SMART’s Education Department has long offered training for newly elected local union business representatives and agents. But during unrelated efforts to better train union leadership, retired SMART General Vice President Tim Carter recently explained, “It occurred to us: The most critical position, the business manager, doesn’t have any formal training. All the training is learned by the seat of their pants.”

That changed last summer, when SMART hosted its first-ever business manager training in Nashville, Tennessee. The class, attended by local union business managers from across North America, is intended to ensure local leaders are as prepared as possible to represent SMART members to the best of their abilities.

“We essentially created a new program,” said SMART Director of Education Sam White. “It’s a little different than the new business agents class that they also have to take; it’s more about how to manage a local. And I think for our organization, you’re talking about a very important, strategic position that [had] no dedicated training.”

Experienced business managers and International staff came together to create a curriculum that will serve business managers for years to come. The training, which ran from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for three days, included guidance on advocating for members from SMART House Counsel Luke Rebecchi, an overview of the business managers’ SMART Constitutional responsibilities, interactive sessions on how to run meetings and how to work with SMART International staff, trainings on organizing and collective bargaining, and much more.

Attendees left not only equipped with new knowledge and skills, but with a sense of camaraderie with fellow leaders from across North America, Carter noted. That can only bolster their ability to advocate for members in every corner of the United States and Canada — now, they have peers to turn to for advice and cooperation, whether organizing for a new megaproject or entering contract negotiations.

“This class is a part of investing in ourselves,” SMART General President Michael Coleman told business managers at the training. “That’s our responsibility to our locals, to our members and to this organization. That’s our obligation: that we are at the top of our game, that we are moving faster than others, and that comes with the education.”

SMART-TD’s shift to Regional Training Seminars (RTS) has been gaining momentum throughout 2022 and 2023. In early October, roughly 200 SMART-TD members gathered in Toledo, Ohio, and received intense, hands-on training on current trends and changes we are seeing from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor — and much more.

Participants were able to choose from a variety of training itineraries specific to their positions and needs. Classes for local chairpersons and vice local chairpersons were taught by SMART-TD Vice President Jamie Modesitt. The course aimed at legislative representatives was taught by SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department team of National Legislative Director Greg Hynes and Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity. Those who chose the curriculum for local presidents were led for the week by Ralph Leichliter, senior assistant to SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson. The class aimed at secretaries and treasurers was taught by Brother John Purcell, a SMART-TD field support representative.

In addition to these primary instructors, the courses in Toledo’s RTS were supplemented by State Legislative Directors Kenny Edwards of Indiana, Don Roach of Michigan and Clyde Whitaker of Ohio. These three effective leaders not only coordinated the RTS, but also bolstered the coursework with some of their states’ best-demonstrated practices.

On Friday, October 6, SMART-TD President Ferguson addressed the general session of the RTS, where he broke down the importance of such trainings. Statistically, he noted, our union’s rates of successful appeals have gone way up in recent years, as well as the number of claims that have been paid on appeal. Regional Training Seminars play a large role in this heightened level of success.

“We knew that we had a lot of young officers coming into this union,” Ferguson remarked. “We knew that we had a lot of young local chairmen coming in, and they were starving for training, starving for the information. How to handle themselves, write claims, and protect that member when they got charged. So, we had to answer that call.”

SMART-TD’s Regional Training Seminars have been a big part of “answering that call.”

“In the last two years, out of 369 cases that went to the First Division, 217 of those were sustained,” he said. “That’s a 58.8% win-to-loss ratio. When I first got involved, when Vice Presidents Modesitt and Brent Leonard got involved, we were happy with 22% to 25% coming out of a public law board. That is why we needed this training. … The cases we have in the pipeline are going to be even better than that. Why? Because we’ve been doing training like this. We’re not going to an annual regional meeting where we spend two hours a day in class and 20 hours talking shop.”

“This is what we’re doing with the member’s money,” Ferguson concluded. “We are helping officers get up to speed to where we need to be so we can back them up when their jobs and their lives are on the line out there on the ballast.”

Note: This article was originally published by Eye On Sheet Metal, a resource for the unionized sheet metal industry.

John Espinos (second from right) received the Patriot Award in November.

John Espinos has mentored many apprentices in his time as training coordinator at SMART Local 27 in central and southern New Jersey, but receiving a Patriot Award for going above and beyond in his support of a servicemember took him by surprise.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Espinos said. “It actually brought a tear to my eye.”

The award pin and certificate were presented to Espinos by Ronni Enzman, Monmouth County chairperson for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), at a small ceremony at the training center on November 27.

Sgt. Mike Pruchnicki, currently in the second year of his apprenticeship, is the servicemember who nominated Espinos. He recalled all the extra time Espinos took with him to help get his Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits in place and, later, to make his deployment as smooth as possible.

