Wage theft and worker misclassification are forms of exploitation that litter the construction industry, where unscrupulous employers take advantage of employees to pay them less than what they are owed. A recent Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study found that construction workers lose out on as much as $16,729 per year in income and job benefits; the EPI also reported that wage theft costs American workers as much as $50 billion per year — more than annual robberies, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts combined.

SMART locals are fighting against such practices from coast to coast – helping workers win the pay that they deserve.

Watch coverage of victories against wage theft and worker misclassification by SMART local unions.

“Wage theft is occurring everywhere in the construction industry, and employers will take advantage of those people who may not know what their rights are or have any idea of what prevailing wages are,” SMART Local 16 (Portland, Oregon) Business Manager Brian Noble explained in a recent episode of SMART News. “That’s who they prey on.”

SMART Local 16 has filed 10 prevailing wage complaints against 360 Sheet Metal, an aggressively anti-union contractor in Vancouver, Washington, whose workers previously went on strike after joining Local 16. The company was paying workers $12 to $15 an hour for fabricating duct in its shop, at a time when the prevailing wage (which applies to fabrication of ductwork in the state) was more than $65 an hour.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries has resolved four of the 10 complaints so far.

“In those four cases,” Noble said, “they found that [the owner of 360 Sheet Metal] owed over $200,000 in back wages to 20 workers, and they assessed $115,000 in penalties for failing to pay prevailing wage in the shop.”  

In Virginia, meanwhile, SMART Local 100 filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) alleging that a nonunion contractor on the Potomac Yards Metro Station project had misclassified sheet metal workers performing metal roofing work on the station. This resulted in them being paid approximately 60% less than the prevailing wage – hurting those workers and taking work away from Local 100.

“Misclassification is pretty rampant across the country,” explained Local 100 Marketing Director Chuck Sewell to SMART News. “Our contractors have to abide by certain rules, they have to pay certain rates, they know what the rates are, so that’s how they bid the projects. If you have these low-wage contractors come in and undercut everybody and get the project, it takes work hours from the local.”

The DOL investigation, which ended in the fall of 2022, found that the employees in question were, in fact, misclassified, resulting in more than $288,000 in back wages being recovered for eight workers.

Such wins against wage theft and worker misclassifications are critical for employees, ensuring that they are fairly compensated for their labor. They also demonstrate the crucial role unions play in representing all workers, including those who have yet to be organized.

“It’s important that we make sure all workers are represented and get what they deserve,” Noble concluded. “[It’s vital] that we stop these employers from undercutting our contractors and the industry, and most importantly, that these underrepresented workers are getting what’s truly owed to them.”

SMART Heroes graduate and Local 100 member Giann Salicrup greets SMART GP Joseph Sellers

On November 7, SMART welcomed representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, Pfizer, PhRMA, the Ironworkers and SMART veterans from multiple branches of the United States military for a celebration of SMART Heroes — a partnership between SMART, SMACNA, Helmets to Hardhats and the International Training Institute that provides seven weeks of sheet metal industry training (equivalent to the first year of apprenticeship training) to active-duty U.S. military members and recent veterans.

As part of the event, current reservist, SMART Heroes graduate and SMART Local 100 (Washington, DC area) second-year apprentice Giann Salicrup presented a Squad Level Sponsor award and a Company Level Sponsor award to PhRMA President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Ubl and Pfizer Director of Government Relations Jim DeMay, respectively; a recognition of both organizations’ generous financial support for SMART Heroes.

“What a great marriage this is, in terms of military servicemembers matriculating into apprenticeship programs,” said Ubl when accepting his award. “Congratulations on this great program — we are proud to support it.”

“Not only does SMART Heroes afford servicemembers the chance to enter into an apprenticeship program with advanced placement, it’s giving that transitioning soldier a sense of security — a real job, a real career with benefits, retirement security, the ability to sustain their family.”

The event kicked off with remarks from SMART General President Joseph Sellers, who pointed out how programs like SMART Heroes provide a sense of stability not just for servicemembers and veterans, but for their families as well.

“When soldiers are transitioning out of the service, they’re not sure what to expect, where they’re going — do I have a job, will I have healthcare, will I be able to support my family?” Sellers said. “Not only does SMART Heroes afford servicemembers the chance to enter into an apprenticeship program with advanced placement, it’s giving that transitioning soldier a sense of security — a real job, a real career with benefits, retirement security, the ability to sustain their family.”

The Honorable James D. Rodriguez, assistant secretary for the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, echoed Sellers’ point about the importance of programs like SMART Heroes for the spouses and families of veterans. He also emphasized the Department of Labor’s commitment to partnering with unions to help servicemembers and veterans transition into the workforce.

“It’s a natural fit to want to go to an organization where servicemembers have a sense of camaraderie, teamwork, mission,” Rodriguez remarked. “We know that our veterans who participate in apprenticeship programs have financial security.”

“I’m just happy to be here, to be able to do this work with you all,” he added.

Watch coverage of the November SMART Heroes event in episode four of SMART News.

Other speakers included Eric Dean, president of the Ironworkers; Martin Helms, executive director of Helmets to Hardhats; and Michael Harris, administrator of the International Training Institute. Harris noted that the SMART Heroes program is approaching its fifth year of existence and is already nearing the 500-graduate benchmark — a remarkable achievement. Helms, meanwhile, explained that programs like SMART Heroes and Helmets to Hardhats really have one mission: “To change veterans’ lives. Making sure young individuals like Giann here have the opportunity to transition to these life-changing careers.”

SMART Director of Organizing Darrell Roberts, himself a veteran, concluded the event by thanking the attendees and praising the cooperation of all parties involved.

“It takes a village, and you’re all part of our village, so thank you very much,” he declared.

In late July, members of the SMART Transportation Division in Virginia showed what union camaraderie is all about, gathering with their families during the annual Virginia TD Summer Bash. The celebration also demonstrated the role SMART members play in their local communities, across both sheet metal and transportation. In honor of Dalton Fox — the young boy who forged a special bond with Virginia TD members, and who tragically passed away in 2021 — Virginia TD presented Jennifer Fox, Dalton’s mother, with a metal golf cart made by SM Local 100 (Washington, D.C. area); a reference to the golf cart Virginia TD originally refurbished to help Dalton move around.

“She loves the tribute and the love SMART has shown for her son,” said Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbes. “She really enjoyed the Summer Bash, hanging out and telling stories about her son to all our members. This is what the SMART Army is all about.”