Following a chance social media interaction, SMART Local 46 (Rochester, N.Y.) apprentices are helping provide the gift of mobility to hundreds of children across the world, according to — showcasing both the values and the craftsmanship of union labor.

Bellas Bumpas Limited is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization run by husband-and-wife team Marty Parzynski and Rebecca Orr that provides free, hand-crafted mobile chairs for children with physical disabilities. The charity’s mission, WNYLaborToday reports, is to not only help children gain “the mobility that has eluded them, but provide them with the opportunity to take part in a variety of activities that many children and their families take for granted.”

A crucial part of the wheelchairs, Local 46 Training Director Allen Mort told WNYLaborToday, is a metal axle that needs to be cut precisely to length, with holes drilled on either end to attach the wheels to each side of the chair. That’s where the union sheet metal apprentices entered the equation.

“[The charity] was looking for help with constructing wheelchairs and they needed metal pieces [to attach the wheels]. I called them to inquire about what they needed,” Mort — who originally saw Bellas Bumpas’ call for assistance on a neighborhood app — told WNYLaborToday.

“Their apprentices’ help takes a lot off my shoulders,” Parzynski said in the same article. “It gives me more time to work on other parts.”

“[Local 46’s apprentices] are helping disabled kids,” he continued. “Families who have a disabled kid have tears in their eyes, because they’ve never gotten anything like this. There was nowhere else to go [to get the metal axle made], and we couldn’t do anything without them. Then [Local 46] stepped in. It’s an absolute godsend.”

In addition to its donation of union labor, Local 46 helped spearhead a wave of financial assistance. Following the apprentices’ work, the Rochester Building & Construction Trades Council donated $16,000 to Bellas Bumpas, and Local 46 contributed another $1,000.

“When [the apprentices] learn that it’s so meaningful, you can see it in their faces,” Local 46 Business Manager Troy Milne explained to WNYLaborToday. “They take a bit of extra time because they know where it’s going. … They care.”

“I’m proud of them, as well as our entire membership, to give back to our community. We’re not just tin-knockers,” he added.

Cape Breton Island lies in the northeast quadrant of Nova Scotia in Atlantic Canada. For centuries, the island was inhabited by people of the Mi’kmaq First Nation, who call the island Unama’ki. Their traditional lifestyle centered around hunting and fishing due to the rough and rocky landscape, which produced unfavourable agricultural conditions on land.

It was not until the 1520s that the local Mi’kmaq peoples began trading with European fishermen, starting when Portuguese settlers landed in Cape Breton.

The centuries since have seen First Nations people in Canada suffer greatly, first at the hands of European settlers, then Canadian governments. But the five bands on Cape Breton — the We’koqma’q, Wagmatcook, Membertou, Eskasoni and Chapel Island First Nations — still call the island home. And today, Sheet Metal Workers and Roofers Local 56 has forged a unique partnership with First Nations bands across Cape Breton Island, helping provide life-changing union careers while expanding the scope of the unionized sheet metal industry.

This fast-growing local, established in 1966, today represents 140 sheet metal workers and roofers.

“We are very proud of the direction we’re going,” said former Local 56 Business Manager/Financial Secretary-Treasurer (now International Representative) Jack Wall.

Back in 2020, Wall approached the Nova Scotian government on behalf of Local 56 and as the head of the local building trades to cement their partnership with local bands and ensure First Nations representation on every publicly funded jobsite in the area. This partnership, formed in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding, is one which Wall and local band leaders value for the mutual benefits it has accorded to Cape Breton residents.

“Our relationship with Local 56 opens up opportunities for band members,” said Steve Parsons, CEO of corporate services and economic development for the Eskasoni First Nations band. “This provides them with an opportunity, where before there would have been a reluctance to join.”

“It has been working,” he added. “They’re getting jobs with local subcontractors both on and off the reserve.”

While doubling down on the effort to extend the opportunity of a middle-class union career to every person on Cape Breton, Wall also said the local has made dramatic progress in expanding the number of women in Local 56. Previously, he said, “Local 56 had one woman member in our local for the span of 15 years.” The lack of representation led Local 56 to renew its efforts and partner with groups such as Women Unlimited to spread awareness of the trade to area women.

Now, according to Donald Phillipo, Local 56 business manager/financial secretary-treasurer, “we have more women in our membership than at any other time. We have numerous woman sheet metal workers and architectural sheet metal workers.” He also noted that “we now have our first woman roofer, who also serves as a jobsite steward.”

The impressive growth of Local 56 signifies just how important it is for SMART to commit fully to the principles of the labor movement; to strive to bring all workers into our union, for the benefit of everyone.

