The Spring 2024 SMART Members’ Journal is now online. Featuring messages from SMART International leadership, union and industry news, local union updates, service awards and much more, this edition of the journal puts a particular focus on our union’s recent policy victories — highlighting states, cities and federal government action that have created jobs and protected our members.

“Politics can feel like a chore, but when we work collectively to win pro-union politicians and policies, we materially benefit our jobs, our families and our futures.”

SMART General President Michael Coleman.

The spring issue’s cover story was a long time coming: After years of advocacy, organizing, lobbying and fighting against entities like the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the SMART Transportation Division finally won a federal two-person freight crew regulation. The rule, announced in April during an event at the United States Department of Transportation, is a huge step forward for union jobs and rail safety.

Months earlier, sheet metal workers also achieved a federal regulatory victory when United States Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su announced regulations that will officially implement President Biden’s executive order requiring project labor agreements (PLAs) on federal jobs that cost more than $35 million. SMART members joined Su at an announcement event in Cleveland, celebrating a policy that will create work for union sheet metal workers nationwide.

SM Local 206 and fellow building trades unions worked tirelessly in the electoral arena to accomplish something similar in San Diego — first by repealing the city’s ban on project labor agreements in 2022, and then with the unanimous passage of a citywide PLA in 2024, a titanic political shift that’s helping turn San Diego into a union town.

And the Transportation Division’s tireless pursuit of safety for railroad workers paid off when Norfolk Southern agreed to pilot the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), an anonymous safety reporting tool that protects SMART-TD railroaders who share safety concerns with the Federal Railroad Administration.

Those are only a few of the stories told in the Spring Members’ Journal, which also showcases organizing victories in Indiana and Georgia, local union news across North America and information on new funds appointees. View an index of individual articles here, and read the full digital version of the printed journal here.

If you’re like me, then the arrival of another election year is no cause for excitement.

Politics can feel divisive and tedious, particularly in recent years. That’s why many of us choose to exercise our power through the labor movement, where we can band together with fellow workers and take action. We show up at union meetings to win strong contracts and worker protections; we walk the picket line to support our union brothers and sisters; we make collective decisions to fund our pensions and keep our local unions healthy.

Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is this: Anti-worker corporations and the ultra-wealthy will always be involved in the political process, funding politicians who oppose workers’ rights and union jobs. If we leave the playing field, we will forfeit every gain we made to them and their agenda. They will be the only voices heard by those empowered to write the laws that govern your workplace.

One thing we have learned is that their money is no match for our solidarity, and recent victories have shown how crucial it is that we show up in the electoral arena.

SMART members leapt into political action in the last several years, electing pro-union politicians in 2020 and mobilizing for laws that benefit our families. The results speak for themselves: a recently passed federal two-person crew regulation that protects our railroaders’ safety and job security; federal funding for high-speed rail projects that create jobs for SMART sheet metal workers and railroaders; a surge of megaprojects putting members to work across the United States and Canada; funding that saved SMART members’ pensions; massive investments in public transit and Amtrak; updates to prevailing wage regulations that lift pay for construction workers; and so much more.

“Politics can feel like a chore, but when we work collectively to win pro-union politicians and policies, we materially benefit our jobs, our families and our futures.”

That’s just at the federal level. We know that even more impactful change happens locally. For example, SMART members in Oregon and Connecticut gained enormous amounts of indoor air quality work by partnering with pro-union state legislators and education officials.

Compare those wins with the anti-worker policies of the past. It wasn’t too long ago that we were fighting a Federal Railroad Administration that withdrew a proposed two-person crew rule, and a Department of Labor that tried to replace our apprenticeships with Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs). We were constantly on defense.

I prefer offense — winning real gains, not trying to hold on to what we already have.

Brothers and sisters, this isn’t about party affiliation or who says the right thing when they stump for our votes at the union hall. This is about acting for us: the working people who power our nations. Politics can feel like a chore, but when we work collectively to win pro-union politicians and policies, we materially benefit our jobs, our families and our futures.

