SMART sends our deepest sympathies to the loved ones of deceased Local 28 (New York City) brother and Executive Board member Anthony Lee Gonzalez. A GoFundMe fundraiser has been established to help Anthony’s family; read an excerpt from the GoFundMe below, and make a donation here.
“On Tuesday, July 11, 2023, our beloved Brother Anthony fell victim to senseless gun violence. Despite numerous efforts to save him, he was pronounced dead on July 13, 2023 at 2:11 p.m.
“Anthony was very special to everyone he interacted with. He was a loving son, a doting father to a 16-year-old daughter, and a devoted union brother. There was nothing Anthony loved more than being a union sheet metal worker. At the time of his passing he had 16 years and 8 months of service.
“We ask that during this time of sadness you find it in your hearts to help and keep the family in your prayers.”
For this episode of the Talking SMART podcast, we sat down with SMART Local 28 Business Agent Marvin Tavarez to discuss his journey going from working non-union to being organized into SMART. He breaks down some of the myths about organizing into our union versus taking a more traditional full apprenticeship route.
“Some people are like ‘Oh, that’s the backdoor, that’s the backdoor,’ ” says Tavarez. “But at the end of the day, it all comes down to educating the membership. You know, if you’re not organizing members in, you’re gonna be working against them and not with them.”
“If you’re not organizing members in, you’re gonna be working against them and not with them.”
Tavarez also discussed his efforts to help build a rank-and-file building trades movement, including organizing rallies attended by thousands in New York City.
“As soon as I got into the union,” says Tavarez, “I felt like I needed to give back, someway, somehow. I was getting so much from the union… what can I do to contribute? So, I started a rank-and-file movement on Facebook. Started with like five members. Within a year, year and a half, it grew to over 10,000 members on social media.”
At the end of this episode, in his last open mic segment before he retired at the end of May 2023, former SMART General President Joseph Sellers discusses the road ahead for SMART, as we work to train a new generation of members and staff up scores of large “megaprojects” across the United States and Canada.
SMART members across the United States and Canada are the frontline workers helping to build a sustainable future – from roofers installing green roofs to meet net zero goal in Canada, to transit workers helping reduce automobile emissions, to sheet metal workers constructing LEED-certified buildings across our two nations. In a recent interview with Climate Jobs National Resource Center (NRC) New York, SMART Local 28 (New York City) draftsman/sketcher Kandice Rogers, an 11-year union member, detailed the crucial role SMART workers play – and will continue to play – in the fight against climate breakdown.
“As the climate crisis continues to worsen, it’ll be our job [as union members] to make sure that people can continue to live in the spaces they want to live in,” she said in the interview.
Rogers originally applied for the Local 28 apprenticeship program on the advice of her best friend’s dad, a union member himself. She had graduated college with an architecture degree but found herself trying to enter the workforce during the Great Recession, when there were simply no jobs. So, after completing a pre-apprenticeship program, she entered the union, starting in HVAC duct installation before moving to the sketching department.
“Before coming into this work, I had no idea what it meant being union,” Rogers told Climate Jobs NRC. “Now, I can’t imagine a life without being a union member. Being a union member has allowed me to have job security. I was able to buy a home, start a family, and have a comfortable life because I’m a union member. If I had known about [apprenticeships] in high school, I would have come straight here, but I’m just glad I’m here now.”
Rogers said she experienced the growing ramifications of climate change back in her installation days, when inordinately high temperatures sent her to the hospital with heat-induced dehydration. As volatile weather conditions continue to increase, she pointed out, working conditions – particularly for construction workers – will deteriorate correspondingly.
In the interview, Climate Jobs NRC pointed out that a number of New York unions are “organizing to make public schools safer, healthier, and carbon-free by upgrading HVAC systems.” Rogers elaborated on the importance of that effort for the students of today as well as future generations.
