During the first week of May, the SMART Department of Education held an in-person basic organizing training session in Portland, Oregon — part of the vital work the department performs in order to keep our union strong and geared towards growth.
Participants from across the region immersed themselves in study and conducted role play exercises to prepare for circumstantial and situational topics that are important for building a basic organizing foundation for local unions.
Topics included, but were not limited to:
Organizing under the National Labor Relations Act in both construction and production settings;
Basic “street law” rules for in-field activity;
Initiating and perpetuating value-based representation communications with nonunion workers;
Initiating and perpetuating value-based, top-down conversations with employers;
Investigating and outlining basic organizing strategies; and more.
Participants were also given a presentation on the SMART indoor air quality (IAQ) initiative. Instructors broke down the complexities of the initiative’s sequences, answered questions and discussed with participants how the IAQ initiative could be utilized as a tool for organizing, growing market share and increasing density within their local unions.
In addition to in-person sessions, participants had the opportunity to engage in the training via remote conferencing with both SMART Director of Organizing Darrell Roberts and SMART Director of National Campaigns James White, both of whom gave presentations about their departments and answered questions.
On Friday, May 6, 105 members of SMART Local 565 working at Trachte Building Systems in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin voted to strike – taking a collective stand for their rights to a fair contract that gives them well-earned time to spend with their families and loved ones.
“There’s been lots of a mandatory overtime put on the workers through the pandemic, [and] the company is looking for additional mandatory overtime language [in the next contract],” Local 565 Business Manager Jesse Buell said in an interview with Labor Radio in Madison. “The people just want more family time.”
Sheet metal workers at Trachte perform essential labor that has proved especially vital in recent years, producing training centers for fire fighters and first responders, as well as storage units that are used across the country. Unfortunately, Buell explained to Labor Radio, the hard work of the members has not been rewarded by management. Instead, Trachte has maneuvered to keep Local 565 members working as much as possible – at the expense of time spent with their kids, families and neighbors.
“There was a moment where Trachte worked these guys for seven days a week for about nine weeks in a row very strategically, where they didn’t mandate the same person for the 15 days, but they would go back and forth from machines,” he said.
Following what Buell called a “strong” strike vote, Local 565 members have taken to the street – despite attempted union-busting from Trachte, including a letter encouraging workers to quit the union. According to Buell, the company’s hostile tactics have only strengthened the resolve of the workers.
“It’s actually motivated the members to stick together, and it’s really gained solidarity over there,” he said.
That solidarity has extended to the rest of the Wisconsin labor movement. On Monday, May 9, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO released a statement in support of striking SMART members.
“The Wisconsin labor movement proudly stands in solidarity with our sisters and brothers of SMART Local 565 on strike at Trachte Building Systems in Sun Prairie,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. “We send solidarity and strength to SMART members as they hold the line for a fair and just contract that allows workers to spend time with their family.”
SMART commends the bravery of our Local 565 brothers and sisters on strike in Wisconsin, and every member of our union stands with them in unwavering solidarity as they continue to fight for their rights.
Over the next two episodes of Talking SMART – the official podcast of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation workers – hosts Paul Pimentel and Ben Nagy talk with SMART members who have successfully run for local or state public office, discussing their sheet metal and transportation careers, what motivated them to run for elected office, specific steps they took to build and run successful campaigns and key issues they focused on once in office.
The featured guest for episode 20: Joe de la Cruz, a 25-year sheet metal worker with SMART Local 40 and vice president of Hillery Company, a signatory metal fabricator located in Groton, Conn. Episode 20 is out now; look for episode 21 in the near future.
Since 2016, Brother de la Cruz has served as a state representative, proudly serving the communities of Groton and New London in the Connecticut General Assembly. But his career as an elected official started at a much more local level, when he ran for and won a seat on Groton’s Town Council and Representative Town Meeting years earlier.
“What I think inspires people to get involved is when they start actually participating, and you don’t have to be elected to do that,” de la Cruz told Talking SMART. “All the meetings are open – just go to your council meeting. And when you hear how other people think and how vastly different it is sometimes from your opinion, that’s when the fire can get lit.”
“I know [running for office is] hard and I know it’s tough to do because we’re sheet metal workers, and when we go home we’re dirty and tired, but if you want to have things go your way – and it doesn’t really matter what the issue is – you have to be sitting at the table.”
– Joe de la Cruz, Local 40 member and Conn. state rep
Throughout the podcast discussion, Brother de la Cruz underscored the importance of being engaged and involved with your local community if you want to have a say in what happens, whether it’s with local sports leagues – which is what initially inspired de la Cruz to run for office – or on multi-million-dollar decisions about Project Labor Agreements or transportation funding. If members aren’t involved, he warned, there’s a strong possibility that the elected officials making decisions with enormous ramifications for SMART members will be people who have no idea what blue-collar life is like for working families.