So I urge you to do just that. Whether it’s a phone bank, a labor walk or simply telling your friends and family to show up to the ballot box, join me in getting involved in the political process this year.

In solidarity,

SMART General President Michael Coleman

It is an honor to represent you, the more than 203,000 SMART members who keep North America moving through thick and thin. We at the International in Washington, DC, strive daily to grow our union and win more opportunities for SMART members, from lobbying the federal government for rail safety policy to implementing innovative new strategies to help sheet metal workers travel to megaprojects.

And at the core of everything we do is the founding principle of SMART: We, the members, are the union.

As your general secretary-treasurer, I am committed to working with all of you to secure our collective future. Here are just a few highlights of what we have achieved:

  • In Southern California — with the help of the SMART International Political Action League (PAL), SM Local 104 (Northern California) and fellow building trades unions — SM Local 206 members helped secure San Diego’s first citywide project labor agreement (PLA) after electing pro-union city councilmembers and repealing the city’s PLA ban.
  • At Price Industries in Georgia, a rank-and-file member turned subsidized organizer, Donson Ha, has helped Local 85 achieve stellar growth among a largely Vietnamese-speaking workforce, with two Vietnamese shop stewards helping the local successfully organize in a so-called “right-to-work” state.
  • In Delaware, Local 19 was on the forefront of passing a custom fabrication bill that will protect sheet metal members by ensuring the jobsite standards we built and enforce are not undermined by nonunion competitors.

We’ve seen similar success in the Transportation Division — again, thanks to the active involvement of rank-and-file members and strong trade unionism at the local and state level:

  • Tireless advocacy by state legislative boards in Colorado and Virginia led to the advancement of rail safety legislation. In Colorado, legislation is being considered in the state House and Senate at the time of writing, while in Virginia — thanks in large part to the activism of SMART-TD railroaders who contacted their legislators — rail safety passed through both chambers of the state government before being vetoed by anti-union Governor Glenn Youngkin.
  • That follows the passage of two-person crew bills in Ohio, Kansas, Minnesota and New York in 2023, all of which were signed into law by those states’ respective governors — again, a direct result of the work put in by TD legislative boards and members in each state.
  • Members and local union officers across the country have attended Transportation Division regional training seminars in their areas in record numbers. This emphasis on targeted local education has paid off, with SMART-TD winning appeals at an elevated rate.

This is how we win. By getting active in our local unions; by mobilizing and voting for pro-union candidates; by standing in solidarity with our fellow SMART members, no matter who or where they are. I am proud to stand with every one of you as your union brother, and I hope we will all continue to fight for one another as we take on the challenges in the years to come.

In solidarity,

Joseph Powell
SMART General Secretary Treasurer

Brothers and sisters,

We’re building something great here.

In May 2019, months before I took office, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under Donald Trump appointee Ron Batory tried to toss out more than two decades of our members’ and officers’ work to preserve two-person freight crews.

Just days after my administration took office in October, the big rail carriers sued in an attempt to challenge our crew-consist agreements to further open the gates for railroads to get what they wanted — cutting workers in the cab so they could make more money at the expense of safety and common sense.

When both these challenges emerged, we rose up as one union, and we engaged.

The carriers’ lawsuit was resolved in court, and through on-property contract negotiations, our general chairpersons dug in on crew-consist matters. Since that attack in October 2019, we’ve not only preserved the current state of crew consist in the cab, but we have opened, for the first time, paid sick leave and attendance to negotiations so we can make the lives of our members better.

On April 2, United States Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FRA Administrator Amit Bose announced a rule cementing freight train crew size in the country. As a result, carriers will need to carry a very heavy burden of proof in the future if they want the federal government to permit them to cross the line we have drawn on rail safety and crew size. Predictably, the railroads have gone to court to challenge the rule because they can’t leave well enough alone.

The final piece of our puzzle will be getting federal legislation passed to preserve the current safe level of staffing inside the cabs of the freight locomotives we operate. The Rail Safety Act of 2023 (RSA) has been long stationary in Congress. Together, we can get it moving. We will need to work for it, but we can do it. When the two-person crew rule was up for public comment, this union rallied together and created enough pressure in Washington, DC, that we could not be ignored. SMART-TD can and must do the same for the bipartisan RSA.

