The explosion of megaprojects in North America, combined with ongoing core work in the sheet metal industry, is creating previously-unheard- of workforce demands for local SMART unions across the continent — not just in the next few years, but the next several decades. In response, SMART, SMACNA, the International Training Institute and other industry stakeholders have launched a variety of initiatives to bring young people into the trade and expand beyond recruiting through word of mouth.

“The industry is going to change moving forward, and it’s vital that we evolve with it,” remarked SMART General President Mike Coleman. “If we are going to achieve the growth required in upcoming years, we need to make sure we’re recruiting in all the communities in which we live and work, bringing in apprentices from all backgrounds.”

One program has already proven successful in that regard.

Heavy Metal Summer Experience (HMSE) is a six-week-long summer career exploration camp that introduces high school students and recent graduates to careers in the building trades through hands-on projects, working alongside skilled tradespeople and discovering local apprenticeship training opportunities. Founded by Angie Simon, past president of SMACNA and retired CEO of Western Allied Mechanical, the program seeks to engage young people who may not otherwise know about our trade and give them the opportunity to learn directly from SMART sheet metal workers, among others. This can be particularly beneficial for young people in underserved areas — giving our union the chance to establish a foothold in communities where we may previously have been absent.

The camp began as a trial program at Western Allied Mechanical in Union City, California and Hermanson Company in Seattle, Washington in 2021. Since then, it has expanded across the country, producing success stories along the way. SNIPS NEWS recently profiled Alejandra, a Local 66 (Seattle) apprentice who found her way to the trade via HMSE.

“I didn’t know exactly where I was going. I didn’t have the funds to go to college or university, and I heard about this program, the Heavy Metal Summer Experience,” she told SNIPS. “I attended and they introduced me to the trades — more sheet metal focused — but they did touch on most trades. They told me that they would pay me to learn, and I was sold.”

Alejandra’s experience demonstrates the importance of programs like Heavy Metal Summer Experience in raising public awareness and providing pathways into the trade for women, people of color and others from historically underrepresented communities. By bringing in those members, local unions can expand their reach and grow their strength well into the future.

“These megaprojects and the organizing and recruiting we do now won’t just impact the next few years — these are chances to provide good, family-sustaining careers for generations to come,” Coleman concluded. “By engaging with programs such as Heavy Metal Summer Experience, local unions can help secure a legacy in their communities for the long term.”

Local unions and interested members can find more information at

Local 36 (St. Louis, Missouri) hosted its annual Bass Classic in April — and thanks to extenuating weather, the fishing was even more eventful than usual.

“We had a HAIL of a time this year,” the local wrote on Facebook, “braving not one, but two hail storms over the course of the tournament. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event happen, and congrats to everyone who weighed fish.”


Sam Partain — Wyatt Knuckles


John Dubrouillet — Glen Livaudkis


Brian Granger — Greg Bunton


Fred Hubler — Brian Hubler

BIG BASS 1: 4.58 LBS

Steve Zambruski — Ryan Zambruski

BIG BASS 2: 4.29 LBS

Sam Partain — Wyatt Knuckles


Andy Smith — Jake West

SM Local 25 (northern New Jersey) President/ Business Manager Joe Demark presented Frank Creegan with a plaque in honor of his 59 years of service, including as a trustee for the local’s Welfare, Annuity & Vacation Funds. Congratulations, brother!

Frank Creegan

On April 18, 2023, Local 104 (northern California) members joined a coalition of local tradespeople to secure 360,000 union construction hours in the city of Pittsburg, California. Local 104 member Mousaab Atassi spoke to city officials, providing the voice and perspective of working families. Great work, Local 104!

The Local 105 (Los Angeles) SMART Army turned out to help Autism Spectrum Athletics (ASA) with its baseball tryouts in April. ASA, which was established in 2012, offers community- based socialization sports programs that are designed to be stress free and non-competitive, with positive peer support. ASA Chief Executive Officer Manny Zapata is a Local 105 member.

Business Manager Steve Hinson and Business Representatives Donny Sappington, Tim Hinson and Erik Villegas helped facilitate ASA’s baseball activities, demonstrating the power of union solidarity to bring fun and happiness to all.

Local 464 (Ponca City, Okla.) member RJ Warren retired on April 28, 2023, bringing an end to 46 years of service as a tool and die maker at Air System Components/JCI.

“He has been with this production plant through many owners and a loyal union member since February, 1977,” explained Local 464 Business Manager/Financial Secretary-Treasurer Mechelle McNew.

McNew presented Warren with a retirement watch on his last day of work. Congratulations, brother!

SMART-TD members in Maryland mobilized on short notice to serve their community in April, joining a CSX and City Year Service Day spent rehabilitating and sprucing up Curtis Bay Elementary School near Baltimore.

“CSX asked all their employees to be there, and this was really kind of last minute — they hadn’t done these in about two years because of COVID,” said Johnny Walker, SMART-TD Maryland State Legislative Board secretary. “This was an opportunity for us to go ahead and do something in the community.”

