SMART General President Michael Coleman addressed attendees at the SMART Transportation Division National Training Seminar (NTS) in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 9th, reiterating the solidarity that powers our union and committing himself fully to winning the pay, dignity, safety and protections SMART-TD members deserve.

“We stand for our members, and we will fight to the bitter end for the membership,” he declared to a fired-up SMART-TD audience.

GP Coleman: “You have the ‘why’”

Coleman readily told NTS attendees that, after 40 years as a union sheet metal worker and union officer, he was less familiar with the transportation side of SMART when he first joined the International in 2019. But having worked alongside SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and his team since, including the SMART-TD legislative staff in Washington, DC, he told attendees: “I’m proud to stand up here with all of you under the banner of SMART, because that’s who we are. We are one union. And make no mistake about it … we are stronger for it.”

Coleman attended various breakout sessions during the NTS’s first day, hearing about the fights SMART-TD officers are embroiled in across the United States.

“There was an overarching message,” he said. “And that is: We are in a fight, and we are in a fight every single day. But I’ll tell you this. After witnessing what I’ve witnessed, there’s not another group that I would rather go into a fight with than this group right here and our brothers and sisters on the sheet metal side.”

The reason? Because SMART has our “why;” our reason for fighting. Coleman referred to the writing of author Simon Sinek, whose theory of a “golden circle” of leadership posits that organizations and leaders are constantly dealing with the “what” — the results they achieve — the “how” — how they achieve those results — and, most importantly, the “why” — the reason that “what” and “how” even exist.

Our “why” is the members, Coleman said. And that “why” is more powerful than any reason our enemies could have.

Representing SMART members through thick and thin

SMART-TD fights on behalf of its members day in and day out, Coleman told attendees. And the attacks are relentless.

It was only two years ago that the freight rail carriers said, on the record, that “labor does not contribute to profits.”

Management is slow to react to threats on operator safety and rarely takes the expertise of local unions into account when searching for solutions to violence on public transit.

Billionaire shareholders constantly seek to undermine working conditions and safe staffing in their pursuit of “efficiency” and profit in the transportation industry.

“I ask you – it’s a simple question – what is our crime?” Coleman posed to NTS attendees. “[Is it] that we fight for safety and dignity in the workplace? … Is it that we worry about our members and their families, and we make sure that they can provide a decent living, a home, and raise their family with dignity? Is that the crime? Or is it because when it comes time for us to retire, we want to be able to retire with some dignity as well?”

Recently, he added, SMART-TD hasn’t only battled entities like the Class I railroad carriers. Even other figures and organizations within rail labor have taken to disrupting the coordination and solidarity so desperately needed in national rail contract negotiations.

“President Ferguson and I are on the same page: We don’t want this fight. We do not want this fight. We want to join forces and fight those enemies I talked about before,” he said.

The challenges in our path make events like the NTS even more important. With trainings at the national and regional level, SMART-TD union officers can equip themselves with the tools and knowledge needed to represent members to the fullest, whether negotiating strong bus contracts, winning railroaders back pay or bargaining on attendance policies and paid sick leave.

“We will win,” Coleman concluded, “because of you. Because of us. We’re going to outthink them. We’re going to outwork them. And most importantly, we’re going to out-why them, because that’s what we stand for. We stand for our members. … I appreciate every single one of you for doing that every single day.”

CLEVELAND — The SMART Transportation Division’s National Training Seminar (NTS) began Tuesday, with TD President Jeremy Ferguson emphasizing that the organization is working hard to fill the needs of its membership.

“Whether it be through educational offerings, such as the week-long NTS running through July 11, or superior representation for the people the union serves and contracts, SMART-TD will stay ahead of the game,” he said.

Intensive officer training prepares the union for the road ahead

Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson addresses the audience at the National Training Seminar on Tuesday.

More than 700 bus and rail officers are attending the first national training seminar since the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2024 NTS follows a series of intensive regional events, each designed to provide key training for union officers from the legislative, chairperson and local levels.  Attendees took part in officer-specific training flights, many for the first time.

“The training is going to be intense,” President Ferguson said of the national training program. “No matter what training you are going through, no matter what craft you are representing, you are going to leave here confident in what you are tasked to do in your position, and you are going to be able to go back and represent your members at the highest quality level.