We also must work with equal focus to resolve the current state of danger that our bus and transit members have faced for far too long. Employers have made safety a low priority when solutions are staring the bosses right in the face. Things in Washington are moving in the right direction, but not fast enough.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) heard and heeded our comments in April when it ruled on the creation of on-property safety plans and on overall national safety plans for public transportation. Our practical solutions — protective barriers for operators, not making them deal with money matters, adding security on buses and transit, tougher punishments for attacks on the members we represent and all other bus and transit workers — can be done. There’s no rational reason for these public transit agencies not to join forces with us on protecting our members.

Most importantly, FTA’s rule states that our men and women will have seats at the table to make decisions on safety measures being taken at their respective workplaces. They will have a level playing field. Employers or managers will not be able to dominate on matters of safety, and if their bosses don’t follow through on the plans our members help form, FTA will step in and enforce them or take away their federal funding.

We in this union refuse to shy away from challenging injustice. It is an energy that we have worked to reignite and stoke the past five years. The results we’ve achieved on the two-person crew, elsewhere in the halls of power on the national and state levels, in negotiations and all around our union speak for themselves.

The same positive outcomes won’t be long in coming to enhance the safety of our bus and transit members. The FTA rule moves us forward. Together we can face all that is ahead for our organization with confidence.

In solidarity,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

As we enter 2024, I hope all of you — no matter your faiths, traditions or beliefs — were able to enjoy well-deserved time with your loved ones during the holiday season. You are the men and women who keep our two nations moving, whether carrying freight, transporting passengers or building the battery plants and chip factories of our new industrial revolution. On behalf of myself and the SMART General Executive Council, I want to thank you for all that you do.

Last year we began to not just see, but to live the rewards of the hard-won battles we fought in the past. Federal legislation that we helped pass in 2021 and 2022 — such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act — helped spur record levels of public and private investment in the construction industry. This is already changing lives for SMART sheet metal workers and our families. As just one example, a Ford megaproject in Kentucky has helped SMART Local 110 nearly double in size as we organize and recruit to meet workforce demands — boosting the local’s collective bargaining power, lifting area working conditions, benefiting Local 110 retirees and so much more.

“We know we have more to do, from organizing nonunion sheet metal workers, to ending the pernicious wave of assaults on bus and transit operators.”

Around this time in 2023, railroaders were just emerging from a long, bitter contract dispute with the Class I railroad carriers — one in which the carriers infamously argued that “capital investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contributions by labor.” It would have been easy for members to be discouraged. But instead, railroaders stood together in unwavering solidarity, making use of new media attention and public support to go on offense. At one time, the carriers maintained that they would never negotiate on quality-of-life issues, but in the last year alone, SMART-TD members have ratified tentative agreements with Norfolk Southern, BNSF and Union Pacific that make substantial improvements to sick pay, scheduling and more — setting an important precedent and demonstrating the true power of labor.

Those are just two of our fights from the last year. We know we have more to do, from organizing nonunion sheet metal workers, to ending the pernicious wave of assaults on bus and transit operators. I promise you, we will continue to fight these battles, and we will see victory in the end.

2024 is an election year. We all know what that entails: a wave of political posturing and overtures to working Americans through November. But we also know how important elections are — we’ve seen their impact in the last year alone. This election will present us with a stark choice: pro-union candidates who act on our behalf to secure our future, or two-faced politicians who are beholden only to their corporate donors. I know which option I’m choosing.

So, brothers and sisters, as we look towards 2024, let’s seize this moment. Let’s build a future that will benefit our families and our communities for generations to come.

In solidarity,

SMART General President Michael Coleman

I’m writing this just after attending the Tradeswomen Build Nations (TWBN) Conference in Washington, DC. The conference, held annually by the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU), brought together 4,000 women and allies — making this year’s event the largest yet.

