WATCH: “I am very excited about the big jobs that are coming up. We have many opportunities that they offer for those who are willing to work, work hard and learn new skills.”

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) hosted an event titled “Meeting the Moment” on Thursday, March 30 in Columbus, Ohio. The event, part of NABTU’s Opportunity Pipeline series, featured NABTU President Sean McGarvey, SMART Local 24 (southern Ohio) member McKenzie Quinn, representatives from the Ohio governor’s office, state politicians from both sides of the aisle, local union workers and more, all talking about one thing: $200 billion worth of megaprojects breaking ground in Ohio.

“Join us in rebuilding America and join us in establishing your place in the middle class,” McGarvey said at the event, addressing the union tradespeople of the future. “… We look forward to building this together as a team, as a community for the benefit of all in our country.”

As a result of massive investment and new megaprojects from companies like Intel, Honda and more – spurred in part by federal legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act – the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council estimates that more than 115,000 union workers will work full time from 2023 to 2025. That enormous number of jobs opens a huge window of opportunity for SMART sheet metal workers, both current and future members.

McKenzie Quinn (front row, second from right) with the leadership of Local 24.

“In Columbus right now, we have a lot of exciting upcoming projects,” Local 24 journeyperson Quinn said. “We have chip factories, data centers, electric vehicle battery plants, and this is going to bring hundreds of good-paying jobs in the next few years.”

That not only means family-sustaining jobs for Ohio SMART members – it creates a golden opportunity for local unions to recruit, organize and grow their market share.

“We need to do our best to continue recruiting people from every background,” Quinn noted. “This opportunity is available to everyone.

Megaprojects, union apprenticeship programs create opportunity for all

Multiple speakers at Thursday’s event testified to the power of a union apprenticeship when it comes to lifting workers up, no matter their background or identity. Year after year, the statistics demonstrate that unions reduce economic disparity for women, people of color and other members of historically marginalized communities. By taking advantage of megaprojects and bringing more workers into the unionized trade, SMART locals can do more than fortify their strength – they can create real opportunity for all.

“Joining a union has given me safety and security in my job and safety from discrimination, not only with wages but also gender-based discrimination,” Quinn said. “This is a great chance for everybody, including women and minorities, to get into the trades and have a great career.”

Watch further coverage of the event here.

Megaprojects in the News

Local 24’s (Columbus, Ohio) Josh Williams knows the meaning of hard work. As a union sheet metal worker and a business representative for his local, he’s spent years waking up before the crack of dawn, toiling under the sun on the jobsite and spending long nights on the road. But in Williams’ case, the willingness to put long hours into a rewarding vocation — and help others reach their full potential — didn’t originate on the job. For nearly two decades, preceding his career in the trade, Williams has fought and coached mixed martial arts (MMA).

“I took my first fight back in 2001, fought from 2001–2003, then I took more into a coaching role, and I’ve been coaching for about the past 20 years,” Williams said. “I’ve been able to bring not only everything I learned in the cage to the union, I’ve brought actual fighters to the union as well.”

Watch Josh Williams talk MMA and sheet metal in episode five of SMART News.

MMA — also referred to as cage fighting, no holds barred and ultimate fighting — is a particularly thrilling combat sport, notable for incorporating techniques from a huge variety of international competitive fighting styles. Combatants can employ moves and methods from Greco-Roman wrestling, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing and more; during a given fight, they may punch, kick, grapple and perform hand-to-hand ground fighting in a wide range of combinations. The result: a kinetic, brutal full-contact sport.

Local 24 currently has at least four members fighting MMA. That includes Daniel Spohn, an internationally renowned fighter with stints in the Ultimate Fighter and UFC. Spohn famously achieved one of the fastest knockouts in the history of the Ultimate Fighter with a 10-second win against Tyler King. Now, he’s continued his fighting career while simultaneously enjoying the family-sustaining pay and solidarity of a union sheet metal career. To Williams, that’s unsurprising: Experience in the cage transitions well to working in the sheet metal industry.

“[MMA] is real-time problem solving. It’s real-time problem solving with dire consequences: If you don’t figure out [the problem] right away, you’ll get punched in the head,” he explained. “If you can problem solve fast, efficiently and remain cool under fire, there’s nothing that [will] rile you up on a jobsite.”

Business Representative Josh Williams, West Franklin Elementary Principal Dr. Dawn Lauridsen, Local 24 apprentice Katie Fertig, Business Representative Jeff Hunley.

The SM Local 24 (southern Ohio) SMART Army helped area kids and families stay healthy as summer began with a food drive benefiting elementary-aged students at West Franklin Elementary School in the Southwestern City School District; the fourth-largest school district in the state. Organized by Local 24 apprentice Katie Fertig, the food drive saw the SMART Army partner with West Franklin Elementary Communities in Schools Coordinator Brooklyn Brown to put together more than 50 food kits to send home to families in need over the summer months — a time when many children in the community lose access to school breakfast and lunch programs.

Local 24 members are currently at work helping build and remodel several new school buildings, as well as other projects, for the Southwestern City School District. The local hopes to further grow its relationship with the district and expand its food drive effort in future years to continue supporting the community and keep kids and families healthy.

Business Representative Jeff Hunley, Business Representative Josh Williams, Local 24 apprentice Katie Fertig