SMART members across North America are living in extraor­dinary times. And nowhere are these extraordinary times, with all their challenges and opportunities, better exemplified than in Faribault, Minnesota, a town of approximately 25,000 people and the home of SMART Local 480.

An American flag flies over the shop floor as Local 480 members work at Daikin Applied.

In Faribault and nearby Owatonna, money from laws passed by the Biden administration has spurred a surge in demand at commercial HVAC manufacturer Daikin Applied, leading to an equiv­alent increase in workforce needs. Local 480, which represents produc­tion members, has responded by putting the pedal to the metal: orga­nizing, recruiting and concocting innovative solutions to make sure they have the workers they need — both today, and for the long term.

“We’re growing way faster than anybody would’ve ever expected,” said Local 480 Business Manager Donavan Vierling.

Meeting the challenge

Approximately three years ago, Local 480 had 849 members across its signatory shops: Daikin Applied in Faribault and Owatonna, and Crown Cork and Seal in Faribault. Today, the local has around 1,250 members — and it’s expected to need 250 more at Daikin by the end of 2024.

“Our Daikin shops have really started to grow, especially with the money out there for COVID relief, from the CHIPS and Science Act, the infrastructure bill. The company has seen huge growth, and they’ve put a lot of money in their plants, technology, things like that,” said Local 480 Subsidized Organizer Billy Dyrdahl, a third-generation sheet metal worker.

With the need for workers showing no signs of stopping, Dyrdahl and Local 480 have pulled out all the organizing stops: hand billing during shift changes at nonunion production shops, visiting workers at manufacturing plants that are closing, flyering at gas stations and much more. They’ve also worked with the company on retention efforts, ensuring new hires know all the benefits provided by Daikin and by their union. Dyrdahl and the local even went so far as to contract with Strive Staffing, an agency that provides gateways to union jobs like those at the Minnesota Vikings and Twins stadiums, to reach potential new hires in the Twin Cities area.

The effort to meet Daikin’s demand has been a union-wide one. SMART Local 10, based out of the Twin Cities metro, has collabo­rated with Local 480 on various canvassing and flyering operations, including to fill workforce needs at Daikin. Plus, by working with SMART International Organizer Dan Kortte, Local 10 Business Manager Matt Fairbanks, Organizer Paul Martin and others, Local 480 recently helped Daikin complete a time-sensitive welding job by bringing on several Local 10 sheet metal workers from greater Minneapolis/St. Paul.

“The company originally figured it was going to be about a three-month project,” Vierling recalled. “These guys showed their skill and basically were done in half the time [Daikin] expected.”

The collaboration between Local 10 and Local 480 shows the industry-spanning solidarity of our union. It’s also helped provide new career pathways for SMART members across the state: Dyrdahl said Local 480 has worked with Local 10 to welcome building trades sheet metal workers who were seeking to work in a production environment.

Welcoming all members

Bringing new workers into Daikin is one thing; ensuring that the latest Local 480 members stay there is something else entirely.

“How do you onboard people and not turn everything into a complete revolving door? … Our challenge, as a union, is to make [new] people feel welcome,” Vierling explained.

For years, the demographics of Local 480 and the Daikin workforce were largely white and male. In recent decades, though, Faribault and Owatonna have welcomed a growing number of Latino/ Hispanic people and immigrants from Somalia, and the sheet metal industry at large has made strides to bring more women into the trade. Local 480 has acted accordingly – and in the true spirit of unionism — to make sure those workers have a better life.

“I’m seeing it right now: Daikin is growing, diversity-wise,” said Mustafa Jama, a Somali immigrant and 21-year SMART member. “They’re hiring all kinds of people, it doesn’t matter who you are. My department barely had female workers [when I started] … now, all through shifts, you will see at least 50% women, which is a good thing.”

This growth can take many forms, Jama, Vierling and Dyrdahl explained. One example: The Islam-practicing Somali American workers at Daikin originally ran into obstacles with management around break times and scheduling that accommodated their religious practice, which includes daily prayers and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Local 480 stood up for their newest members the same way they would for workers of any faith — negotiating with the company to devise break time flexibility and shift-scheduling that gives Muslim members the ability to break their fast at sundown during Ramadan, and including contract provisions that allow those same members to use time off to observe their religion.

