On February 13, SM Local 104 (Northern California) hosted the California Republican Legislative Caucus at its Sacramento training facility, where the local provided a guided tour during an active training session, presented on the contractor-union partnership, and apprentice Anthony Gutierrez told the story of how his Local 104 membership changed his life. The local hopes to collaborate with the caucus to create opportunities for union members and working-class families in California moving forward, demonstrating SMART’s commitment to working with any union-friendly politicians to benefit members — regardless of party affiliation.

In July, SMART Local 104 (northern California) partnered with the Construction Trades Workforce Initiative (CTWI), gathering with 42 elected officials to watch 54 talented MC3 graduates dive deep into our craft. The event helped demonstrate the strong connection between education and practical application, particularly for those in underrepresented and disadvantaged communities.

SM Local 104 (northern California) Business Representative Alicia Mijares – the first woman business representative in the local’s history – was born into the labor movement.

Alicia Mijares, first woman business representative at Local 104, on the picket line.

“Three of my grandparents were union members, both of my parents and my stepfather were union members, both of my brothers, my only sister and my wife are all union members,” she said. “I walked my first picket line in front of a Safeway with my mother, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers.”

Mijares was not, however, born into the sheet metal trade; she entered the industry almost by accident. As a high school graduate without a clear vision of her future, she worked at a pizza restaurant and in a precision sheet metal shop, where the best-paid employees made $12.50 and hour. (“It’s funny how that sounded like great money back then,” Mijares recalled.) One day, a customer picking up a pizza order asked Mijares if she liked her job; she replied that it was the second job she’d worked that day that she didn’t like. In response, the customer passed her his Local 104 business card.

“When I read ‘sheet metal,’ I thought it would be something similar to the precision shop where I had been working,” Mijares remembered. “I didn’t realize at the moment that it was construction, so I went down, took the test, passed it and began as a pre-apprentice.”

Mijares immediately took to life as a union sheet metal worker. She worked in both the shop and in the field, treasuring the contrasting stability and variety of each respective setting. But it’s not just the hands-on elements of the craft that she finds appealing; her favorite part, Mijares says, is the impact SMART sheet metal members have on their communities.

“Air is life, and we make people’s lives healthier and more comfortable by bringing in hot and cool air, and filtering it on the way.”

Mijares threw herself into Local 104 union activities from the start – growing up in a union household, she knew that the members are the union. She participated in precinct-walking and phone-banking efforts as an apprentice and as a journeyperson, helping support pro-worker candidates and policies, and she served her fellow members as a shop steward and on Local 104’s Executive Board. It was during her time as shop steward that she noticed a fomenting disconnect – the members weren’t necessarily aware of the work that their elected representatives and organizers were performing on their behalf. Now, as Local 104 business representative, Mijares wants to bridge that disconnect; to remind the membership why we call each other brother and sister.

“We always want to go after project labor agreements, we always want to bring in more work for the membership – that’s the top priority – but what I would like to do is improve member participation,” she said. “Members pay to be in the membership – [not engaging with the union] is like writing a check to a gym and never setting foot inside.”

Mijares is currently serving in her first term as business representative. One of the highlights, she said, is when she gets to dispatch members: “Being able to make that phone call and say, ‘hey, are you ready to go back to work?’ It’s always a happy conversation.”

She also values the opportunity to advocate for the trade – something she was already doing as a rank-and-file member.

“I participate in a lot of outreach, whether it’s career fairs or anything else, because a lot of young women are starting to approach our table and say, ‘what is this about?’ So I talk about how great the trade is; I’ve been able to buy a home in the state of California, I’ve been able to travel.”

Mijares makes sure not to sugarcoat the industry – sheet metal is hard work, from the drafting and math required to pass the apprenticeship test to the early starts and long hours on the job. But she always tells potential apprentices a motto that applies as much to union leadership as it does to sheet metal work: “Hard is what makes it great. If it was easy, anybody would do it.”

Thanks to the efforts of SMART Local 104 and other union members across Northern California, workers in cities like Vallejo stand to benefit from the better wages, local hire provisions and strong apprenticeship standards guaranteed by a project labor agreement. These victories, part of Local 104’s ongoing Campaign for Jobs, demonstrate the power unions have to effect real change for working families when rank-and-file members stand together.

A citywide project labor agreement (PLA) is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement between a city and a local building and construction trades council that governs the terms and conditions of public works projects, protecting taxpayer money by providing projects that are built on-budget and on-time with the use of local and skilled workers. In other words, PLAs help put union members to work, provide greater apprenticeship opportunities for the union members of the future, and keep local jobs in local communities.

“We often refer to PLAs as “Prevailing wages, Local hire and Apprenticeship,” Local 104 wrote in its recent members’ journal. “They promote apprentice opportunities and ensure that workers’ wages and benefits are protected.”

SMART Local 104 members rally at the Vallejo City Council for a PLA and to create union jobs in Northern California
Local 104 members pose for a picture at the Vallejo City Council meeting after rallying for a citywide project labor agreement and union jobs in Northern California.

On January 17th, 2023, the city of Vallejo, Calif. brought forward a workshop for residents and city officials to discuss PLAs and the possibility of a future citywide project labor agreement. Local 104 Vallejo residents showed up in force with their fellow workers, where they spoke to the benefits of PLAs on local communities, workers, families and economies. The end result: The Vallejo City Council voted to begin PLA negotiations with the Napa/Solano Counties Building Trades Council.

“PLAs will create more local apprenticeship opportunities in the city of Vallejo, and Vallejo is well-deserving of a PLA because we have a lot of union members who live here and raise their families here,” said Local 104 Business Representative Alicia Mijares. “Because of members turning out, we were able to sway the council and deliver this to a formal negotiation. Thank you to the members of Local 104 who came out and made a difference!”

The Vallejo victory is only the latest in an ongoing string of labor agreements for Local 104 members. In October 2022, more than 30 Local 104 members joined the Sacramento Building Trades to support a citywide Community Workforce and Training Agreement (CWTA) for the city of Elk Grove. The Sacramento Building Trades had previously tried to secure an agreement with the city without success – but when a CWTA on the Sky River Casino project in Elk Grove delivered a finished project earlier than projected and under budget, the city realized the effectiveness and efficiency of trained, skilled, union labor. As SMART members and union workers looked on, the Elk Grove City Council voted 4-1 in favor of a citywide CWTA.

One month earlier, Local 104 members gathered with San Joaquin Building Trades workers to pack the Lathrop City Council meeting and call for a CWTA on an upcoming city of Lathrop corporation yard. And once again, the solidarity of organized labor proved decisive: The Lathrop City Council voted unanimously to approve the CWTA, which will cover new construction of a maintenance facility, evidence storage facility and a new office building for the city, creating more union jobs in northern California.

“While Local 104 continues to fight for labor agreements across the map, we’d like to thank every member and ally that showed up in support of the efforts mentioned, as well as any and all Campaign for Jobs actions to secure hours of work for our members,” the local concluded.