“I know [running for office is] hard and I know it’s tough to do because we’re sheet metal workers, and when we go home we’re dirty and tired, but if you want to have things go your way – and it doesn’t really matter what the issue is – you have to be sitting at the table,” he explained.
In 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, de la Cruz also kickstarted a national campaign to bring metal nose strips to thousands of volunteer face mask makers across the United States and Canada, at a time when masks were in critically short supply. Starting at Local 40, the effort quickly spread to SMART locals across North America, eventually resulting in over 17 million nose strips being produced and shipped to more than 27,000 people who requested them. For his leadership on this effort, Joe was honored in 2022 with the Joseph J. Nigro SMART Army Service Award.
To help get through the cold winter, low-income homeowners in Chicago and Chicago Heights received free furnace and boiler tune-ups to keep them safe and warm. This initiative was the result of a partnership between Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago, SM Local 73 and SMACNA Greater Chicago.
When the risks associated with COVID-19 limited Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago’s ability to perform interior home repair, the organization met the challenge by broadening the services it provides to families and elderly homeowners. As part of this transition, Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago led an outreach effort with the intent of assessing its clients’ unique needs, while providing valuable referrals and connections to other resources in the community. From ensuring food security to providing PPE, Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago has responded to the crisis by providing a safer, more secure home environment for area residents.
In December 2020, a partnership with Local 73 and SMACNA Greater Chicago provided warmer, safer home environments for low-income families in preparation for winter. This initiative, called Warm the Metro, enlists union members and local HVAC contractors to visit more than 50 homes annually, offering free tune-up services on boilers and furnaces. This year, the Warm the Metro partnership provided tune-ups in 64 homes, plus full replacements in five.
“Furnace and boiler tune-ups are exactly the type of support our homeowners need to stay safe and warm through the winter. We are delighted to continue this partnership for a second year, and so grateful to our SMACNA and Local 73 friends,” said Wanda Ramirez, CEO of Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago.
In addition to providing improved heating efficiency, safety and indoor comfort, a regular furnace tune-up can spell the difference between a five- to 10-year and a 15- to 20-year life expectancy for a heating system. To complete the tune-ups, Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago partnered with South Suburban Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc., and RD’s HVAC, Inc. for the Warm the Metro initiative.
“The men and women of Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 73 have a long history of giving back to our community,” said Local 73 President and Business Manager Raymond Suggs. “We are proud to work with Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago to Warm the Metro in preparation for winter. The danger posed by COVID-19 makes it more important than ever to have a safe, warm, comfortable home to protect residents’ health and safety this winter. We look forward to future partnerships with Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago and continuing to provide and give back our services to those in need.”
On Saturday, May 14, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) will hold its traditional Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive – its 30th and the first in-person since 2019 (due to the pandemic, NALC conducted online donor drives the last two years). Participation is simple: On May 14, pitch in by leaving a bag of nonperishable food items near your mailbox before mail collection. Your NALC labor movement sibling will handle the rest, making sure your donation is delivered to local food banks in need.
As NALC President Fredric Rolando explains in the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive announcement video: “Much of life paused or changed during the pandemic, but one thing that remained was the growing need for food assistance across the nation. Today, over 45 million Americans, including 15 million children, experience food insecurity, and they rely on food donations.”
“Together,” he adds, “we can stamp out hunger in America.”
The Antelope Valley Transit Authority recently achieved North America’s first fully zero-emission fleet thanks to the work of SMART SM Local 105 members employed at BYD (Build Your Dreams) in Lancaster, CA.
57 of AVTA’s 87 battery electric coaches and buses were built by BYD at its Lancaster Coach & Bus Manufacturing facility. Many BYD employees and their families are served by the agency in the Antelope Valley.
Portions of the fleet were purchased with the help of state funding, including $28.5 million from the California Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) administered by Caltrans and the California State Transportation Agency.
Every American-built, zero-emission BYD bus eliminates approximately 1,690 tons of CO2 over its 12-year lifespan, according to the U.S. Transportation Department. This is equivalent to taking 27 cars off the road. Each bus also eliminates 10 tons of nitrogen oxides and 350 pounds of diesel particulate matter, improving air quality in the communities that they serve.
BYD is America’s first battery-electric bus manufacturer that has both a unionized workforce and a Community Benefits Agreement, which sets goals for hiring veterans, single parents, second chance citizens, and others facing hurdles in obtaining manufacturing employment. According to SMART’s 6th General Vice President and Local 105 Business Manager Luther Medina, “We are proud of our partnership with BYD and the work we have done to ensure the Antelope Valley sets the standard for clean transportation options not only here in California but cross North America.”
The challenge is a call to action and a set of best practices to assist building owners with reducing risks from airborne viruses and other contaminants indoors. The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge highlights a range of recommendations and resources, with significant input from SMART, for improving ventilation and indoor air quality, especially with the risk of spread of COVID-19.