“We have new technology now, things like Heat Recovery Systems, that help recycle the air and reduce the energy use of these HVAC systems,” she explained. “We can reduce the spread of Covid and other airborne viruses, lower the carbon footprint of these buildings, and reduce energy costs all at the same time now. We’ll need HVAC to survive whatever changes are happening to our climate.”
“Ultimately, as a mom, I want my son to be able to go to places like school without getting sick,” she added.
SMART members across the country enjoy higher wages, better healthcare and stellar pensions thanks to the strength of our collective bargaining. But we can only maintain our power when we control substantial portions of a given area’s market share — and local unions can only grow their market share if they have a significant (and expanding) membership. In other words, it is vital that we bring nonunion workers into SMART.
“Organizing members is extremely crucial for SMART,” Local 28 (New York City) Business Rep. Marvin Tavarez said during a recent appearance on SMART News. “The more members we organize, the more companies we organize, the more capacity we have to go after the market share that we’ve lost.”
Increasing our membership and signing more union contractors is the most effective way for unions like SMART to compete with the open shop — particularly when it comes to forcing bad-faith contractors to play by the rules. It’s also the lifeblood of the labor movement.
“The only way that unions thrive and move forward is when we organize members,” Tavarez added. “That’s the way we create more market share.”
Along with overviewing the importance of organizing, Tavarez pushed back on some of the misconceptions union workers sometimes have about their unorganized peers. Some current SMART members think that newly organized workers will take their jobs away. In reality, adding more members to our union gives us a greater chance of securing more work, providing more job opportunities for everyone. When our membership stagnates, the open shop gains more sway — allowing them to flood local markets with cheap labor that exploits workers and lowers area standards. By organizing, we grow our power and win more jobs for SMART workers.
Additionally, Tavarez said, some SMART members who entered the union via apprenticeship programs think that members who organized in are “card-buyers” who don’t care about the union. In practice, though, the opposite is usually the case. SMART members who previously worked nonunion are grateful for the opportunities they’ve gained and ready to fight tooth and nail for their SMART brothers and sisters. One case study: Tavarez himself.
“We’re all workers at the end of the day, and the only way we’re going to build real worker power is by organizing the unorganized.”
“Before I got organized, I had eviction notices everywhere I looked,” Tavarez told SMART News. “I didn’t have any medical benefits, I had subpar wages … it seemed like every day was a cloudy day.” After joining SMART, everything changed: He gained stability, financial security, healthcare and a family-sustaining career. Now, he works on behalf of his union every day as a business rep.
Laws like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS and Science Act have spurred a surge in new megaprojects across the country, from a Ford battery plant in Kentucky to a Micron factory in upstate New York. Locals in those areas need to grow in order to secure that work for current and future members — and all members have a role to play in making that happen.
“We’re all workers at the end of the day, and the only way we’re going to build real worker power is by organizing the unorganized,” Tavarez pointed out. “And that’s how members can help: By influencing [new members], embracing them, teaching them right from wrong and showing them that the union is the only way to go in order for them to feed their family, elevate themselves and really change their lives.”
Last fall, SMART General President Joseph Sellers traveled to UBS Arena, then still in progress, to tour and meet members working on the brand-new, $1.5 billion multipurpose home of the New York Islanders, which opened on November 20, 2021. Watch the video of their trip to see how our entire union – including sheet metal, testing and balancing, sign installation and Transportation Division members – came together to construct UBS Arena, as well as track for a new rail station serving the stadium.
Unique to this project was the presence of SMART members from across our union, including Local 137 sign members who installed the giant center ice board, as well as signage around the arena and in the new train station built to handle swarms of fans from across Long Island and the NY metropolitan area.
SMART-TD members led the way in constructing the Long Island Rail Road track leading to the new station. SMART Local 28 sheet metal workers installed all parts of the HVAC system, including ductwork, rooftop units, fans, fire dampers and smoke purge systems. SMART members also installed architectural features, including roofing and decking, and specialty work such as kitchen equipment, lockers and toilet partitions.