I joined the union, I didn’t think I’d ever really be able to retire — I’ve always bartended, served, didn’t have anything going into retirement,” said Jones, a first-year apprentice. “Here with the local, I’m able to retire one day. I’m actually able to pay my bills, financially afford to feed my kids and, you know, moving up in life.”

“I’ve been in the trade off and on for about 30 years,” added Smith, a Marine Corps veteran and a member of Local 4 since August 2023. “I was always told that being unionized was something I would not want to consider, but everything that I’d heard about Local 4 — and of course, experiencing it now — I wish I would’ve [joined] a long time ago. … With the way the local treats you, the way everybody here treats you, it just gives you a better opportunity to move forward.”

Both Smith and Jones are currently at work fabricating metal for Ford’s massive Blue Oval City electric vehicle plant in Stanton, Tennessee. For the country at-large, their jobs are helping to build our sustainable economic and clean energy future. For the two Local 4 sheet metal workers, it’s an extraordinary amount of fabrication work.

“It’s great work. It’s not easy work, but it’s good, honest work — you make good pay,” Smith said.

“[Ford Blue Oval City] is needing a ton of metal, which we are constantly pushing out — truck loads a day,” Jones explained. “I love the people that I work with; I enjoy coming to work every day.”

The work is one thing, but the benefits of union membership go beyond just material gains. For Jones, the union apprenticeship program has helped nurture a love of learning in a trade that has endless possibilities.

“I like to stay busy; I like to learn new things, being able to understand how things work,” she said. “I go to school every Monday and Tuesday night. It’s very welcoming; they’ve been there for me, helped guide me, they’re teaching me everything that I need to know.”

Smith, meanwhile, said the sense of camaraderie parallels what he had in the Marines.

“Everybody helps each other, you know. We don’t just finish a job that we’re on and stand around, and watch everybody else maybe struggle,” he said. “Everybody pulls together to get the job done. It’s a great team that works out here, and it’s probably the best atmosphere I’ve been in in a very, very long time.”

The SMART Transportation Division Colorado State Legislative Board announced that a railroad safety bill it supports received a key committee endorsement on October 3 and looks likely to be considered in the state Legislature’s 2024 session.

By a 14–6 vote, the state’s Joint Transportation Legislation Review Committee approved of the measure, which limits train lengths to 8,500 feet and sets placement of trackside detectors to mirror what is proposed in the Railway Safety Act introduced after the East Palestine, Ohio, disaster in February 2023. The legislation also would prohibit carriers from blocking rail crossings for longer than 10 minutes.

According to Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, the Ohio derailment was the impetus for some of the legislators to take a hard look at rail safety — and a couple of other incidents closer to home have kept the attention on the railroad.

“A military train from Fort Carson derailed right across from the El Paso County Jail, in Colorado Springs,” Smith said. “So that drew a lot of media attention, a lot of media spotlight.”

Incidents such as the Colorado Springs derailment and a second, more recent incident in Pueblo, Colorado, combined with members’ active outreach, made the commonsense efforts advocated by SMART-TD hard to ignore — even for people who had previously aligned with the carriers.

Smith said that state Rep. Ty Winter had adamantly refused to support rail safety legislation in the 2023 session and was a “no” for several months leading up to the vote in early October, but changed his mind in a statement to the review committee.

“I firmly believe the pressure that Rep. Winter received from the railroad workers that live and work in the 47th House District caused a significant change to his previous stance,” Smith said. “We will thank Rep. Winter for his support and continue to ensure that he supports rail safety legislation. The lobbyists of both railroads were visibly shocked by Winter’s statement and vote.”

A great deal of work on the legislation has been done, but there’s more ahead.

“We still have many steps to go before it gets to the governor’s desk for signature,” Smith noted.

But the committee endorsement with bipartisan support and 14 cosponsors — even before introduction before the full Legislature in 2024 — give it a leg up over legislation starting from scratch.

Smith also said that the legislation remains subject to amendment, especially at the encouragement of the railroad carriers, to soften the protections the bill advocates.

“I anticipate that happening,” he cautioned.

Smith and the Colorado State Legislative Board have already created a coalition of other unions, public safety and environmental groups to help raise awareness in the Legislature for a successful outcome that mirrors the winning two-person crew effort in the state in 2019.

“We will continue to educate legislators on railroad safety and lobby them to support the bill for the 2024 session,” Smith concluded.

SMART Assistant to the General President Donna Silverman left her post at SMART effective December 31, 2023. During her tenure, Silverman worked indefatigably to advance the interests of SMART members, particularly those in underrepresented communities — helping position our union for generations to come.

Silverman began her time at SMART in 2017 as house counsel, transitioning to her role as assistant to the general president in 2020. Prior to joining SMART, she worked as an in-house assistant legal counsel for the International Association of Fire Fighters and worked for a Washington, DC, law firm, where she represented union members and employees and worked on cases related to employment discrimination, duty of fair representation, wage and hour, and arbitrations.

Silverman pioneered a variety of initiatives during her time at SMART that helped our union make enormous strides in recruitment, retention, inclusion and beyond, setting the groundwork for SMART to grow and meet this moment of opportunity. She helped lead the implementation of the I Got Your Back Campaign, the Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) initiative and the formation of the SMART International Women’s Committee, and she drafted amendments to the SMART Constitution that helped make our union more welcoming to all members.

SMART General President Michael Coleman paid tribute to Silverman during the 2023 Tradeswomen Build Nations conference, saying she has “moved mountains” at SMART.

“Donna, you’re one of my best friends, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you — thank you for being you.”

In December, SMART-TD announced the members who will serve on the Bus and Transit Assault Prevention and Safety (BTAPS) Committee. This committee, which was voted on at the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, is being chaired by Christine Ivey, a member of SMART-TD Local 1785 who works as a bus operator for the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines.

In addition to Sister Ivey, the members of the BTAPS Committee will be the following:

Bus members

  • Russ Gaillard, Local 1582, Adirondack Transit Lines, Albany, New York
  • Sandra Pineda, Local 1563, LACMTA, El Monte, California
  • Bruce Cheatham, Local 1594, SEPTA, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania
  • Pedro (Pete) Lara, Jr., Local 1563, LACMTA, El Monte, California

Transit/commuter members

  • Cole Czub, Local 898, KEOLIS, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Ernest Higgerson, Local 1525, Amtrak, Carbondale, Illinois
  • Joseph Williams, Local 800, New Jersey Transit, Newark, New Jersey

This committee will be focusing its efforts on lobbying at the state level and in Washington, DC, to promote bills that ensure the best demonstrated practices for transit worker safety and bring down the alarming rate of assaults on our brothers and sisters. BTAPS members will also be working with carriers, the Federal Transit Administration and other federal agencies to promote best practices to make our members safer on the job.

“I want to thank all our bus and transit members who volunteered to serve on this important committee. After careful consideration, we have chosen eight members that represent a geographically diverse cross section of our bus, transit and commuter service workforce,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “We are lucky to have many talented people in our union, and we look forward to the progress this BTAPS Committee will make. Under Christine Ivey’s leadership, I am sure they will make an immediate impact on the safety of our bus and transit rail members.”