In response, SMART issued the following statement.
“We appreciate the continued efforts of the Biden administration to address indoor air quality to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne viruses. Despite its importance, poor ventilation has been a widespread and persistent problem in buildings for decades. Proper ventilation is not only a key to our recovery, but it will also help cut building emissions, lower energy costs, ensure systems are meeting design intent and make buildings safe for occupants. HVAC systems are complicated, but SMART members and our training programs set the standard for the work that is required to ensure buildings are safe and healthy. Recent passage of the American Rescue Plan Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation will help buildings have the resources they need to improve indoor air quality. Employing a skilled, trained and certified workforce to complete this work, is the surest way to ensure federal dollars are used effectively and efficiently to protect public health.”
Your help is needed to get the word out to certain members of Congress who want to take pension money from our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters and other union workers covered by multi-employer pension plans.
A decade ago, in the midst of the Great Recession, SMART and other multi-employer pension plans had the foresight to take steps to make sure they could meet their necessary obligations even during a period of financial collapse. These steps involved sacrifice on the part of these plan participants and resulted in solvent and stable pension plans able to meet their obligations for years to come.
However, there is a minority of pension plans covering about 1 million participants that did not make these changes, and these pensions could run out of money in the future. In addition, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), which serves as a safety net for financially troubled pensions, is having money troubles of its own. It could be insolvent within a decade.
To address these shortfalls, Congress has convened a Joint Select Committee to consider ways to resolve the potential insolvencies. But the draft plan being considered by this Congressional committee could punish healthy and solvent pensions, like the one covering SMART members, for the sake of solving the financial shortfalls of the failing pensions and the PBGC.
Politicians need to know that this plan is not acceptable, and we ask that you make it clear that another solution, one that does not take money away from solvent plans, must be found.
Our SMART brothers and sisters need our help, please call. You also can text PENSION to 21233 and to be connected directly to your congressional office. Message and data rates apply for that service.
Congressman Richard E. Neal – Massachusetts 1st 202-225-5601
Congressman Donald Norcross – New Jersey 1st 202-225-6501
Congressman Bobby Scott – Virginia 3rd 202-225-8351
Senator Orrin Hatch – Utah (Co-Chair) 202-224-5251
Senator Lamar Alexander – Tennessee 202-224-4494
Senator Michael Crapo – Idaho 202-224-6142
Senator Rob Portman – Ohio 202-224-3353
Senator Sherrod Brown – Ohio (Co-Chair) 202-224-2315
Senator Heidi Heitkamp – North Dakota 202-224-2043
Senator Joe Manchin – West Virginia 202-224-3954
Senator Tina Smith – Minnesota 202-224-5641
A suggested script for your call to Congress:
My name is ___________ and I am a member of SMART Transportation Division Local ____. My union brothers and sisters in the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers participate in a multi-employer defined benefit pension fund.
I am calling today to voice my strong opposition to the current proposal of the Joint Select Committee. This proposal attempts to infuse money into the broken PBGC on the backs of healthy pension plans and forces the funding status of well-performing funds to go backward.
My union does not endorse this proposal, nor do I. We expect any friend of labor to stand with us on this position.
The AFL-CIO just released a poll that shows a significant drop in support for Trump from Ohio union members. From Trump’s support of “Right to Work” laws aimed at dismantling unions, to Pence’s 99% record of voting against labor, the downward shift in labor support comes as no surprise. Read more here.
An arbitrator has ruled that a merger between the UTU and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) be implemented and that the presidents of the two unions – or their designees — meet to decide how the implementation is to proceed.
Arbitrator Michael H. Gottesman said the merger agreement to create the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) Workers Union is an enforceable agreement. Gottesman was named by AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka to decide the question of enforceability after binding arbitration was ordered by Federal District Court Judge John Bates.
Gottesman acknowledged that there is pending before Judge Bates another merger related case – a complaint by several UTU members that Titles I and V of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) were violated. When Judge Bates ordered binding arbitration to determine if the UTU-SMWIA merger agreement is enforceable, he said the LMRDA claims were beyond the purview of the arbitrator, and that he would decide those claims following the outcome of the arbitration.
Although the SMWIA asked Gottesman to allow the SMWIA to, in Gottesman’s words, “effectively micromanage the implementation of the merger, complete with timelines and very detailed instructions for the behavior of UTU officials,” Gottesman denied the request.
Ruled Gottesman: “It is far better that the parties decide how to implement the merger than to have an arbitrator do so.” Accordingly, the award simply directs the presidents of UTU and SMWIA (or their designees) to meet “to discuss any and all issues pertinent to implementation of the merger … and to continue meeting on a regular basis until all such matters have been resolved.”