SMART members positioned for unprecedented opportunity
The time is now for our union. Across all the industries and crafts represented in our union — HVAC installation, railroading, indoor air quality, transit operation, architectural sheet metal, production, sign work, bus operation and beyond — SMART members are positioned for generational growth. Now, we need to seize these opportunities.
Political advocacy pays off for sheet metal workers
Unprecedented investment in the sheet metal industry — much of it due to strong labor standards and incentives included in federal legislation in the U.S. — paired with ongoing core work is creating incredibly high demand. SMART local unions now have the chance to organize and recruit aggressively to meet workforce needs.
SMART Transportation Division on offense
SMART-TD members are on offense against the railroads and their Wall Street-driven Precision Scheduled Railroading scheme for the first time in recent memory. We have seen victories and progress on two-person crew and rail safety legislation in Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio and other states across the country, and we need to keep pushing. More on page 28.
The same goes for the safety and working conditions of our brothers and sisters operating on public transit systems. We have seen far too many shocking, brazen attacks on our members while they are simply doing their jobs, safely transporting passengers from point A to point B. Policymakers and community members alike need to hear our voices and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this cannot stand.
Organize today, win tomorrow
It is a new day for organized labor. Workers are organizing like they haven’t in generations, and 71% of Americans approve of unions: the highest percentage since the 1960s. And yet, the percentage of unionized workers remains too low, and we have seen the consequences in Maryland, Washington, Colorado and beyond. It’s time to strike while the iron is hot.
New SMART General President Michael Coleman has been stepping up for his fellow members since his days as a rank-and-file sheet metal worker in Cleveland. He worked as a foreman shortly after becoming a journeyperson, then decided he wanted to represent his brothers and sisters in the local.
“I realized very early on I wanted to be a leader in the industry,” he said. “I wanted to help represent the membership — that’s what led me into becoming an elected official, just my desire to represent the members.”
Coleman became a business representative at Local 33 in his early thirties; as time progressed, he decided to run for business manager to ensure member voices took priority in northern Ohio. There, he garnered a reputation for innovation: pursuing groundbreaking strategies in order to recruit more members, effectively structure local funds, provide greater flexibility to members and more.
Local 33 Business Representative Corey Beaubien, Director of Partnership Development Eli Baccus and International Representative Tom Wiant specifically praised changes Coleman made to the local’s scope of work and organizing — from building out Local 33’s fire life safety capacity, to devising special agreements and intra-local travel incentives to maintain work during economic slowdowns, to restructuring the organizing department to maximize cohesion and effectiveness. The result: steady growth at the local.
“The members are the union — that was the core value of this union when I joined in 1985, and it remains the foundational principle of SMART to this day,”
“Every decision that he’s made, it’s always been about the members first,” Beaubien said. “He was very successful in pushing us in organizing as a leader, and with the success he had in Ohio, I believe it’s going to translate to the whole country.”
Current Local 33 President and Business Manager Tim Miller agreed, pointing to the redirect fund Coleman conceived to give members more choice in the disbursement of health and pension funds.
“The members love it to this day,” he said. “It works, and it’s an example of how Mike just doesn’t take no for an answer. He knows there’s a solution to the problem, and he continues until he finds that solution and then he implements it.”
After several years leading Local 33, Coleman moved to Washington, DC to work as SMART’s director of business and management relations. Mere months later, General President Sellers asked Coleman to become assistant to the general president, a position in which he served until May 31, 2023. He played a crucial role during SMART’s second-ever General Convention in 2019, serving as secretary of the Constitution Committee and shepherding through 114 proposed amendments — helping to facilitate the democratic process of our union. He also worked side-by-side with Sellers to push for legislation that positions SMART members for future success.
That work is now beginning to bear fruit. “It’s our time. Now is our time,” Coleman declared.
In the short term, he explained, the dozens of megaprojects breaking ground across North America present local sheet metal unions with both unprecedented opportunity and workforce challenges. At the same time, rail and transit operator safety has become a headline issue from California to Charlotte, presenting SMART Transportation Division members with the chance to go on offense and secure lasting legislation and regulation. Key to both sets of priorities, Coleman noted, is the need to recruit and retain workers across crafts and industries, no matter their background.