“John helped me a lot since I came to Local 27 … he supported me each time I went away on orders or training, and ensured I still would have work when I returned,” Pruchnicki said. “He has been very supportive through everything, and when I found out about the Patriot Award, I couldn’t think of anyone else more deserving than John.”

The Patriot Award is one in a series of Department of Defense awards granted by the ESGR, and it reflects efforts made to support servicemembers through a wide range of measures including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence when needed. Servicemembers can nominate a supervisor they feel has made a substantial difference for them.

“This is yet another way to show the sheet metal industry is employing veterans, and veterans appreciate the support they are given,” said Josh Moore, International Training Institute field representative and SMART Heroes specialist. “This young man was worried about his apprenticeship, and he was glad John was there to support him. I think it’s great that the local is being recognized. They’re the ones that support the apprentices as they make their transition into journey work.”

Moore and Espinos believe this is the first time a training coordinator for a SMART local has received a Patriot Award. The ESGR awards program is progressive, with the Patriot Award serving as a first step toward further recognition. In order to qualify for consideration for higher honors, such as the Above and Beyond Award or the program’s highest recognition, the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, an employer must first have at least one supervisor recognized with a Patriot Award.

Espinos is no stranger to recognition as a mentor — or lapel pins of appreciation. He’s been involved in Boy Scouts of America as a scoutmaster for many years, and over time he accumulated quite a few mentor pins from Eagle Scouts who wished to honor those who had helped them on their journey. It got to the point, he said, that at Boy Scouts events he would jokingly walk lop-sided and say all the pins were weighing him down. Memories of those events came back to him as he received the Patriot Award.

“It reminded me of something my dad said before he passed,” recalled Espinos. “He told me, ‘You were a rough kid growing up, always in trouble, but I knew you were here to make an impact on other people’s lives.’”

The difference Espinos made for Pruchnicki was evident when Espinos received his award, but this is far from the first or last time a training coordinator will go to bat for an active-duty guard or reserve member. They step in to coordinate solutions when a contractor must lose a valued apprentice due to deployment, then make sure that servicemember’s job is safe and waiting for them when they return. Training coordinators at sheet metal locals also often help apprentices with VA matters and paperwork or online forms for the GI Bill, as well as making sure the apprentice gets hours covered to receive health care, pension and everything else that should be available to them.

Espinos said that there are quite a few hoops to jump through, but once you go through it the first time, it gets easier each time afterward. He also noted that apprentices at Local 27 are really in full-time classes for only around four weeks a year, each year of the five-year program.

“In that short amount of time, it felt good to make an impact on [Pruchnicki’s] life,” Espinos said.

The SMART Transportation Division’s next Regional Training Seminar (RTS) is scheduled to take place March 4 through 7, 2024, at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Albuquerque.

Attendee check-in begins the afternoon of March 4, and those attending should plan to arrive then. Classes and workshops kick off the morning of March 5.

Attending an RTS is an exciting opportunity for local leadership and members to engage one on one with union experts to help fulfill the need for live, in-person training from local leaders closer to home.

The cost for TD members to register to attend the seminar is $50.

The RTS includes classes for local governance, roles of a local president, secretary & treasurer, legislative representatives and local chairpersons in protecting members and on the SMART Constitution, among others.

The classes are taught by national officers and other subject matter experts associated with SMART-TD.

TD President Jeremy Ferguson will attend a welcome reception 6 to 8 p.m. Monday evening before addressing the RTS on Tuesday. He and other union leaders also will be available to answer membership questions.

To register for the seminar, visit https://register.smart-union.org/.

Please note: Attendees are responsible for making their own hotel reservations.

A room block has been reserved at the site of the meeting, 1000 Woodward Place NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87102. The SMART-TD event rate is $142 per night.

To book accommodations, follow this link.

For more information, contact Nick Torres in the SMART-TD office at 216-227-5269 or by email at ntorres@smart-union.org.

Note: This article was originally published by Eye On Sheet Metal, a resource for the unionized sheet metal industry.

John Espinos (second from right) received the Patriot Award in November.

John Espinos has mentored many apprentices in his time as training coordinator at SMART Local 27 in central and southern New Jersey, but receiving a Patriot Award for going above and beyond in his support of a servicemember took him by surprise.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Espinos said. “It actually brought a tear to my eye.”

The award pin and certificate were presented to Espinos by Ronni Enzman, Monmouth County chairperson for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), at a small ceremony at the training center on November 27.

Sgt. Mike Pruchnicki, currently in the second year of his apprenticeship, is the servicemember who nominated Espinos. He recalled all the extra time Espinos took with him to help get his Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits in place and, later, to make his deployment as smooth as possible.

“John helped me a lot since I came to Local 27 … he supported me each time I went away on orders or training, and ensured I still would have work when I returned,” Pruchnicki said. “He has been very supportive through everything, and when I found out about the Patriot Award, I couldn’t think of anyone else more deserving than John.”

