From local union visits to new member organizing, the SMART RME Department is actively working to strengthen and grow our union. Read updates on the department’s recent activities:

SMART RME International representatives visit local unions

SMART RME International Representative Joe Fraley and RME Department Director Peter Kennedy have been engaging with RME members at union meetings, visiting Locals 78 (Little Rock, Ark.), 165 (Argentine, Kan.), 256 (Chicago, Ill.), 462 (Huntington, W.Va.) and 472 (Topeka, Kan.) To provide information about local representative training, member engagement and other resources that are available for officers and members.

“Keep an eye out for meeting notifications in the future — we will be visiting remaining locals in 2024,” said Kennedy.

RME Department conducts trainings for local union officers

In November 2023, General Committee 2 officers, with assistance from International representatives, provided training to local union chairpersons for claim and grievance handling, as well as the representation of members at disciplinary hearings. The training, held in Chicago, marked the second of its kind for local chairpersons. The department also held its first training for newly elected recording secretaries and financial secretary-treasurers in Washington, DC.

“These training courses are offered at no cost to the local unions, as costs associated with the training are covered by General Committee 2 and the International,” explained Fraley. “These sessions will continue In 2024, again at no cost to local unions. Each local is encouraged to send their elected officers to these courses.”

SMART RME wins National Mediation Board election for RailTerm employees

On November 16, 2023, the RME Department won a representation election for employees working at RailTerm. This marks another organizing victory for SMART as we work to bring new members into our union.

“Negotiations will begin in the near future,” said Fraley. “We are proud to represent the RailTerm employees and are ready to negotiate an agreement with the company.”

In Georgia, so-called “right-to-work” laws make it hard for unions to organize and retain members, particularly when language barriers in the workplace already present challenges. Despite such obstacles, though, SMART Local 85 (Atlanta, Ga.) has made big inroads at Price Industries, where approximately 70% of the workforce speaks Vietnamese as a first language.

“A new approach to internal organizing has been key to this success,” said SMART Director of Production Workers Dave Goodspeed.

“We were able to hire — from our own ranks — a Vietnamese speaker, Donson Ha,” Goodspeed explained, “and he’s a firecracker.”

Anti-union right-to-work laws allow members to opt out of paying union dues, making the inability to communicate effectively to an entire workforce potentially devastating to both workers and local unions. That was especially true at Price in Georgia: Local 85 was unable to convey the union difference and best represent its members, and workers were cautious about seeking representation from those they literally couldn’t understand.

“For a long time, Price Industries has been a hard nut to crack in terms of signing new members, primarily because Price has made a practice of hiring so many different nationalities,” Goodspeed said.

“They have people who speak English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Burmese, Cambodian, and the largest population of workers down there — probably 50% — are Vietnamese,” added SMART International Production Organizer Sharon Walker.

Until recently, only around 20–25% of Price workers had signed up with the union, Walker said, and the lack of representation had material consequences. One example: The company would post mandatory overtime notices to its bulletin boards in English exclusively, making it difficult for non-English-speaking workers who may have missed the announcement from their shop lead to know what was required of them. And in the event that a worker who didn’t speak English faced discipline, they often didn’t know how to go to their union for help.

“I didn’t know about unions until I met Sharon, and she explained to me … what a union is,” said Vietnamese-speaking Shop Steward Rich Manh Bui.

“Before, nobody represented them, and that’s why Vietnamese [workers] didn’t know anything about a union,” added fellow Shop Steward Hai Ngo. “Even when they joined a union, and they had a problem, they don’t know where they’re going — they don’t know who they’ve got to ask.”

Donson Ha

That’s where Ha and shop stewards like Bui and Ngo entered the equation. Local 85 and SMART International representatives realized they had to do more to gain the trust of the Price workforce, and in the spirit of true trade unionism, they looked to the rank-and-file for leadership. Ha, a 10-year Local 85 member, came from the building trades side of the industry — but after seeing the number of Vietnamese workers in production, especially older workers, he was motivated to change job titles.