“This is an opportunity to organize; organize like I don’t know I have ever seen before,” he said. “We have a chance to grow, to strengthen our numbers, to become a force in markets, communities and government offices across our two nations. We need to reflect the communities we all live in, and we need to ensure every member of this union — regardless of race, creed, beliefs, place of origin, sexual orientation or anything else — knows that they belong.”
With opportunity comes great challenges, Coleman added. Staffing megaprojects while maintaining core sheet metal work requires a new scale of organizing and recruiting, and the flighty winds of politics mean that nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to securing meaningful transportation safety legislation. Nevertheless, momentum is on our side.
“The members are the union — that was the core value of this union when I joined in 1985, and it remains the foundational principle of SMART to this day,” Coleman said. “When we come together to fight for our jobs, our communities and our families, we cannot be stopped. I want all members to understand that we’re going to continue with our representation, and we’re going to continue coming up with new initiatives that make their lives and their families’ lives better.”
SMART’s relentless political advocacy over recent years has helped foster massive infrastructure investment on both public and private projects. From New York state, to Central Ohio, to Arizona and well beyond, megaprojects are creating tens of thousands of jobs for SMART sheet metal workers — all with a presidential administration that is pushing hard for these projects to include strong labor standards that create union jobs.
“Right now we’re tracking close to 300 megaprojects — we know that there will be about 60 that will break ground, are currently started or will be starting this year,” said SMART Chief International Representative Scott Parks. “It wasn’t that long ago that a $1 million sheet metal job was very exciting; now we have 60 megaprojects in the pipeline. It’s a good time to be a sheet metal worker.”
Much of the public funding for these projects comes from legislation passed by the Biden administration: the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Due to the unprecedented role labor has played in the passage and assembly of those laws, companies hoping to take advantage of funding and tax incentives are being pushed to build with strong labor standards in place, bringing good, union jobs to projects breaking ground from coast to coast.
Importantly, Parks pointed out, these jobs require a consistent sheet metal presence, keeping our members at work as technology advances, during retooling and reorganization, and during outages and shutdowns. And the specific skills and crafts required on such projects cover nearly all the sheet metal positions that SMART represents: from frontline supervisors, to testers and balancers, to welders, to everyone else.
“If you can imagine balancing a project that could require 100 balancers — geographically, you may only have 100 balancers in two states,” he explained. “So we’re going to be challenged to make sure we tool up our members so that they’re prepared to take care of these projects.”
The bounty of work on the horizon has created an unprecedented moment of opportunity. According to Parks, the current number of megaprojects breaking ground means one can almost make a projection 10 years out — a far cry from the post-2008 years, when SMART leadership balked at speculating even two or three years into the future. But with that opportunity comes new responsibility.
“We are not going to be able to apprentice our way into the workforce we need to meet these demands — we are not going to be able to do things the way we have always done it in the past, period,” explained SMART General President Michael Coleman. “We have got to put an exceptional focus on organizing, recruiting and retaining in every community.”
SMART members and local unions know the differences between a union career and a nonunion gig: stability, family-sustaining pay and benefits, solidarity and safety on the job, to name only a few. Now, with hundreds of huge jobs breaking ground from Oregon to Atlanta — on top of SMART local unions’ core work — the time is now to bring members into our union.
“When it comes to organizing and recruiting, we’re organizing shops, we’re organizing projects — folks who want to be union sheet metal workers, we’ll bring them in,” Parks explained. “If they’re in an apprenticeship program that may not be a sheet metal apprenticeship program, we’re bringing them in so they have the best chance of success moving forward. If someone comes in as a nonunion journeyperson, that’s great too — we want everyone.”
Many of these projects may provide SMART members in other locations with the opportunity to travel for work. For more information on traveling to jobsites, contact your local business manager and visit the SMART sheet metal job bank.
SMART released the latest episode of SMART News on Thursday, July 6. Episode 10 features an interview with Local 19 apprentice Elena Farina on the Biden administration; coverage of SMART General President Mike Coleman’s visit to Ford Blue Oval City in Tennessee; an overview of SMART-TD’s recently negotiated railroad agreements, which include paid leave; infrastructure funding and jobs in Boston; and another two-person crew victory for railroaders in Minnesota.
Farina, a second-year apprentice with Local 19, joined her fellow Philadelphia sheet metal workers and members from across organized labor for an event with President Biden in June. During her SMART News interview, she explained the impact of pro-worker policies implemented by the Biden administration, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. She also emphasized the importance of voting for candidates who have materially acted in the interests of the working class.
