In 2021, SMART launched the I Got Your Back Campaign, which celebrates the many great mentors and allies in our membership and reinforces member solidarity throughout our great union. Today, SMART announced the expansion of the I Got Your Back Campaign — “Speak Up, Speak Out.”  

We seek to create and reinforce a culture where members Speak Up, Speak Out when they see something wrong. Therefore, we ask every member to do the following:  

  1. If you witness a fellow member being bullied, harassed, discriminated against or mistreated on the job, please Speak Up, Speak Out.  
  2. If you are being bullied, harassed, discriminated against or mistreated on the job, please Speak Up, Speak Out if you are comfortable doing so, or ask a trusted ally for help.  

What does it mean to Speak Up, Speak Out? This can take many forms depending on the situation:  

  • Ask the offender to stop. Here are some examples of things you can say: “This needs to stop right now.” “This is wrong, and you need to stop.” “This is not right. Leave [name] alone.” 
  • Ask the individual if they are okay and if they would like to report this incident. Emphasize that they did not deserve to be treated this way and that you have their back. 
  • Approach other bystanders and encourage them to Speak Up, Speak Out. Every voice matters, and there is power in numbers.  
  • If you are not comfortable saying something in the moment, you can report the incident to your union representative or the employer.

In turn, we ask all of our union officials to commit to the following: 

  1. Ensure each of our members receives the best quality union representation when they are facing harassment, bullying, discrimination or mistreatment on the job. 
  2. Ensure there is no retaliation for speaking up and reporting an issue. Communicate repeatedly with your members that retaliation is not tolerated, ask members to report retaliation if it occurs, and take swift and decisive action if a member is retaliated against for speaking up.  

This campaign expansion is designed to encourage our members to intervene when bullying or harassment occurs on the jobsite with the same sense of urgency as if a fellow member were facing unsafe work conditions. We believe the expansion of the I Got Your Back Campaign will help ensure this practice becomes universal throughout our union.  

A Local 16 member holds a piece of metal dedicated to Carrie Barber.

Chelsey Bus recently graduated from her apprenticeship at Local 16 in Portland, Oregon. During her five years of training, she experienced much of the same adversity that other women in the trades face; although SMART has made great strides to recruit and retain women, they remain a minority of the membership. That’s what makes stories of “I Got Your Back” solidarity – including Bus’s – so vital for the growth of our union.

When Bus began her apprenticeship, she said her duties involved menial work, like moving materials. But she began to see a shift in her job responsibilities around the time she was assigned to work at General Sheet Metal in Clackamas, Oregon, on an architectural sheet metal job.

“I didn’t have a lot of experience working on the architectural side,” explained Bus. “So I was kind of surprised when I was given the assignment.”

Nevertheless, Bus thrived. Over the course of her apprenticeship, she worked in residential HVAC, commercial HVAC, TAB, a mechanical shop and an architectural shop.

While working on an architectural project at General Sheet Metal, her friend and project manager, Carrie Barber, passed away unexpectedly.

“During that period, immediately after he passed away, people started telling me that he had gone to bat for me. He stuck his neck out and believed in me and got me placements. I had no idea,” Bus said. “His encouragement and faith in me were really touching. He had my back; I didn’t even know it.”

Bus said Barber’s faith in her was inspiring, and she plans to pay it forward – both on and off the job.

“I plan to make an effort to be that person for others,” she said. “I want everyone to experience that level of support, that same feeling that I’ve got your back.”

Adriana Farren has always been into numbers. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources with a minor in finance and worked in the front office of the former Sheet Metal Workers Local 41 in Puerto Rico before moving to Pennsylvania in 2011.

This was where her life took a much different turn, and it all started with a job working in the office of Comprehensive Test and Balance in Dover, Pa.

After two years overseeing Farren working in the office — reading plans, going over forms and entering data — Todd Walter, owner of the company, approached her with a question: Would you be interested in becoming an apprentice?

“I said, ‘yes.’ Then, he said, ‘You’ll have great benefits,’ and I said, ‘yes’ twice,” Farren recalled with a laugh. “By looking at the reports, I thought it would be a career I would be interested in.”

The first lesson: integrity and honesty are important in testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB).

Walter saw Farren working on bids and learning the necessary drawings, documentation and paperwork, and he offered her the chance to have a career instead of a job. A second-generation sheet metal worker, Walter also took the opportunity to guide Farren through the process and mentor her as others had mentored him.

The first lesson: integrity and honesty are important in testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB), he said.