Since Local 85 hired Ha as a subsidized production organizer, the percentage of organized workers has approximately doubled.

“I’m very happy to organize, to stand up for Vietnamese people, because they didn’t understand the union; they don’t speak English, and they didn’t know how strong it is to be a union member,” said Ha. “My job is to help them understand how it works, how the union helps people.”

By Local 20 Organizer Bradly Hayes

With organizing efforts in Indiana still at an all-time high, Local 20 recently participated in our first-ever organizing blitz to staff the Stellantis battery plant megaproject in Kokomo, Indiana. Thanks to the participation of Local 20 staff and the help of our Youth-to-Youth program, we were able to reach more than 500 jobsites, vocational schools, non-signatory shops and recruitment centers, ranging from Greenwood all the way to South Bend. We also handed out thousands of QR-code cards that linked to wage and benefit information for both non-signatory workers and the general public.

The blitz enabled us to boost membership as well as build our person-of-interest list in anticipation of other megaprojects coming to the state. Not only does this organizing benefit us as a whole; it also offers a life-changing opportunity for many people who are working nonunion.

I reached out to a few members who were organized this year to see what difference they experienced and their overall thoughts on joining the trade. Here is testimony from Xia Walker, who we organized into the apprenticeship program from Peterman Brothers:

Xia Walker
Xia Walker

“When it comes to my home life and work schedule compared to the big, nonunion HVAC company I was working for, I would have to say it is a night and day difference. The company I worked for did offer competitive pay, but that did not make up for the fact that I was paying almost $900 a month out of my wages just so my family could have insurance. I was also expected to work every day until the job was completed, which could range anywhere from six to 16 hours with no real time to rest in between or daily overtime to make it worth the headache.

“I hated it. I had no free time to spend with family and friends. I have five uncles in the trade who were consistently trying to recruit me so I could spend more time with family and friends and have better pay and benefits. I did enjoy some aspects of residential work, but commercial work is where it’s at. No more disgusting crawl spaces or small attics.

“Overall, I love my consistent work schedule. I can actually be home to spend time with my wife and kids throughout the work week. When I look back at it, I wish I would have stuck with the union back when I was 20; I would definitely be much further in my career than I am today.”

Next up: testimony from Clifton Beezley, who was recently organized from a nonunion fabrication shop and placed with one of Local 20’s contractors:

“The old job I came from did not have any professional mindset or desire to help me grow as an employee; they refused to share their knowledge with me so I could improve myself and expand my abilities in the trade. Since starting with Local 20, I have worked with a great group of knowledgeable workers who are more than willing to share their years of trade knowledge with me and want me to learn the trade and carry that same knowledge. The more I work with them, I see myself growing and gaining professional knowledge that I will eventually pass down to new members one day.

Clifton Beezley
Clifton Beezley

“The shop I was previously working for made me feel very underappreciated and unimportant, and it feels good to work somewhere that makes me feel appreciated and important again. As far as the benefits go, between my old job and now, it doesn’t compare. My entire family has healthcare coverage as an employee paid benefit, and I love it! The last job offered benefits, but the price made them basically unattainable. This has been a huge stress reliever for me and my family, and we couldn’t be happier. This new job has truly offered me life-changing opportunities.”

It is always nice to see how much our organizing can affect someone’s life for the better. Hopefully, reading these testimonies will help us all remember how important it is for us to continue to bring new and experienced members into the trade and make sure they are treated with respect. Clifton shared his experience with Local 20 with others in the shop he came from, as well as family and friends, which has resulted in more than 10 people joining the trade.

This is a prime example of why we always treat every member with solidarity and respect: We are going to need every bit of help we can get in the future, and the need for people is increasing every day.

Organize, organize, organize!

The SMART Education Department held its Organizing I class in Dallas, Texas, during the week of February 12th. The three-day class covered topics including the history of organizing, basic labor and labour law, top-down and bottom-up organizing, pressure tactics, digital organizing, implicit bias and SWOT and GAP analysis. Each of the 40 organizers and business representatives who attended the class developed organizing pitches, identified unfair labor practices, role played contractor interactions and prepared SWOT and GAP analysis for their goals as an organizer.