Vierling and Dyrdahl are also supporting Recording Secretary Stephanie Bottke’s nascent efforts to form a Local 480 Women’s Committee — a development that will help women across all signa­tory shops gain a stronger support network (and assist as the local recruits more women moving forward). Bottke, a member of the SMART Recruitment and Retention Council, was inspired to take action by conversations with fellow SMART sisters across the union and by her own experience in the trade. Her early years were some­what isolated, she said, particularly when she was pregnant and a working mother.

“I personally started on the shop floor at 19 years old. I raised a family on the shop floor,” Bottke recalled. “There weren’t resources available, or at least none that I knew of … about what was available to me as I was raising a family. The basic needs of nursing, time off work, those types of things.”

She hopes the Local 480 Women’s Committee will help provide her union sisters with mentors to turn to — and strengthen overall soli­darity at the local by helping with recruiting and retention.

“Women come into our build­ings not knowing that there are other women that are going to be supportive, and through a women’s committee we can definitely estab­lish that support system,” Bottke said. “And I think through the women’s committee and estab­lishing those early connections, it will help our general membership see that we can be stronger when we’re connected as a whole.”

Such changes are not without challenges. Jama, now a team lead, faced unacceptable discrimina­tion when he first started as a coil assembler back in 2000 — and similar incidents have been reported more recently. In the same vein, some of Bottke’s first attempts at spreading awareness about the newly formed women’s committee were met with confusion at best, derision at worst.

But support from local union representatives and leaders has helped both Jama and Bottke continue on their trailblazing paths — and Dyrdahl, Vierling, Jama and Bottke all say that overcoming those difficulties and pursuing inclusive growth can only help Local 480 win stronger protections for all members moving forward.

“There’s a change, but that change came with sacrifice. People spoke up, and there were policy changes,” Jama emphasized.

“Having our local grow helps in all types of ways — including financially,” Dyrdahl added. “We can spend on lawyers when we need them for certain things. We are able to spend money to support our negotiating committee to really build up our contracts.”

Moving forward, Daikin continues to grow and require more workers. Local 480 is organizing accordingly, spreading the word to anyone who will listen: The union life is a better one for you and your family.

“Sometimes, union’s a bad word until people come and see what our benefit packages are and our wages,” Dyrdahl said. “Once we get them in the local, they’re pretty happy with it.”

SMART sheet metal and Transportation Division members mobilized throughout the 2023 legislative session in Minnesota, emerging with massive victories that will provide work opportunities and increased on-the-job safety for years to come.

On May 24, Minn. Governor Tim Walz signed HF 2887, making two-person crews on freight trains the law of the land in the state. The massive transportation omnibus bill was passed by the state legislature on May 21 and, along with the minimum crew size provision, includes infrastructure dollars to bring passenger rail jobs to Minnesota.

“The Minnesota Legislative Board began working on minimum crew size in 2015,” said SMART-TD Minnesota State Legislative Director (SLD) Nick Katich. “At that time, Phil Qualy was director, and I was his assistant. We passed it in the house once and the senate once, but never together.”

Minimum crew size began as its own bill in the state senate, with a companion bill in the house. (The legislation was later moved into the omnibus bill due to time constraints.) The bill passed through all committees despite the railroads actively opposing it.

“It was difficult when the railroads were testifying to keep a straight face,” commented Katich. “Some of their claims were so false or misleading it would make you sick. Our job was to help the lawmakers see through the smokescreen, and we did just that.”

In addition to minimum crew size, the omnibus bill fully funded the Northern Lights Express, Amtrak’s passenger service between Duluth and Minneapolis, at $194.7 million. This allows access to matching funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and means more work opportunities for our members. The legislation also included two more state rail safety inspectors, additional funding for passenger rail corridor studies and railroad-provided first responder training.

“I would like to personally thank the SMART-TD Minnesota Legislative Board for their unwavering support and confidence, the local officers who volunteered to pitch in and the members and retirees for keeping track and sending encouragement,” Katich added. “I would also add that I would like to thank our friends in the Minnesota AFL-CIO. They had our backs and watched for the railroad lobbyists lurking around where they shouldn’t be.”

