Following the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference day one joint session, Transportation Division and sheet metal union leaders went their separate ways for industry-specific sessions. General President Michael Coleman began the sheet metal session with remarks that detailed the material he touched on in his joint session speech, emphasizing how the International has streamlined its focus on supporting local unions; the importance of organizing and recruiting across all the diverse groups that make up our two nations; mobilizing members for the 2024 election; and more.
“We have spent decades working for this moment we face today,” he said. “This moment, right now, is our time – our time to take advantage of the opportunities that sit before us.”
Coleman described some of the programs implemented by the International to benefit local unions and mobilize members – including centralized communications, the SMART Army, peer-to-peer programs, the new member orientation kit and more. Coleman also listed the different initiatives put forth to help local unions staff megaprojects and maintain their core work. More than anything else, he stressed the need for growth, both by organizing new members into SMART and by recruiting in every community in which we work and live, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or creed.
“The future of both our nations is one of a diverse workforce and people – we can either choose to be a part of that future, or a relic of the past,” Coleman concluded. “This is our time to get back to our roots as a union and provide opportunity to all qualified individuals who choose to join us.”
Coleman then introduced Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, who has been a fierce ally for SMART and all union building trades workers throughout his career. McGarvey started his speech by paying tribute to General President Emeritus Joseph Sellers, who he said has “been there for me as a friend, as a mentor, as a member of the board of presidents.” Sellers’ invaluable work for SMART and across the labor movement, particularly regarding pension security, will benefit workers for generations to come, McGarvey added.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with you, my friend,” he told Sellers.
McGarvey then noted that the conference theme, “This Is Our Time,” is spot on. “Not since the end of World War II have working people had an opportunity like this,” he explained.
McGarvey described the Biden administration’s unprecedented engagement with the labor movement, building trades unions and working people in general. On the one hand, he said, that refers to the administration’s solicitation of policy direction from organized labor. On the other, federal funding from legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act is creating extraordinary workforce opportunities – and demands. Now it’s on the building trades to meet this moment, McGarvey emphasized, including new work building North America’s climate resiliency and a green energy future.
“Nobody’s more important in the fight against climate change than SMART and sheet metal workers,” he noted, pointing to SMART members’ work on energy efficiency, HVAC and beyond.
McGarvey reiterated Coleman’s emphasis on bringing underserved communities into the labor movement and lifting workers into the middle class. Investments in infrastructure, workforce development and domestic manufacturing make it imperative for unions like SMART to open wide the doors of our training centers and union halls. NABTU, McGarvey said, is working to help unions do just that by piloting childcare programs for building trades workers, fully developing a culture of inclusion on the jobsite, partnering with organizations like Helmets to Hardhats to bring in veterans, and more.
“That doesn’t happen without the support of SMART and other union affiliates,” he declared.
Maryland Congressman David Trone followed President McGarvey. Trone opened his remarks by noting several of his priorities as an elected representative: combatting the opioid epidemic, helping Americans with their mental health and working for criminal justice reform – all issues that are near and dear to SMART members’ hearts.
“We need more leadership to say: people come first, and when they do, businesses do fine,” he said. “America’s values are inextricably linked to the values of the labor movement.”
Trone noted that federal legislation that he supported – including the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act – will help spur a new American industrial revolution. Importantly, he said, the implementation of that legislation and the rolling out of funding has only just begun. Over the next four, six, eight years, the projects and jobs created by federal investment will put SMART members to work and change the lives of countless people. That makes it even more crucial to fund registered apprenticeships, implement project labor agreements far and wide, and support unions like SMART.
“In order to lock in these wins, we have to ensure that workers’ voices are heard and their rights are protected,” Trone said. “I’m incredibly proud to be your partner in this continued fight. I’m going to always stand with labor.”
Later in the sheet metal session, Sheet Metal Workers’ National Pension Fund (NPF) Executive Director Lori Wood provided an overview of the NPF – certified healthy in the Green Zone since 2022. Finally, General President Coleman welcomed Clark Ellis of Continuum to the stage, where he elaborated on specific details and outlined the continued progress of the strategic plan, underscoring the opportunity SMART has to recapture and expand market share.
“The strategic plan is the backbone that can help ensure SMART does the right things to grow and maximize our potential,” he said.
Following a busy morning, both sheet metal and TD leaders fanned out to continue their work in various breakout sessions, including meetings on forming a committee; lessons learned from a bottom-up organizing campaign at Ketchikan Vigor Shipyard; future developments in Canada; updates from the Biden administration; and much more.