Across North America, various sheet metal funds including the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI), the International Training Institute (ITI) and the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) work to expand opportunity and wellbeing in the unionized sheet metal trade. Read about recent appointees below:

New NEMI field representative tapped for Good Jobs, Great Cities Academy

Josh Hunter, former SMART Local 48 (Birmingham, Ala.) Business manager and new NEMI Southeast field representative, was selected earlier this year by the city of Birmingham Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity to serve as a member of the Good Jobs, Great Cities Academy: a partnership between the National League of Cities (NLC) and the United States Department of Labor (DOL). The academy was established to develop innovative and scalable solutions to address pressing workforce challenges and is funded by investments from recently passed federal laws: the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Birmingham was one of 16 cities chosen to participate in the academy. The group began meeting in May and will continue through July 2024 to develop solutions that focus on upskilling and reskilling workers and preparing underrepresented workers for quality, high-growth, in-demand occupations.

Working with labor leaders, industry partners and government representatives, the members of the Birmingham Good Jobs, Great Cities Academy specifically focus on infrastructure, clean energy and advanced manufacturing jobs, with an emphasis on barrier elimination, particularly as it relates to childcare and the care economy, Hunter said.

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” he added. “The work that we will be doing over the next year falls in line with the mission and goals our union has prioritized. We will look to create real solutions that will help our local recruit and retain members of the community, including those who are often underrepresented.”

Hunter hopes to create new marketing strategies and solutions, and he expects to work closely with the NEMI team to craft ideas that will assist his work group in completing its mission.

“NEMI has always been a resource we have relied on to help us move our local forward,” Hunter said. “I will absolutely rely on their expertise as a sounding board as we brainstorm solutions.”

Partnerships such as the academy are opportunities to get involved in the community, establish tangible relationships and build pipelines to recruit new members and promote the trade. Anything Hunter and Local 48 accomplish in Birmingham can be shared with other locals, too, added Lisa Davis, NEMI administrator.

“Local 48 has an incredible opportunity here, with Josh serving on the academy, to create real solutions that will benefit the entire community of Birmingham,” Davis said. “NEMI is proud to support his efforts in any way we can.”

Pittsburgh native lands leadership role at ITI

The ITI has named Len Liebert as program administrator, a position he accepted in September 2023. In his new role, Liebert oversees ITI classes and programs, working with teams on scheduling, planning and communication, as well as managing administrative staff and budget.

Len Liebert

Liebert has a history of mentoring apprentices and journeypersons. A longtime member of SMART Local 12 in Western Pennsylvania, Liebert joined the apprenticeship to become a second-generation sheet metal worker in 1989, shortly after graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He then served as field foreman and in-house testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) technician for Ruthrauff Service in Pittsburgh while working as a part-time instructor at his home local.

In 2001, Liebert took on teaching full time, and in 2014 he became the assistant training coordinator at Local 12. After around 20 years in service as a consultant for the ITI on instructor development, lesson packages, classroom management and educational psychology, Liebert was officially hired by the ITI as a field staff representative in 2017. He went on to become a certified Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) master trainer and a subject matter expert in infection control.

“Thirty-three years in this business has taught me to trust the people I have worked closely with,” Liebert said. “We have a great team here at the ITI, and I look forward to continued success with all our coordinators, instructors and members.”

Ed Robison aims to support members nationwide at SMOHIT

Ed Robison began his new job as field representative with SMOHIT — the health and safety arm of the unionized sheet metal industry — last summer, where his top priority is to educate members in their local unions about the resources SMOHIT offers.

Ed Robison

After entering the Local 218 (Springfield, Ill.) Apprenticeship in 1991, Robison completed the five-year program and steadily rose through the ranks to become an organizer and then, in 2014, the business manager. He lives in Springfield and continues to be a member of Local 218, where Carter Robison, the youngest of his three sons, is currently a second-year apprentice.