Minnesota sheet metal workers notched a job-creating victory the same day, when Walz signed into law the energy, environmental and natural resources omnibus bill passed by the house and senate. As part of the sprawling legislation, which also includes rebate programs for heat pumps, the law stipulates that the Minnesota Department of Commerce must establish and administer an air ventilation program to award grants to public school boards in Minnesota, with the grants covering work such as testing and balancing, HVAC and energy efficiency upgrades and much more. Importantly for SMART members, the bill specifically includes strong prevailing wage language that requires work covered by grants to “be performed by a skilled and trained workforce that is paid the prevailing wage rate … and of which at least 80 percent of the construction workers are either registered in or graduates of a registered apprenticeship program for the applicable occupation.”

Gov. Walz with SMART Local 10 members following his 2023 inauguration.

“We see this program as a win, win, win,” said Local 10 (Minnesota) Business Manager Matt Fairbanks. “Jobs, clean energy, cost savings and human health. This program is dedicated to the work our members do day in and day out, starting with the front-end assessment that will identify deficiencies and flow into future system upgrades.”

“Not only will this provide our members with future hours and food on their plates, but it will also shine a light on our members’ stewardship to the community,” he added. “I think providing healthy air to children, cost savings for adults and clean energy for the environment is a pretty big deal!”

Such legislative wins would never have been possible without the votes and advocacy of members across the state. In the 2022 midterm elections, pro-worker candidates took control — albeit with a slim majority — of the Minnesota House and Senate, with Walz winning reelection, and immediately passed a slew of laws that will benefit SMART members. That includes what most in the Minnesota building trades consider the most expansive prevailing wage enhancements in state history: from increased enforcement, to attaching the law to state funds, programs, energy projects and more.

The legislature also passed paid sick leave for all workers; the banning of anti-union captive audience meetings; new protections for meatpackers, construction workers and Amazon employees; a huge expansion of paid family and medical leave; the largest increase in state history to the Minnesota work compensation system’s permanent partial disability fund; a universal free school breakfast and lunch program for the kids of working families; and more.

“Politics is a slow-grinding machine, and we ask our members to participate in all kinds of different ways: from volunteering in phone banks, to door knocks, lit drops, parades and — most importantly — voting,” Fairbanks added. “Because of our members’ trust and dedication, we got to see the tree bear fruit, and that feels great! Not only did our state see a historic session for workers’ rights and investments, we get to witness firsthand that hard work does pay off. Thank you to all the Local 10 members that stood with us and helped get so many things done this year.”

The efforts of a two-person crew in East St. Paul, Minn., helped to save a wandering five-year-old girl and reunite her with her family.
Near midnight Saturday, Feb. 1, SMART Transportation Division Local 1293 member Jarrod Campbell and BLET member Angela Knutson were operating a Union Pacific train through East St. Paul when they spotted something unusual alongside the tracks.
The shape looked strange to them, so Knutson stopped the train, and Campbell grabbed his lantern and left the cab to investigate.
Walking back, he discovered a five-year-old girl wearing a light jacket. She wasn’t wearing a hat or mittens and her sneakers were filled with snow.
“I introduced myself to her,” Campbell said. “She said that her name was Zoey and that she was cold and wanted her mom.”
The conductor out of the Altoona, Wis., local picked Zoey up and asked her if she would want to come into the locomotive where it was warm so she could meet Angela.
“She gave me a big hug and said thank you,” Campbell said.
Campbell carried Zoey through the snow and they went into the cab. There Campbell and Knutson comforted her by wrapping her in Campbell’s coat, giving her a spare pair of Knutson’s socks, using hand warmers to stave off the early signs of hypothermia and keeping her calm until EMS crews could arrive.
She had been reported missing to police about 45 minutes to a half-hour before the crew found her, Campbell later learned. The temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and he said there was still eight to 10 inches of snow on the ground there.
The combined efforts of both crewmembers saved the girl from a possibly life-threatening situation at a time when rail carriers are looking to cut the conductor position from the cab in favor of technologies such as Positive Train Control. The carriers and Federal Railroad Administration argue that no data exists proving that a two-person crew is any safer than a single-person crew.
Zoey’s family would probably differ on that.
“It’s just miraculous that we were able to see her or find her,” Campbell said. “It sure wasn’t Positive Train Control that stopped and saved this girl.”
Both Campbell and Knutson told the story of the girl’s rescue to the Fox 9 television station in Minneapolis-St. Paul and brought a teddy bear to share with the girl.
“Let her know that we’re glad she’s doing good,” Campbell told reporter Christina Palladino.

SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy reports that two-person crew legislation has passed in his state’s House of Representatives as part of H.F. 1555, an omnibus transportation bill, and that a push by members and retirees alike will be needed to get it through the state Senate to the governor.
The bill passed Monday, April 29, by a 74-52 party-line vote and now moves on to the Minnesota Senate’s Transportation Conference Committee. Section 93 of the bill contains a provision setting a minimum crew size for freight trains operating in the state. H.F. 1555 also contains other important rail safety provisions, including Section 90, which set forth the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s enforcement of state safety regulations and maintenance of way track equipment crossing protections.
“The outcome of that conference committee will most likely determine whether minimum train crew language is passed into law,” Qualy said.
Qualy said that the effort of every SMART TD member and retiree in Minnesota is necessary to pass this important legislation to keep the state’s communities safe. Members, retirees and their friends and family are encouraged to call or email their state senators to talk about the important public safety aspects and assistance to first responders that two-person crews provide on the state’s rails in the case of a railroad emergency. A list of key senators to be contacted appears below.
“We need all railroad workers standing together in support of this legislation,” he said. “We need our members at the capitol. Please make your calls and emails today.”
Members of the Minnesota State Senate who should be contacted include:

The original H.F. 286, a standalone bill that sets a minimum crew size, remains on the House floor.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz has been endorsed by the SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Board in his run for governor.
SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Board has proudly announced today its endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tim Walz’s campaign for governor of Minnesota.
“Congressman Walz’s work with our union since 2006 for railroad safety and service distinguishes his efforts in the 2018 election cycle,” said SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy. “Since serving as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads with former Congressman James Oberstar, Tim Walz has always had an open door for railroad labor.”
Walz has cosponsored multiple versions of SMART TD’s key legislative priority The Safe Freight Act that requires a certified conductor and certified engineer on all trains, authored bipartisan energy legislation and holds a strong reputation in Congress for working in a bipartisan manner across party lines, Qualy said.
“Tim Walz is a friend of railroad labor and our retirees,” Qualy said. “Our state committee believes that having worked in Washington, he brings a wealth of knowledge home and can bring needed resources to our state. As our next governor, Tim Walz’s common-sense values, pragmatism and enthusiasm will serve Minnesotans well.”
Prior to joining Congress in 2007 and representing Minnesota’s First District, Walz was a high school teacher for 20 years in Mankato Minn., where he coached Mankato West to the state football championship. An avid outdoor sportsman, Walz also served in the National Guard, where he achieved the highest enlisted rank of any member in Congress who served in the Guard.
“Among some very good candidates for governor, Tim Walz has earned strong support from railroad labor and our retirees,” Qualy said. “The Minnesota 2018 elections are crucial to the future of railroad labor and our state.”
In addition to Walz, SMART TD’s Railroad Workers Committee also screened gubernatorial candidates Erin Murphy and state Auditor Rebecca Otto May 18th in St. Paul. Qualy said all received “excellent” ratings from the committee.
“We look forward to a positive and productive working relationship with Tim Walz in the Minnesota Governor’s Office” said Qualy.
“I encourage all of our SMART TD members to get involved with your Local, be sure you are registered to vote, and vote for your job and your pension first this November. Minnesota’s working families must unite this fall to keep this state a great place to live and work,” he said.
To read a PDF of the Minnesota State Legislative Board’s letter endorsing Walz, follow this link.