“Vote with your pocket, you know what I’m saying,” Farina said. “Everyone has their own personal issues, but at the end of the day your livelihood is what’s going to sustain you.”
Longtime sheet metal worker and union leader Mike Coleman assumed the position of SMART general president on June 1st, 2023. He immediately began emphasizing the extraordinary opportunities on the horizon for SMART members, including work at megaprojects like Ford’s Blue Oval City in Stanton, Tennessee.
“There’s just so many things to be excited about, but what I think I’m most excited to do is answer the call for these megaprojects: getting our members on those jobs, and making sure we get every hour out of those projects,” Coleman said.
Following on last year’s national rail negotiations, SMART-TD members have gained paid sick leave benefits for train & engine workers at some of the Big Four U.S.-based carriers. SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity provided an overview of some of the historic agreements — both tentative and ratified — that have been made.
Workers, union leaders and elected officials came together during a May event at the Local 17 training center in Boston to highlight the union jobs created by ongoing infrastructure investments. SMART Northeast Regional Council Business Rep. Shamaiah Turner spoke with SMART News about how infrastructure funding is creating unprecedented opportunity for sheet metal workers in New England.
“The future for sheet metal workers in Boston is very bright,” she explained. “Right now we have a LOT of work … we’re out there every day, talking to people who work at open shops, we’re organizing new shops every day, and we’re organizing new journeypeople every day.”
Finally, SMART-TD Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich called in to SMART News to discuss how Minnesota railroaders were able to finally secure two-person crew and passenger rail funding in the state (as well as a slew of pro-worker bills). Long story short, he explained, the victory had everything to do with putting pro-worker elected officials in office — something union members achieved when they helped the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party take control of the state house, senate and governor’s office.
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.
“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
“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.”
New chip plant megaprojects continue to create jobs for SMART sheet metal workers across North America – including in Arizona, where huge projects have led to unprecedented job growth and a boom in the membership of SM Local 259 (Phoenix, Ariz.)
“We’ve been able to increase our membership. In 2017-18, we had 500 members, and we currently have about 850, so it’s created a lot of organizing opportunities for us,” said Jeff Holly, Local 359 business manager and financial secretary-treasurer, during a recent interview with SMART News. “All of our funds are super healthy – health and welfare, pension funds, down to general fund activity at the hall. … It’s helped out the membership a lot.”
In Chandler, Ariz., an Intel chip plant is expected to employ more than 300 sheet metal workers at its peak and continue for two to three years. And in Phoenix, Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) – the world’s largest manufacturer of advanced microchips – is building its first major U.S. production site, more than tripling its initial planned investment. The project currently employs over 400 sheet metal workers and is expected to last for three to five years.
These chip plant projects specifically benefit SMART sheet metal workers, Holly explained.
“Everything’s got to be super clean, there’s a lot of filtration that goes into [chip plant construction] – a lot of scrubber work, exhaust, so they’re fairly labor intensive for sheet metal workers,” he said. “Most of the duct they’re using is rather large, so it ends up [requiring] more people than we used to use.”
The chip plant projects in Arizona mirror similar developments across the continent, including in Ohio, upstate New York and more. Like in Arizona, such projects provide opportunities not only for SMART sheet metal workers, but for locals aiming to organize, grow their membership and expand their market share. And while the Arizona chip plants were underway before the passage of labor-friendly legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, Holly told SMART News that such laws will benefit SMART members moving forward.
“Since the CHIPS Act was enacted,” he said “we’re looking at the possibility of having our first large-scale project labor agreement being signed out at the TSMC project, which is something that the Arizona State Building Trades has never had really any success [with]. Even though these weren’t planned when these acts were enacted, I think they’re going to pay dividends in the very near future.”
Whether chip plants, data centers, electric vehicle battery plants or infrastructure jobs, megaprojects are expected to continue breaking ground across the United States and Canada in the near future. Members interested in traveling to work these jobs should visit the Sheet Metal Job Bank for more information.
SMART released the latest episode of SMART News on Wednesday, March 29. Episode seven features General President Joseph Sellers’ first interview since announcing his retirement, as well as an interview with incoming General President Michael Coleman.
“Everything that my family has is because of SMART,” Sellers said in his interview. “My father was a sheet metal worker, I was born into a union sheet metal worker family … my kids understand that, my wife understands that, the rest of my family understands that. Everything that we have is because of being union, and being a SMART member.”