As I watched and participated in TWBN, I was reminded what this union and all unions have stood for since our earliest days. This event, and the trade unionists who attend it, demonstrate the strength, solidarity and siblinghood that define our movement and make all of our lives better on a daily basis.

For many of us, it can be easy to take that for granted. We have good jobs and the amount of work out in front of us looks good for the next few years — so, being human, we get complacent. But times like these are when we need to lean in and keep the momentum we built moving forward. Nobody else will do it for us.

This is our time to march forward and set ourselves up for the future. At TWBN 2023, I witnessed extraordinary energy, as tradeswomen and allies rallied through the streets of DC. We need to capitalize on that energy — which our sisters are bringing to our movement — and push, together, to accomplish more.

Today, the public stands firmly behind us. Regardless of the division we sometimes see in the United States and the various parties operating in Canada, our fellow citizens resoundingly believe in the union movement — more than any other time since World War II. Now, it’s time to take advantage.

We know that a strong labor movement is vital to our children’s futures. I want to remind you that each of us has the power to secure that future. When your union asks for help in the upcoming months to promote good, union values to our neighbors, take that small step to help out. We have all been there for the first time, whether knocking on doors or participating in labor walks. It may seem daunting, but I assure you: It gets easier over time, and the time spent with your union brothers and sisters will be something you look upon with fondness in future years.

At TWBN 2023, I witnessed extraordinary energy, as tradeswomen and allies rallied through the streets of DC. We need to capitalize on that energy — which our sisters are bringing to our movement — and push, together, to accomplish more.

In the United States, we are heading into another election year. I want you to think about the things that are important to you and which candidates and policies will protect your family’s future. We will see familiar rhetoric from all sides. But regardless of what the issue of the day is, and what promises are made, I want to ask you to stay focused on what matters: the candidates that worked with your union to keep food on the table, money in your wallet, security for your retirement and dignity for all workers. These are strong union values, and if we stick with them, all the others will fall into place.

We all have a choice when we vote — however you vote, that is your right. I just ask that you weigh your options. When you do, I hope that providing a stable future for your family is one of your top priorities. If so, please support those candidates that support us.

In solidarity,

Joseph Powell
SMART General Secretary Treasurer

The year of 2023 was an unprecedented success for our union, and all should take pride in what our organization has accomplished. Win percentages on our appeals are higher now than at any time in recent memory. We fought and won the first paid sick leave for transportation employees after going without for nearly two centuries of American railroading. Our brothers and sisters on many bus and transit properties are earning better wages, benefits and time off through hard-fought and overdue agreements nationwide.

Our voices have been heard by the general public, press and in the halls of state capitols and Washington, DC. But more importantly, they are recognizing the validity of our organization’s longstanding issues and concerns. In the future, transportation employees of all types will look back at what we accomplished in 2023 as a positive turning point, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for making this a reality.

When I was first elected, I stated that training was going to be a center focus of my administration. We changed the format to better serve our locals, and I could not be more proud of how well it has been embraced and the results it has produced. The commitment and effort that many of our local officers have demonstrated by participating in our regional training seminars is a tribute to the level of professionalism and dedication needed in SMART-TD to strengthen the foundation on which our progress and future success is built. I applaud all of those that have not only attended one of these events, but also those who have taken and applied the knowledge and skills presented for the betterment of the members we proudly represent. 

Your general committee and state board officers are engaged in the issues that affect your daily lives and are doing amazing work. They are unafraid to use their skills, knowledge, and connections to make sure our issues and concerns are heard in efforts to create real-world solutions for our members. I want to tip my hat to the effort they have all demonstrated this year. It is no exaggeration to say that the lives of our members are better today than it was in 2022. I owe a debt of gratitude to every member and officer that has assisted in making this a reality.

This union is solid, cohesive, and moving collectively in the direction of progress. All of us look to 2024 with the prospect of heightened pay, continued improvement in quality of life with additional scheduled and reliable time off and the prospect that our lives and those of our families are on the right trajectory. We are doing everything we can to make your quality of life reflect the true value of your labor.