“In five years, I think all these new members are going to take the reins and become the leaders of our local and our industry here on Cape Breton Island,” Phillipo concluded. “The sky is the limit!”

From September 12–14, during the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers’ and Roofers’ Conference, apprentices from nine different local unions gathered in Peterborough, Ontario, for the 50th annual Ontario Sheet Metal Workers Apprenticeship Competition. The challenge? Building copper replicas of the iconic Peterborough Lift Lock.

“It’s a great opportunity to get some new skills and meet some new people, and it’s a lot of fun,” said Local 537 (Hamilton, Ontario) apprentice Mackenzie Johnston.

Along with the conference and apprenticeship competition, SMART Army Canada was out in force: Dozens of members took to the streets for a cleanup of the Otonabee River and nearby Millennium Park, helping preserve Canada’s natural beauty and public spaces for the local community.


  • First place: Kevin Berkmortel, Local 473 (London, Ontario)
  • Second place: Jamie Weir, Local 30 (Toronto, Ontario)
  • Third place: Aaron Woolley, Local 397 (Thunder Bay, Ontario)
  • Fourth place: Jacob Wiebe, Local 235 (Windsor, Ontario)
  • Fifth place: Austin Ducedre, Local 235 (Windsor, Ontario)
  • Congeniality award: Antonio Iezzi, Local 30 (Toronto, Ontario)

UFAB, a Salt Lake City-based fabrication shop, proudly describes its workforce as “union.” That’s because its SMART sheet metal workers have helped the company achieve outstanding growth over a relatively short period of time: doubling the size of its physical space, upgrading its equipment and expanding its workforce.

“Since August 24, 2018 — the day the company signed with Local 312 (Salt Lake City, Utah) — they have updated all their brakes and shears and all their fabrication equipment, with a state-of-the-art laser table,” said Local 312 Business Representative Cody Leamaster. “They have gone from a 100,000-square-feet building to 200,000 square feet.”

The birth of UFAB — which specializes in fabricating air handling units, as well as HVAC installation, maintenance and repair — started with the popularity of another area company, Unitech Manufacturing.

“An influx of orders at Unitech created workforce shortages, and the need arose for more skilled labor for the manufacturing of the company’s air handlers,” explained Leamaster. “So Chris Oberle, the owner of Midgley-Huber — which represents Unitech, at the time owned by Reed Rowland — reached out to Kevin Kuehn, who was in management at Cherrington’s Sheet Metal, a signatory contractor with Local 312.”

Kuehn, who knew first-hand the value of union craftsmanship, contacted Local 312 Business Manager Tony Ericksen, working out a deal to “loan” a handful of sheet metal workers to Unitech. It didn’t take long for the Local 312 members to make their presence felt; eventually, Kuehn encouraged Oberle to make the situation permanent by visiting the hall and signing with the union.

“Chris then created UFAB so he could become a signatory contractor; that way, he could have his own union workforce to manufacture and install air handler units,” Leamaster said.

UFAB signed with Local 312 in August 2018, and eventually, Oberle ended up purchasing Unitech in July 2021. Since then, the company’s rise has been meteoric: As of November 7, 2023, they are employing 57 building trades sheet metal workers and counting. (The company also signed with IBEW Local 354 in order to employ four building trades electricians.)

The union sheet metal workers design, fabricate, manufacture, powder coat and assemble everything in house. And along with service, refrigeration and controls, the install crew actually journeys out into the field to perform installation work, making UFAB a truly full-service shop.

In all, both the signatory process and the shop’s success are a testament to the union advantage.

“Special recognition goes to the teamwork that helped make this happen: Kevin Kuehn, Tony Ericksen and Chris Oberle, along with the hard work of our Local 312 members and the apprenticeship training program,” Leamaster concluded.

Note: This article was originally published by Eye On Sheet Metal, a resource for the unionized sheet metal industry.

John Espinos (second from right) received the Patriot Award in November.

John Espinos has mentored many apprentices in his time as training coordinator at SMART Local 27 in central and southern New Jersey, but receiving a Patriot Award for going above and beyond in his support of a servicemember took him by surprise.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Espinos said. “It actually brought a tear to my eye.”

The award pin and certificate were presented to Espinos by Ronni Enzman, Monmouth County chairperson for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), at a small ceremony at the training center on November 27.

Sgt. Mike Pruchnicki, currently in the second year of his apprenticeship, is the servicemember who nominated Espinos. He recalled all the extra time Espinos took with him to help get his Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits in place and, later, to make his deployment as smooth as possible.

“John helped me a lot since I came to Local 27 … he supported me each time I went away on orders or training, and ensured I still would have work when I returned,” Pruchnicki said. “He has been very supportive through everything, and when I found out about the Patriot Award, I couldn’t think of anyone else more deserving than John.”