Both Sellers and Coleman reflected on the extraordinary opportunity that lies ahead for SMART members. For sheet metal members, the ongoing megaproject boom continues to create new jobs across the country — including in Arizona, where two new projects will require hundreds of sheet metal workers at their peak. SMART News spoke with SM Local 359 (Phoenix) Business Manager Jeff Holly about the impact such projects are having on members and the local union.
“We’ve been able to increase our membership,” Holly explained. “In 2017-18 we had 500 members, and currently we have about 850 … all of our funds are super healthy: [from] health and welfare [and] pension funds, down to general fund activity at the hall.”
For rail members, the fallout from the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio has opened a rare window for rail safety legislation on the state and federal level. SMART News hosted SMART TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity for an overview on state and national efforts — including the bipartisan Rail Safety Act of 2023 — and the need for members to get involved.
“We need everybody on board here,” Cassity explained. “It’s going to take peer pressure and constituent pressure on our elected representatives to get this stuff moving and get things done.”
In addition, SMART News episode seven highlighted the voices of SMART Women’s Committee Chair Vanessa Carman (Local 66, Seattle), SM Local 16 member Korri Bus and SM Local 206 member Tatjana Sebro, who looked back on Women In Construction Week 2023. And SMART MAP Program Coordinator Chris Carlough joined the program to speak about SMART’s efforts to improve mental health resources for all members.
As megaprojects, indoor air quality work and infrastructure investment create jobs for sheet metal workers across the country, SMART continues to produce more resources to help members secure that work – in their local areas and across the country. That includes a new animated video that spells out exactly how SMART members can travel for work, which can be found on YouTube or the SMART Sheet Metal Job Bank.
“This is a moment of incredible opportunity for our union and our industry, and particularly for SMART members who are willing to travel for work” explained SMART Assistant to the General President Darrell Roberts. “New job postings are hitting our Job Bank almost every week, and we want to make absolutely sure our membership knows how to get to those jobs.”
The video, titled “SMART Sheet Metal Travelers,” explicitly addresses frequently asked questions regarding how to travel, what incentives exist for travelers, how travelers are paid, what happens when the travel job is finished, and much more. For more information – including current sheet metal job opportunities across the country – visit the Job Bank.
SMART released the latest episode of the Talking SMART podcast on February 23, featuring a discussion with SMART Director of Organizing Darrell Roberts, Local 265 President/Business Manager and SMART 11th General Vice President John Daniel and SASMI Executive Director Ken Colombo about new travel benefits and incentives available to sheet metal members.
A wave of new megaprojects – or projects valued at over $1 billion – is creating unprecedented job opportunities for SMART sheet metal workers across the United States and Canada, as well as driving new changes and growth in the benefitsavailable to SMART members.
To meet the ongoing demand for sheet metal workers, SMART and SASMI are coordinating to expand travel incentives and benefits available to SMART sheet metal workers who are willing to travel for work, and the International is developing resources to help local unions organize to secure more work for SMART members.
Throughout the conversation, Roberts underscored how the large volume of pending work presents huge growth and organizing opportunities for SMART, as well as challenges for locals in terms of staffing these large projects.
“We’re going to have areas where we have megaprojects where the local will be impacted severely,” he explained. “We could see membership growing double to triple what their current membership needs are currently.”
Colombo, meanwhile, detailed the new and increased financial incentives for SMART sheet metal workers willing to travel for work. The SASMI travel benefit has been increased to a maximum of $1,800, up from the previous travel incentive of a maximum of $1,125. In addition, non-SASMI members will now be eligible for traveler incentives, providing they are dispatched to a job that has SASMI in the collective bargaining agreement.
Daniel emphasized how megaprojects and new work stemming from infrastructure legislation are driving SMART to innovate to meet workforce needs across our two nations – both by expanding travel benefits and by working to bring members of all backgrounds into our union.
“Our absolute need to grow, paired with the megaprojects, the infrastructure spending, that’s going to create the opportunity for us to meet the numbers that we need moving forward,” Daniel noted. “And it’s also going to drive us to evolve as an organization.”
At the end of this episode, SMART General President Joseph Sellers joined a SMART Local 24 (northern Ohio) member for a wide-ranging conversation about megaprojects, traveler opportunities and how members can get involved with the union.
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.”