In the coming months, the Federal Railroad Administration is scheduled to announce the results of the two-person crew hearings held in late 2022, and we look forward to hearing those results. Many of you answered the call and let your voices be heard on this pivotal issue, setting the stage for what would be a historic victory. We are looking to replicate this success as SMART-TD takes on the issue of the rising number and severity of assaults on our passenger/commuter rail and bus members. This issue directly impacts the lives of many of our members and we will not allow it to go unchecked. We must show no hesitation in leading the way on this significant issue while other, less-dynamic unions apparently remain content with the status quo.

Our members deserve more, and we will do all we can in efforts of ensuring their safety.

If 2023 has taught us anything, it is that we are the leader in U.S. transportation labor and our influence grows daily. However, all of this progress can be lost if we sit on our laurels or stop working as a collective group. It is for this reason that I personally request that you all stay invested in the fight for what’s right in 2024 as we lay it on the line to further the causes that define our careers and lives.

In closing, I wish you all a happy, safe and prosperous new year!


Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

Picture of the Pa. Captiol from then-Gov. Tom Wolf from Harrisburg, Pa. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Picture of the Pa. Capitol from then-Gov. Tom Wolf from Harrisburg, Pa. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Across the country, SMART members are running for elected office — and winning. As leaders in their communities, these members are able to influence the policies that matter to their fellow union workers, and they can ensure union issues are prioritized.

There are a variety of reasons why members run. They want to serve their neighbors and communities. They want to make sure labor has a voice in our decision-making bodies, and that our priorities — such as prevailing wages, project labor agreements (PLAs), registered apprenticeship utilization, health and safety protections and other workforce standards — get the attention they deserve. They want to push back against anti-union and anti-worker rhetoric from inside our governing bodies.

“They want to make sure labor has a voice in our decision-making bodies, and that our priorities — such as prevailing wages, project labor agreements (PLAs), registered apprenticeship utilization, health and safety protections and other workforce standards — get the attention they deserve.”

“The more of our members that hold public office, the better we are as an organization,” said SMART Local 33 (northern Ohio) Business Representative and Toledo City Councilman Matt Cherry. “Our local has had some very big wins because of this position, including countless PLAs and licensing requirements.”

Anyone can run for elected office. Read through the tips below to learn how you can start the process:

Get involved locally:

Get active in your community. For example, SMART members currently in office have served on boards, committees and task forces in order to get to know their communities and other elected leaders before running for elected office.

Consult with your union:

Talking to local union leadership is the first thing every SMART member currently holding office has done.

Attend trainings:

Attend the AFL-CIO’s Path to Power training. This training is designed to teach union members and local activists how to run for public office and build power that will positively influence our communities.

Seek endorsements:

Make sure you get the endorsement of SMART. After talking to your local, contact your AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, state federation and state building trades council. These are bodies that can help you seek out other local union endorsements as well as endorsements from other community stakeholders.

Build a campaign budget:

SMART members currently holding office have raised funds from individuals, unions and/or through the local political party. Having the support of the labor community will be key to helping you raise money to support your campaign.

Aside from elected positions, there are many opportunities to get involved in local politics. All cities and counties have committees, boards and commissions that constituents can join. Serving in this capacity is an important way to help advance SMART’s priorities and build our political power.

“If you’re thinking of running, do it,” said East Haven, Conn. Town Councilwoman and SMART Local 40 member Kimberly Glassman. “By and large, most politicians have no idea the contributions that the unionized construction industry makes. They don’t know why prevailing wage laws are so important. They don’t know what a PLA is. But our opposition is well-funded and motivated to decimate our industry. Just being in the room where conversations about municipal or state projects are had is a huge win. It’s moving the dial for all of us. The more of us that hold elected office, the better.”

SMART members in New Jersey at a Passaic Central Labor Council labor walk.
SMART members in New Jersey at a Passaic Central Labor Council labor walk.