“Don’t be overwhelmed if you think it’s too much,” he assured newer attendees, reminding them that SMART University, officers at all levels and staff at the Transportation Division office will all be available for assistance when needed. “Everybody is going to be here to support you in the learning process.”

Remembering two fallen members

The attendees also at the request of President Ferguson observed a moment of silence for the recent loss of two active members.

Local Vice President Colin Nichols of Local 486 (Glendive, Mont.) died July 1 as the result of an accident at his home at age 44.

Member Justin Pender of Local 577 (Northlake, Ill.), died July 6 at the Proviso Yard near Chicago in an on-the-job accident. Member Pender, 27, a Union Pacific conductor, is the first on-duty loss for our organization in 2024. The accident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.

A drive to provide the best possible representation

The past five years have been one of substantial transformation for SMART-TD and for rail labor, Ferguson noted.

“Over the past five years, it’s not what I did as president. It’s not what we did as an administration. It’s what we all did as a union,” he said. “Whatever the case may be, we did it better than everybody else, and we did it to win.”

SMART-TD’s ability to get results for their members has not gone unnoticed. Recent friction with the new leadership of another labor organization has emerged, as properties ready for strong representation switch to SMART-TD.

Officers from a pair of the new properties that are new to the SMART-TD — the Louisville & Indiana and Montana Rail Link were also recognized. Local Chairperson Zach Cochran and Local 426 members Ryan Burns, Joshua Olson and Bryan Trimbo were all attending their first SMART-TD training session.

 “We have a duty and an obligation to do what’s right for you all, for our members and for this union,” Ferguson said. “We are not desperate for members. We are rebounding. Who’s desperate are the members who are looking for good representation. That’s what the national officers, the general committees, the state boards and you as local officers have been putting out. That’s why members are coming over in droves.”

The effort has led to the creation of engineer-focused “E-committees” in many locals, which provide focus and attention for the rail engineers who prefer to stay with SMART-TD.

Legislation to protect two-person crews develops

National Legislative Director Greg Hynes then updated those in attendance of the Railway Safety Act’s progress in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls, the chair of the House Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, introduced a bill that maintains the two-person crew provision set forth by a version that has already passed through committee in the U.S. Senate. SMART-TD’s legislative department will continue to monitor and support this crucial legislation.

Additional speakers included Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Greg Regan, Railroad Retirement Board Labor Member John Bragg and Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose.

Ohio State Legislative Director Clyde Whitaker began the proceedings by taking special note of the long history that both the union and railroad industry have in the city, noting that many of SMART-TD’s predecessor unions had their headquarters in Cleveland and the surrounding area, a tradition that continues today.

Registration is now open for the Transportation Division’s (TD) 2024 National Training Seminar at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown in Cleveland, Ohio, from July 9, 2024, to July 11, 2024.

This unique and exciting event is open to all TD Local, State Legislative Board, and General Committee officers. Attendees can expect a full slate of informative workshops, educational opportunities, and many chances to reenergize the spirit of solidarity with fellow union brothers and sisters over the three-day event.

A welcome reception is planned for the evening of Monday, July 8, with full-day training beginning on Tuesday, July 9, through Wednesday, July 10, and concluding with a half-day of training on Thursday, July 11. A group event is scheduled at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for all registered attendees on the evening of Wednesday, July 10th. Special Note: The Local Secretary & Treasurer training will conclude on the afternoon of Friday, July 12. 

An “early bird” registration fee for attendance is $200 per person, covering the welcome reception, three (3) lunches, and the Rock Hall event. On May 1st, the registration fee will increase to $250, and onsite registration will be $290 to cover last-minute additional costs associated with our meeting planning. Children 11 and under are complimentary.

Visit this link to register online.

You may cancel your meeting registration ten days before the first day of the meetings without penalty. Call the Transportation Division at 216-228-9400 or email Nick Torres at

April 30 update: Lodging capacity at the host hotel has been filled. The SMART-TD is arranging lodging at additional sites.

Additional details on the meeting schedule will be updated on the SMART website and in the Member Portal as they become available.