“No matter what you do, they have to believe what you tell them. Adriana had good personal skills. She had the insight. She is very smart, and she was at the top of her class. She fit the bill,” Walter added. “It’s something my father said a long time ago — you can have a job, or you can put your head into it and make it a career.”

During the first two years of her apprenticeship at SMART Sheet Metal Local 19 (Central Pa.), Farren knew she wanted to do testing, adjusting and balancing. So, at night, she took air and water classes and was certified as a technician in 2015 while she was still an apprentice.

Since her graduation in 2017, Farren has continued to gain certifications. She said testing keeps the skills fresh in her mind. To date, she holds a welding certification in addition to duct leakage testing and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) testing.

“It’s a continuous learning process. I want to continue learning more about the balancing concept. I like to learn new things every day.”

– Local 19 member Adriana Farren

“It’s a continuous learning process. I want to continue learning more about the balancing concept. I like to learn new things every day. I would like to expand my knowledge in different areas related to TAB,” she said. “Having a certification shows people you’re certified in that concept and you know what you’re doing. In order to be a TAB tech, you don’t have to have the certification, but if you do, it proves you know what you’re doing.”

Knowledge, in Farren’s case, was definitely powerful. Although she took English classes on her native island of Puerto Rico, it was her second language. Being the only female balancer at Comprehensive Test and Balance — something Walter would like to see change — has its challenges, but all the challenges she’s faced have been nothing she can’t handle, she said.

“Back when I was in college, I thought I wanted to look after the employees and watch over them from a human resources point of view,” Farren said. “Looking back, 12 years later, that would have been very boring for me. I would have had to be in an office with the same four walls. No offense to the people who do it, but I like the fact I’m always somewhere different and learning something new.”

Walter took a chance asking Farren if she would be interested in a career. Now, as a full-time balancer at Comprehensive Test and Balance, she sees how her love of numbers led her to the career she now has. An interest in math, problem solving and finance isn’t relegated to an office and four walls. Those interests also can lead outside to various locations, continuous learning and a skill set that can last a lifetime.

“If you think you can do it, give it a try,” Farren said. “You don’t lose anything by trying, not just in this career, but anything. Trust your gut feeling. If you think you can do it, you probably can.”

By Assistant President Arty Martin

For more than 40 years, the UTU has been instrumental in improving job security, wages, benefits and safe working conditions.

To achieve that success, the UTU has always relied on the membership to step forward to rebuild elected officers’ ranks — from the local through the UTU International president.

Every aspect of our society — from neighborhood associations, local school boards, Congress and the White House — relies on the same process to ensure our society continues to thrive, grow and be successful. We can neither forget this nor let “the rebuild from within” concept die, or we will lose control of our futures.

When President John F. Kennedy took his oath of office in 1961 — at age 43, succeeding 70-year-old Dwight Eisenhower — Kennedy noted, “The torch has been passed to a new generation.”

JFK and his new generation of leaders were prepared to lead because of mentoring they received early in their careers.

Each of today’s UTU leaders has a moral obligation to identify and mentor talented younger members, beginning with assisting them in running for local office. Not all will be successful. But this is the process by which we identify those who, in the future, will lead general committees, state legislative boards and the UTU International.

I’m not suggesting older leaders head for the exits. I’m among the oldest, and I assure you I have no intention of departing anytime soon. But depart I will at some date, and my duty — and the duty of our other higher ranking UTU officers — is to identify and mentor qualified successors.

Each of our UTU International officers can trace their rise to the day they took an oath of office at their local —  and each can name a mentor who helped bring them along. Representing our brothers and sisters can be some of the hardest work we perform — and certainly the most rewarding when we realize our efforts help to improve wages, benefits, job security and safe working conditions.

Successful officers at the local level demonstrate early whether they have the internal compass and fortitude to do right by their members, whether it is taking on an inexperienced trainmaster with an outsized ego or processing a difficult grievance against an aggressive carrier officer.

The future of the UTU — and more important, the future job and financial security of our members — rests with a seamless process that assures members continue to receive excellent representation when new officers succeed those who retire or move up in the organization.

Because new technology is evolving so quickly, special new challenges await tomorrow’s leaders. Most of us began our careers when a caboose trailed every train and computers were something we read about in Mechanix Illustrated. Tomorrow’s railroads and tomorrow’s buses will be chock-a-block with computer technology tied to orbiting satellites.

I urge each of our senior officers at the International, general committees and state legislative boards to ramp-up the process of identifying and mentoring younger members with potential to become successful officers. The future of the UTU depends on it.