This election cycle, SMART members across sheet metal and the Transportation Division flexed their muscles at the ballot box, helping elect union-friendly candidates across the United States. That includes SMART members who ran for office themselves, pledging to pursue policy that supports working families.

In New Jersey, the SMART New Jersey State Council endorsed a bipartisan group of pro-labor candidates that won big. Johnnie Whittington of Local 27 (southern New Jersey) won his election to the East Windsor Township Council, while Glen Kocsis — also from Local 27 — won re-election to the Neptune City Council: putting the voice of SMART workers in powerful positions to benefit their union brothers and sisters.

“So far this election cycle, 82% of our labor candidates have won their elections,” said Joseph Demark, Jr., president of the New Jersey State Council for Sheet Metal Workers, president and business manager of Local 25 (northern New Jersey) and executive board member of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO. “Together, we made the difference and won!”

In Kentucky, SMART members endorsed and helped re-elect Andy Beshear as governor. His victory is a big win for workers — during his first term, he made Kentucky the battery manufacturing capital of America, and he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with union members from the picket line to the governor’s office. Thanks in no small part to Beshear’s leadership, SMART members are seeing an extraordinary amount of work in the Bluegrass State — and our union is growing as a result.

Up and down the ballot, in races across the country, SMART members fueled a score of impressive victories. Warren Faust, SMART International representative and former business manager of Local 44 (northeastern Pennsylvania), won re-election to the Wilkes-Barre School Board. And in Virginia, workers marched to the ballot box to help pro-union candidates take the state House and Senate, putting advocates for working families in control of policymaking.

Ultimately, 2023 reiterated the importance of the union vote. Election Day reminds all legislators: When you stand with union members, union members stand with you.

“From door-knocking, to phone-banking, to peer-to-peer text messaging, we showed the power of our vote,” said SMART-TD Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs. “When we stand together as one, there is NOTHING that can stop us in our tracks.”

For father-daughter sheet metal workers Anthony Smith and Amber Jones, joining SMART Local 4 (Memphis, Tennessee) and working for signatory contractor Ventcon has demonstrated the difference between a nonunion gig and a union career.

“Before I joined the union, I didn’t think I’d ever really be able to retire — I’ve always bartended, served, didn’t have anything going into retirement,” said Jones, a first-year apprentice. “Here with the local, I’m able to retire one day. I’m actually able to pay my bills, financially afford to feed my kids and, you know, moving up in life.”

“I’ve been in the trade off and on for about 30 years,” added Smith, a Marine Corps veteran and a member of Local 4 since August 2023. “I was always told that being unionized was something I would not want to consider, but everything that I’d heard about Local 4 — and of course, experiencing it now — I wish I would’ve [joined] a long time ago. … With the way the local treats you, the way everybody here treats you, it just gives you a better opportunity to move forward.”

Both Smith and Jones are currently at work fabricating metal for Ford’s massive Blue Oval City electric vehicle plant in Stanton, Tennessee. For the country at-large, their jobs are helping to build our sustainable economic and clean energy future. For the two Local 4 sheet metal workers, it’s an extraordinary amount of fabrication work.

“It’s great work. It’s not easy work, but it’s good, honest work — you make good pay,” Smith said.

“[Ford Blue Oval City] is needing a ton of metal, which we are constantly pushing out — truck loads a day,” Jones explained. “I love the people that I work with; I enjoy coming to work every day.”

The work is one thing, but the benefits of union membership go beyond just material gains. For Jones, the union apprenticeship program has helped nurture a love of learning in a trade that has endless possibilities.

“I like to stay busy; I like to learn new things, being able to understand how things work,” she said. “I go to school every Monday and Tuesday night. It’s very welcoming; they’ve been there for me, helped guide me, they’re teaching me everything that I need to know.”

Smith, meanwhile, said the sense of camaraderie parallels what he had in the Marines.

“Everybody helps each other, you know. We don’t just finish a job that we’re on and stand around, and watch everybody else maybe struggle,” he said. “Everybody pulls together to get the job done. It’s a great team that works out here, and it’s probably the best atmosphere I’ve been in in a very, very long time.”