In his new position, Robison helps union members across the country by connecting them with local resources and familiarizing them with the SMART MAP (Member Assistance Program). Robison noted that it’s especially important to reach out to sheet metal workers who have traveled to work at large projects. These men and women are putting in long hours while living far from home, and those needing mental health support may not know where to turn.

“SMOHIT has increased staff size and vision, and it’s changing a lot,” he said. “I’m really excited for what lies ahead. This is going to be a whole new fund.”

John Wilson takes national role in sheet metal education

Longtime sheet metal worker John Wilson has been chosen as a field representative by the ITI. In this role, he will provide support for training programs and their directors, create and assist in the implementation of curriculum and training, and serve as a resource/liaison between the ITI and training facilities across the country.

John Wilson

Wilson began his career in the sheet metal industry shortly after he graduated high school in 2005. He completed the apprenticeship program with SMART Local 100, working mainly in the Washington, DC, area. From the moment he graduated from the apprenticeship, Wilson set his sights higher — first as a foreperson; then as general funds trustee, executive board member and part-time instructor; and finally, as an assistant training coordinator and recording secretary for Local 100. During his career, he worked for W.E. Bowers and Southland Industries.

Wilson is continuing his education at the Community College of Baltimore County, pursuing a degree in construction craft professionalism, in addition to industry training and certifications. Currently, he maintains multiple certifications in Occupational Safety and Health for the Construction Industry, fire life safety, duct air leakage, building envelope installer, ventilation verification and testing, adjusting and balancing, to name a few. He currently lives in Delta, Pennsylvania, just over the Maryland/Pennsylvania border.

Jeff Bradley named SMOHIT program director

Jeff Bradley, who joined SMOHIT in spring 2023 as a field representative, was promoted to program director in the fall, as his position underwent a “natural evolution:” moving into tasks such as scheduling and planning conferences and programs, reviewing contracts and overseeing the new version of health screenings, among others.

“The shift in responsibilities came organically as I stepped in to help with SMOHIT operations,” Bradley said. “Between revitalizing the health screenings in a different way that will reach even more members to scheduling SMART MAP sessions in Canada, it’s been busy, but I feel like I’m truly bringing benefits to members that could change their lives.”

Bradley entered his sheet metal apprenticeship in 2004 at Local 36 in St. Louis, where he currently resides with his wife and the youngest of his three children. Throughout his career, he has worked as a part- and full-time instructor and welding facility representative, as well as serving Local 36 as an organizer, vice president and director of marketing. He earned his associate degree in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC-R) from Vatterott College, and he holds multiple certifications and training completion certificates.

In 2023, Local 19 worked with the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) and pro-union politicians in New Jersey to help pass fire life safety legislation — helping keep citizens safe and creating more work for SMART members in the Garden State.

The process began in January, when then Assistant Business Manager Bryan Bush, Assistant Business Manager Luke Gordon and Political Director Todd Farally approached Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli and Senator Nilsa Cruz- Perez about running a bill that would ensure the state of New Jersey would follow the National Fire Protection Association Code (NFPA), along with the International Fire Code (IFC). Both mandate inspections of fire, smoke, combination fire/smoke dampers and smoke control systems, which include but are not limited to smoke evacuation systems and stairwell pressurization. In addition, any deficient dampers or smoke control systems would need to be repaired in a timely manner after inspection.

Early on, Local 19’s team consulted with Jeremy Zeedyk, the Northeast representative for NEMI. Zeedyk helped to get the ball rolling on crafting the legislation and ensuring that all the technical information, including the necessary certifications, were specified within the language of the bill. After several rough drafts, Local 19 had solid language and talking points to bring to Trenton.

Fire life safety is just one example of the job-creating lawmaking opportunities available to local unions. NEMI encourages all locals to reach out for assistance identifying and drafting legislation.

