SM Local 56 (Nova Scotia) roofer Alexis Lynk enjoys working with her hands. Even before she became a union roofer, she was no stranger to hands-on labor, serving customers and navigating hectic, fast-paced work situations in the service industry.

“I worked at McDonald’s for nine years,” Lynk said. “But I wasn’t making ends meet with the wages I had.”

The subpar pay led her to enroll in a trade apprenticeship through Women Unlimited, a program that introduces women to various trades via practical experience. Through that process, Lynk found her niche in roofing. And while the Women Unlimited program wasn’t her first encounter with the trades — her father was a tradesperson, and she dabbled in some trades work in high school — the mentorship and learning model cemented the union roofing industry as her new career path.

“When I come to work and I’m scared to do something, I have people to guide me,” Lynk explained. “They don’t just do it for me, they go through it with me step-by-step, so later I can do it on my own.”

Now, she is back at a McDonald’s — but this time as a roofer, working on top of the building rather than within it.

As the only female roofer on the jobsite, Lynk recalled feeling slightly nervous during her first days at work. She worried how people would perceive her skill set on the job. However, her nerves quickly abated as she found fellow brothers and sisters in the union roofing industry who supported her.

“A lot of the time, [even if] I don’t believe in myself, these people believe in me,” she said. Now, she is confident in her ability. The knowledge she learned through the apprenticeship program has given her skills to take on a variety of jobs, and as her confidence has grown, so has her feeling of belonging at the worksite. In five years, Lynk has no doubt she will be a Red Seal roofer. With her apprenticeship completed, the sky is truly the limit.

“When you say ‘yes’ to opportunities, pathways open and things are more accessible,” Lynk concluded. “I know it’s easy to say, ‘just jump in and do it.’ But if you put in yourself first, you’re going to go far.”

From May 15–19, 2023, the SMART Recruitment and Retention Council — along with the Roofing and Building Enclosure and Production and Sign Councils — met in Memphis, Tennessee, where SMART leaders from across the United States and Canada reviewed and planned out activities for the year and beyond.

With the continent-wide need for workers at a generational high, now is the time for locals to recruit new members and apprentices for upcoming megaprojects in both nations. Lauren Sugarman and Lark Jackson from Chicago Women in the Trades discussed recruitment strategies to build a diverse pool of potential members to strengthen the union. Tiffany Finck-Haynes from the SMART Government Affairs Department gave an overview of federal funding available to local JATCs to assist with recruitment and retention of members from across all ethnic and gender backgrounds.

Darrell Roberts, SMART’s assistant to the general president, and Josh Garner from the SMART International Organizing Department led a presentation on recruitment tactics, while SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson led a discussion on recruitment and retention and its unique role in the industries the SMART Transportation Division represents. He was joined by John Pitts (organizer from SMART-TD Local 608), James Sandoval (general chairperson for SMART-TD Local 0023) and Chad Yokoyama (SMART-TD Local 1687).

Michael Childers speaks to SMART councilmembers.

Attendees at the Roofing and Building Enclosure Council meeting were also updated on cutting-edge tools and training for new panel systems. These will give SMART architectural sheet metal workers and roofers a leg up over the nonunion competition as SMART continues to expand market share and collective bargaining power for members.

The Production and Sign Council heard from Michael Childers, the department co-chair of the School for Workers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Childers spoke about the collaboration between the labor movement and civil rights movements, and how that solidarity translates to work being done today as SMART looks to spread our message of opportunity to people of all races and backgrounds. Local 464 (Ponca City, Okla.) Business Manager Mechelle McNew, a longtime leader on the council and founding member of the SMART Women’s Committee, was also honored at the close of the council meetings for her contributions to the organization as one of the first woman leaders in the SMART sheet metal industry.

Former SMART General President Joseph Sellers and General President Mike Coleman addressed attendees at all three meetings and updated them on progress at the International level. Each committee later honored General President Sellers for his contributions to the union and the substantial progress made during his time in office. Among the items Sellers received was a fishing rod to use during his retirement, when he will have the chance to spend time with his family.

Remarking at the end of a presentation from the SMART Women’s Committee, whose members were also in attendance, Sellers noted that he “looks forward to seeing the work you continue to do, because you’re shaping SMART.”

SMART Army lands in Memphis

On Thursday, May 18, members of SMART Local 4 in Memphis were joined by SMART members across North America for a community litter cleanup in historic Soulsville, where union members also helped repair and plant in Urban Forest and Community Garden. Following the event, the SMART Army presented a $21,100 check to Memphis City Beautiful, the nation’s oldest beautification commission.

“As part of our Recruitment and Retention Council, Roofing and Building Enclosure Council and Production and Sign Council meetings in Memphis this week, we decided to collectively do what our union does best: uplift working families in local communities,” said SMART General President Michael Coleman, who participated in the volunteer event. “We are proud to partner with organizations like Memphis City Beautiful and the Urban Forest and Community Garden to give back to the neighborhoods in which our members live and work.”

The Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA — now SMART) began organizing roofers in the Toronto area in the early 1950s. It seemed like the perfect marriage, as sheet metal workers were already organized in most of the roofing shops. The roofers worked long days with no benefits, poor working conditions and sub-par wages — $1.20 per hour at the time.

It was Thursday, Nov. 12, 1952 when roofers in Toronto held their historic meeting and reported that union certification had been received at four firms: Cloke Construction, Apex Roofing, Heather & Little and A.E. Furnival. Roofers who worked for R.S.C. Bothwell, the Board of Education and Plewman were also present at the meeting. A motion was made that a committee investigate roofer classifications and draw up a collective agreement to officially bring roofers into the SMWIA.

This was the beginning of 70 years (and counting) of solidarity and craftsmanship in the roofing industry, with union members standing shoulder to shoulder.

On the following evening, Nov. 13, the inaugural meeting was held, and the first SMWIA roofing officers were elected. The new roofer representatives were President Wm Munroe, Vice President Sandy McLeish, Financial Secretary J. Johnson, Recording Secretary R. MacMahon, Warden F. Guerin and Conductor L. Cadieux. This was the beginning of 70 years (and counting) of solidarity and craftmanship in the roofing industry, with union members standing shoulder to shoulder and working diligently to represent the best interests of these skilled workers. Today, almost every local in Canada has roofers in its membership.

The roofing industry has seen many changes over the last seven decades. Coal tar pitch, steep pitch and Trinidad asphalt were used back in the 1950s. Now we have conventional and inverted roofing systems, EPDM and single-ply PVC. Green roofing is now populating the skyline; builders are installing green roofs on their projects not just because they are visually appealing, but to help reduce greenhouse gases and to improve air quality. As the government looks to reduce emissions and retrofit buildings, the roofing sector will continue to thrive. The skills of our members will be increasingly in demand.

The Infrastructure Health & Safety Association’s (IHSA) Roofing Trade Committee has been active in producing safety manuals and public periodicals to help keep roofs safe. The committee’s work includes a health and safety manual, heat stress brochures and advisories on roof openings and skylights. The roofing industry is constantly changing, and SMART and its members are committed to organizing and improving the health and safety of all roofers.

Today our members provide their services for new roof construction, roof repair, restoration, maintenance and roof replacement using the most up-to-date methods and roofing technologies. Every two years a national roofing apprenticeship competition is held, where roofing members from all over Canada come together to compete and showcase their skills. This year’s roofing competition will be held in Newfoundland this August. I want to wish the best of luck to all the competitors.

We’ve come a long way in 70 years. Congratulations on seven decades of solidarity!!


Chris Paswisty
Director of Canadian Affairs