Despite the lack of long-term planning, SMART-TD Local 610 discussed the service opportunity at its local union meeting, and six members and their families turned out at Curtis Bay Elementary. Members painted the inside of the school, spread mulch in the outdoor area, cleared brush from the school’s garden area and even helped fix the school parking lot. They also had the chance to meet management on neutral ground, including new CSX CEO Joe Hinrichs.

“Overall it was a great opportunity for all of us to get together, take a break from what we do in transportation and really give back to the community,” Walker added.

To Walker, SMART Army events and other service opportunities are most important because of the role they play in local communities. But they also demonstrate how vital union workers are in cities, towns and neighborhoods across the country — both on and off the job.

“Unions are still here, and we do things more than just get good contracts and good benefits for our workforce,” he explained.

“It’s really important for us to show everybody that we’re more than a sheet metal worker, a train conductor, a bus driver. We really care about the communities that we live and work in.”

That union solidarity will benefit the students and teachers at Curtis Bay Elementary for years to come.

SMART Local 3 (Omaha, Nebraska) won a huge victory for area workers in May 2023, partnering with newly formed contractor Christopherson Plumbing, Heating & Air to bring the business into union signatory status. And unlike many organizing campaigns, this one was initiated by management.

“Approximately two and a half months ago, I was approached by Matt Christopherson, owner of Christopherson Plumbing, and Brian Wilhite, owner of Wilhite Services,” explained Local 3 Business Manager Jason Kirchhevel. “They came to me and explained how they were going to merge their respective companies.”

Christopherson had worked as a nonunion plumber for 15 years before starting his own business; when he became a contractor, he signed with Plumbers Local 16 in Omaha, where he experienced firsthand the value of organized labor and the union training model. When Christopherson and Wilhite decided to merge, Christopherson immediately began explaining the benefits of being a union contractor — the meeting with Local 3 soon followed.

“We set up a meeting and tour of our training center,” Kirchhevel added. “After several other meetings, giving tours, explanations of wages, benefits and training to the employees, everything fell in place. As of May 1, 2023, we signed the contract and created the partnership.”

Such signatory campaigns demonstrate the fact that union labor helps all parties — both employees and employer. Great work, Local 3!

Pictured above: Back row, left to right: Brian T. Wilhite (fifth-year apprentice), Steve Terwilleger (Local 3 business rep.), Jason Kirchhevel (Local 3 business manager/financial secretary-treasurer), Brian D. Wilhite (owner/member), Matt Christopherson (owner), Dustin Blessing (Local 3 journeyperson), Mitchel Anderson (first-year apprentice), Tyler Fox (journeyperson), Joshua Ross (Local 3 organizer). Front row, left to right: Treyton Foutch (pre-apprentice), Noah Nienaber (pre-apprentice), Michael Labenz (first-year apprentice), Anthony Davis (journeyperson).

Skilled, union labor plays a vital role in communities across North America, from ensuring indoor air quality to fabricating complex HVAC systems. In the spring of 2023, Local 218 (Springfield, Ill.) journeyperson Meghan Reynolds showed that union craftsmanship isn’t only for function, but for beauty as well — creating a durable, ornate metal tree sculpture for her uncle.

“He wanted a piece of art for his yard,” she explained, “something that would withstand weather and change.”

In some ways, the sculpture was years in the making. Reynolds originally got into the union — and the sheet metal trade — in the early 2000s. After moving from Illinois, to Indiana, then back to Illinois, her friendship with a Local 218 business agent led her to begin working in residential HVAC service; when the company she was working for went under, she started at King-Lar Company in Decatur, Ill., switching her specialty as well. That was in 2004 — she’s been a proud union sheet metal worker ever since.

“I love being a sheet metal worker because it’s something different all the time,” she said. “It’s not the same humdrum thing every day, and I love building things. And I think the union is really great — it’s really cool that King-Lar gave me a chance, and I’ve grown into a very skilled worker. So I like to pass that on to young people: Anybody who’s new, who’s willing to listen and learn, I’m willing to share with them and pass that knowledge on.”

Reynolds’ skill is on full display with her uncle’s tree sculpture. She started the project with a carbon slug she found in the burn table, then gathered stainless steel strips, some scrap stainless mesh, embossed copper “and a whole lot of welding wire.” She started tacking the steel strips to the slug, forming what would become the tree’s limbs and branches. Then she got to welding.

“Each strip has three to four passes,” she said. “The wire mesh makes up the smaller branches. The leaves are soldered to 14-guage stainless steel wire and tacked to the branches.”

All told, the project took two months’ worth of breaks, lunches and a few Saturdays. But the end result was well worth the time. It’s a shining testament to the skill and expertise that defines union labor: a sturdy, winding metal tree with glistening leaves that will last for years to come.

And, Reynolds said, this tree won’t be the last.

“I’m going to do another one,” she declared.