“By early March, companion bills were introduced in the Assembly and the state Senate, and both bills passed unanimously out of two committees in each chamber over the next couple months,” said Farally. “The Assembly fully passed their version in May, and the Senate moved to pass the legislation in mid- June. Oftentimes we see votes in government fall along stark political lines, but these bills left both the Assembly and Senate unanimously and were headed to Governor Murphy’s desk.”

That’s when the process hit a momentary hitch. After the bills had passed both chambers in Trenton, sponsors of the legislation began to receive questions and calls for concern from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the Fire Service, which falls within the DCA. Assemblyman Verrelli’s office reached out to Local 19, laying out the concerns and where they were coming from.

“At this point, we reengaged Jeremy Zeedyk to look over the concerns the Fire Service had and then proceeded to set up a meeting between Local 19, the DCA, the Fire Service, NEMI and Assemblyman Verrelli,” explained Farally. “We were able to hear and address many of their concerns, and Local 19 shared our concerns with some of the proposed changes from the DCA.”

After a few months of drafting and redrafting language, in mid- November all parties agreed to some changes within the bill that give the state some flexibility while still upholding important standards which must be enforced. At this point, the bill was labeled as conditionally vetoed, which meant the governor’s office had changed some elements of the bill and it would be sent back to both legislative chambers for a vote to concur with those amendments.

In early December of 2023, the New Jersey Senate and Assembly both unanimously concurred with the changes, and fire life safety is now the law statewide — showing how important it is for SMART to be involved in the political process, and the vital role pro-union legislators play.

“There are still some steps to go through at this point under the regulatory process before everything is implemented, but rest assured — Local 19 will be there every step of the way to ensure the regulations are applied correctly and fairly to all,” Farally concluded.

Fire life safety is just one example of the job-creating lawmaking opportunities available to local unions. NEMI encourages all locals to reach out for assistance identifying and drafting legislation.

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.

During the 2023 holiday season, SM Local 49 (Albuquerque, New Mexico) members gave their time, funds and food donations in a demonstration of union solidarity, helping the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy (ASLA) gather and distribute food to kids who rely on school meals — but can’t access that crucial nutrition source during breaks.

Local 49 officers and members joined ASLA staff and students to both donate food and load up trucks for delivery.

“Building better communities — that’s our mission with the SMART Army, and it is vital as a local that if we can, we should assist the community we live in,” explained Local 49 Business Manager Isaiah Zemke. “Thank you to our membership for assisting the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy with food donations. The academy’s staff is amazing and hustles to make efforts to help those kids eat.”

“Our families are truly very lucky to have the support of the union and the whole community, and the [ASLA] Honey Badgers appreciate your support,” an academy staff member told Zemke in a video shared to the local’s Facebook page.

The academy is nationally unique in that it serves students who are deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing within the same environment, said ASLA Executive Director Raphael Martinez. In its 15 years of existence, the academy has quickly become a local staple, Martinez added — making it a natural partner for Local 49, another organization rooted in the community.

While the connection between ASLA and the local happened on short notice — funds to provide food for ASLA were approved by Local 49 only one week before the donation event — the effort was a success.

“We look forward to doing this again next year,” concluded Zemke.

Pictured with Governor Evers (front row, second from right), left to right: Adam Norton, Organizer Jeff Lensink, Dale Wuestenhagen, Business Representative Matthew Van Der Puy, Trustee Jesse Rump, Aaron Bergman and Local 18 President/Business Manager Scott Knocke.

SMART Local 18 (Wisconsin) was recently honored by the Sheboygan County Labor Council as the 2023 Labor Organization of the Year, a recognition of the Local 18 SMART Army’s dedication to community service and solidarity – including participation in Habitat for Humanity projects and the donation of an HVAC system for the American Legion Post 149 in Sheboygan Falls.

“I had the privilege of accepting this award on behalf of all our members and their generous contributions to the Sheboygan County area,” said Local 18 President and Business Manager Scott Knocke. “The award was presented at the 65th annual kickoff banquet between the UAW CAP Council and the Sheboygan County Labor Council, and Governor Tony Evers was in attendance.”