The Patriot Award is one in a series of Department of Defense awards granted by the ESGR, and it reflects efforts made to support servicemembers through a wide range of measures including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence when needed. Servicemembers can nominate a supervisor they feel has made a substantial difference for them.

“This is yet another way to show the sheet metal industry is employing veterans, and veterans appreciate the support they are given,” said Josh Moore, International Training Institute field representative and SMART Heroes specialist. “This young man was worried about his apprenticeship, and he was glad John was there to support him. I think it’s great that the local is being recognized. They’re the ones that support the apprentices as they make their transition into journey work.”

Moore and Espinos believe this is the first time a training coordinator for a SMART local has received a Patriot Award. The ESGR awards program is progressive, with the Patriot Award serving as a first step toward further recognition. In order to qualify for consideration for higher honors, such as the Above and Beyond Award or the program’s highest recognition, the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, an employer must first have at least one supervisor recognized with a Patriot Award.

Espinos is no stranger to recognition as a mentor — or lapel pins of appreciation. He’s been involved in Boy Scouts of America as a scoutmaster for many years, and over time he accumulated quite a few mentor pins from Eagle Scouts who wished to honor those who had helped them on their journey. It got to the point, he said, that at Boy Scouts events he would jokingly walk lop-sided and say all the pins were weighing him down. Memories of those events came back to him as he received the Patriot Award.

“It reminded me of something my dad said before he passed,” recalled Espinos. “He told me, ‘You were a rough kid growing up, always in trouble, but I knew you were here to make an impact on other people’s lives.’”

The difference Espinos made for Pruchnicki was evident when Espinos received his award, but this is far from the first or last time a training coordinator will go to bat for an active-duty guard or reserve member. They step in to coordinate solutions when a contractor must lose a valued apprentice due to deployment, then make sure that servicemember’s job is safe and waiting for them when they return. Training coordinators at sheet metal locals also often help apprentices with VA matters and paperwork or online forms for the GI Bill, as well as making sure the apprentice gets hours covered to receive health care, pension and everything else that should be available to them.

Espinos said that there are quite a few hoops to jump through, but once you go through it the first time, it gets easier each time afterward. He also noted that apprentices at Local 27 are really in full-time classes for only around four weeks a year, each year of the five-year program.

“In that short amount of time, it felt good to make an impact on [Pruchnicki’s] life,” Espinos said.

SM Local 56 (Nova Scotia) roofer Alexis Lynk enjoys working with her hands. Even before she became a union roofer, she was no stranger to hands-on labor, serving customers and navigating hectic, fast-paced work situations in the service industry.

“I worked at McDonald’s for nine years,” Lynk said. “But I wasn’t making ends meet with the wages I had.”

The subpar pay led her to enroll in a trade apprenticeship through Women Unlimited, a program that introduces women to various trades via practical experience. Through that process, Lynk found her niche in roofing. And while the Women Unlimited program wasn’t her first encounter with the trades — her father was a tradesperson, and she dabbled in some trades work in high school — the mentorship and learning model cemented the union roofing industry as her new career path.

“When I come to work and I’m scared to do something, I have people to guide me,” Lynk explained. “They don’t just do it for me, they go through it with me step-by-step, so later I can do it on my own.”

Now, she is back at a McDonald’s — but this time as a roofer, working on top of the building rather than within it.

As the only female roofer on the jobsite, Lynk recalled feeling slightly nervous during her first days at work. She worried how people would perceive her skill set on the job. However, her nerves quickly abated as she found fellow brothers and sisters in the union roofing industry who supported her.

“A lot of the time, [even if] I don’t believe in myself, these people believe in me,” she said. Now, she is confident in her ability. The knowledge she learned through the apprenticeship program has given her skills to take on a variety of jobs, and as her confidence has grown, so has her feeling of belonging at the worksite. In five years, Lynk has no doubt she will be a Red Seal roofer. With her apprenticeship completed, the sky is truly the limit.

“When you say ‘yes’ to opportunities, pathways open and things are more accessible,” Lynk concluded. “I know it’s easy to say, ‘just jump in and do it.’ But if you put in yourself first, you’re going to go far.”

Local 359 member Philip M. Wingert received his 60-year service award in 2023. Pictured from left to right: Business Representatives Pat Montroy and Luke Kasper, Philip Wingert receiving his 60-year pin, Business Representative Tom McDermott and Local 359 Retirees President Melvin M. Palmer.

Pictured, left to right: Evan Brown, Jerry Durieux, James Chester and Kevin Tesch at the 2022 Local 33 Akron District Retiree Christmas Party. Chester received his 50-year service award during the party. Congratulations, brother!