During the 2023 holiday season, SM Local 49 (Albuquerque, New Mexico) members gave their time, funds and food donations in a demonstration of union solidarity, helping the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy (ASLA) gather and distribute food to kids who rely on school meals — but can’t access that crucial nutrition source during breaks.

Local 49 officers and members joined ASLA staff and students to both donate food and load up trucks for delivery.

“Building better communities — that’s our mission with the SMART Army, and it is vital as a local that if we can, we should assist the community we live in,” explained Local 49 Business Manager Isaiah Zemke. “Thank you to our membership for assisting the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy with food donations. The academy’s staff is amazing and hustles to make efforts to help those kids eat.”

“Our families are truly very lucky to have the support of the union and the whole community, and the [ASLA] Honey Badgers appreciate your support,” an academy staff member told Zemke in a video shared to the local’s Facebook page.

The academy is nationally unique in that it serves students who are deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing within the same environment, said ASLA Executive Director Raphael Martinez. In its 15 years of existence, the academy has quickly become a local staple, Martinez added — making it a natural partner for Local 49, another organization rooted in the community.

While the connection between ASLA and the local happened on short notice — funds to provide food for ASLA were approved by Local 49 only one week before the donation event — the effort was a success.

“We look forward to doing this again next year,” concluded Zemke.

Vince Alvarado, a longtime business manager for SMART Local 49 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, joined NEMIC this past fall as the fund’s new director of implementation. Alvarado has been tasked with overseeing some of NEMIC’s legislative initiatives and working to implement solutions that NEMIC identifies across the country.

NEMIC Director of Implementation Vince Alvarado

“I’m working on the ‘how’ of things. How can we assist locals and contractors in states where we’ve passed legislation on indoor air quality, for example? We get the legislation passed, but there may be no enforcement. We need to change that,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado started working for a small independent refrigeration contractor as a junior in high school. He apprenticed at Local 49 and went on to serve in various leadership roles there, culminating in his election as business manager/financial secretary in 2010. After a few years, he was also elected to serve in a statewide leadership role as president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, in 2018.

In both roles, Alvarado had to find ways to influence local politics. For SMART, he worked on smoke and fire damper legislation. As the leader of the AFL-CIO New Mexico state federation, he assisted in getting various types of legislation in front of state decision makers, most aimed at improving health and safety outcomes for working people and their families.

At NEMIC, Alvarado looks forward to helping people and organizations like Local 49 on this much larger scale, and he realizes he will need to navigate political scenes that may be more complex than he’s previously experienced. COVID introduced to the world many of the issues with indoor air quality, and now it’s time to work to help fix those issues, he said.

“I’ll be working with new faces, which is exciting, but it could be difficult, if I don’t understand the political landscape,” Alvarado said. “While I could approach solutions in my work at Local 49 entirely from a working family perspective, I now have to approach it with more groups in mind. That could be a challenge.”

Even before the pandemic, Alvarado was fighting to improve indoor air quality regulations, along with smoke and fire damper laws. In 2019, Local 49 fought for and passed SB 143 — the nation’s first statewide fire safety law. Alvarado subsequently worked with leaders in Nevada, New Jersey and Hawaii to pass similar legislation.