Clyde Larson, 62, described as “an absolute pillar” of the railroad labor community in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, died on Nov. 8.
“Brother Clyde was a tremendously generous person and assisted all crafts,” said SMART TD Minnesota Legislative Director Phillip Qualy. “Clyde helped an untold number of railroad workers and our families with railroad and non-railroad matters.”
Larson, of Hermantown, Minn., was a member of UTU Local 1292 and worked as a conductor on the Duluth Missabe and Iron Range, later CN Railway, first hiring out in 1974 at age 19 as a brakeman.
He also served as Local 1292’s Local and General Chairperson from the late 1980s to 2010, protecting one of the most lucrative steel road contracts in the United States.
He also served as legislative representative on the Minnesota Legislative Board from 2003 to 2009.
Brother Larson had served as a field investigator for the designated counsel law firm Hunegs, LeNeave and Kvas since 2010.
Clyde was serving our members in the union hall (Local 832/1175) to his final day. His ongoing dedication to his brothers and sisters of railroad labor was truly remarkable.
Brother Larson is survived by his wife, Anne, three sons, Scott, Eric, and Corey, two grandchildren and his father, Dexter Larson.
Visitation will be 5-7 p.m., with a wake prayer at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 14, at Dougherty Funeral Home in Duluth. Visitation will continue from 10-11 a.m., followed by the Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 15, at St. Lawrence Church in Duluth. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery.
SMART TD extends its condolences to Clyde’s family and friends.

MPR news interviewed Vice General Chairperson of Union Pacific GO 225 Randy Raskin and Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy, both of Local 650 (Minneapolis), during an ongoing series of conversations about rail safety in Minnesota.

MPR News’ Tom Weber interviewed Raskin and Qualy for their expertise on trains from the inside out.

They talked about the jobs of conductors and engineers and what role they play in ensuring the safety of our railways.

Listen to the interview from MPR News.


Raskin and Qualy

Minnesota_mapA bill that would require two-person crews aboard Amtrak and most freight trains operating in Minnesota passed out of two Senate committees last week. The safety measure is a top legislative priority of theUnited Transportation Union, which represents about 70,000 workers in North America.

Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope) introduced the legislation in the Senate, and the measure received bipartisan support in the Judiciary and Transportation committees. But Republican leaders in the House have refused to take up a companion bill introduced by Rep.Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis).

Read the complete story at Workday Minnesota.


The Minnesota Senate Committee on Transportation and Public Safety and the Senate Committee on Judiciary have approved legislation requiring two qualified train-crew personnel on all trains in the state with bipartisan support.

Senate File 918 is now before the full Minnesota Senate.

“The policy language is very narrow to assure that we can prevail under any test of federal pre-emption from the carriers,” said SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy. “We are emphasizing public safety as we must because that is what this is about. We have set forth that Amtrak and passenger rail operations are included under this legislation.”

“In event any train should run with one person, the second and subsequent fine is for $1,000 for each train.”

In his testimony before the Committee on Judiciary March 19, Qualy said, “Railroads have two persons on all trains. Our S.F. 918 poses no undue burden on commerce. Regarding grade crossing emergency response, for the railroad workers of Minnesota, I submit that we simply cannot leave injured persons lying unattended in the ditches of Minnesota.” Read Qualy’s complete testimony here.

Unfortunately, Qualy said, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has so far refused to hear companion legislation House File 1166, to date.

“We are sending a letter of appeal to the Republican leadership with the amended Senate language that originated from bipartisan Senate recommendations,” he said.

“We’ve had a good week thus far, but we are far, far away from passing this state legislation into law. The Minnesota Legislative Board thanks all of our members who attended the hearings this week. We also want to thank our good friend, Mr. Larry Mann, who assisted the board and testified in support of this important legislation.”

“The board thanks Minnesota Assistant State Legislative Director Nicholas Katich (1067), Designated Legal Counsel Cortney LeNeave and Ron Barzcak, Minnesota AFL-CIO Legislative Director Jennifer Schaubach, and most importantly, State Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-Dist. 45), who authored and sponsored this legislation.

oil-train-railWASHINGTON – Last week, U.S. Sen. Al Franken asked the Federal Railroad Administration to consider rerouting trains carrying volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota so they do not pass through Minnesota’s biggest cities.

For Franken, the possibility of rerouting is an integral part of a comprehensive response to a recent rash of fiery oil train derailments that also includes stabilizing Bakken crude before it is loaded into stronger tanker cars.

Read the complete story at