The Patriot Award is one in a series of Department of Defense awards granted by the ESGR, and it reflects efforts made to support servicemembers through a wide range of measures including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence when needed. Servicemembers can nominate a supervisor they feel has made a substantial difference for them.

“This is yet another way to show the sheet metal industry is employing veterans, and veterans appreciate the support they are given,” said Josh Moore, International Training Institute field representative and SMART Heroes specialist. “This young man was worried about his apprenticeship, and he was glad John was there to support him. I think it’s great that the local is being recognized. They’re the ones that support the apprentices as they make their transition into journey work.”

Moore and Espinos believe this is the first time a training coordinator for a SMART local has received a Patriot Award. The ESGR awards program is progressive, with the Patriot Award serving as a first step toward further recognition. In order to qualify for consideration for higher honors, such as the Above and Beyond Award or the program’s highest recognition, the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, an employer must first have at least one supervisor recognized with a Patriot Award.

Espinos is no stranger to recognition as a mentor — or lapel pins of appreciation. He’s been involved in Boy Scouts of America as a scoutmaster for many years, and over time he accumulated quite a few mentor pins from Eagle Scouts who wished to honor those who had helped them on their journey. It got to the point, he said, that at Boy Scouts events he would jokingly walk lop-sided and say all the pins were weighing him down. Memories of those events came back to him as he received the Patriot Award.

“It reminded me of something my dad said before he passed,” recalled Espinos. “He told me, ‘You were a rough kid growing up, always in trouble, but I knew you were here to make an impact on other people’s lives.’”

The difference Espinos made for Pruchnicki was evident when Espinos received his award, but this is far from the first or last time a training coordinator will go to bat for an active-duty guard or reserve member. They step in to coordinate solutions when a contractor must lose a valued apprentice due to deployment, then make sure that servicemember’s job is safe and waiting for them when they return. Training coordinators at sheet metal locals also often help apprentices with VA matters and paperwork or online forms for the GI Bill, as well as making sure the apprentice gets hours covered to receive health care, pension and everything else that should be available to them.

Espinos said that there are quite a few hoops to jump through, but once you go through it the first time, it gets easier each time afterward. He also noted that apprentices at Local 27 are really in full-time classes for only around four weeks a year, each year of the five-year program.

“In that short amount of time, it felt good to make an impact on [Pruchnicki’s] life,” Espinos said.

Local 47 (Ottawa, Ontario) sheet metal worker Stuart Simpson started his tradesperson career at a nonunion sheet metal shop. Unlike many nonunion contractors, though, his employer ended up actively encouraging Simpson and his coworkers to join SMART – resulting in a “truly life-changing” shift that Simpson says has transformed the trajectory of his career, leading him to become Local 47’s training coordinator. Read more in his BE4ALL member story:  

“I got into sheet metal at a local shop in 1996. I became a registered apprentice and went through my five-year apprenticeship, attended three intakes at our local college (eight weeks each time), wrote my certificate of qualification and became a licensed journeyperson in 2002.

“I joined SMART back in 2011 – before becoming a union member, I worked for a nonunion shop. We normally worked long hours, usually for straight time, and we were paid time and a half when it was available. My employer at the time decided that we should all join the union because of the benefits SMART membership provided. It was a good employer that wanted to give its employees a better future. We were provided with a good pension plan and great benefits, as well as a nice wage increase! My employer did the best it could to provide good benefits and a pension; however, joining the union was an amazing decision. I am truly grateful for that. I was fortunate to work for that company for 19.5 years before it closed its doors.

“Once I became a union member, I started attending union meetings and learned more about what the union has done and could do for its members. By attending more union functions, I got to know the officers of the union, and when my union reached out looking for an instructor to assist with safety training, I submitted my name. Thankfully they liked what I had to offer, and I became one of the safety trainers. Shortly after I also became the part-time training coordinator, and after a few years they brought me on full time to serve as the permanent training coordinator.

“Over the last five years our local has expanded its safety training, brought in two more instructors, and most recently we were awarded our TDA (training delivery agent) status, which will allow us to start teaching the 308A Red Seal sheet metal and the 449A Red Seal roofer programs in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I am so grateful to be a part of SMART, for the education it has provided me, as well as the many skill upgrade opportunities I’ve been able to access. Honestly, joining the union was transformational for me, not only from a financial position, but also because the things I’ve learned and the courses I’ve attended have truly changed my life. When I meet new apprentices, I tell them to take every opportunity to grow their skills, as learning is a lifelong journey. Thank you SMART for all you have done and continue to do for us!”

Registration is now open for the SMART Transportation Division Regional Training Seminar (RTS) to take place November 6 through 9, 2023, at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport, Iowa.

Online Registration Is Highly Recommended! Space Will Be Limited!

Attendee check-in begins the morning of Monday, Nov. 6, with programming and speakers scheduled to begin that afternoon.

The RTS schedule and information will be available through the SMART app.

Attending an RTS is an exciting opportunity for local leadership and members to engage one on one with union experts to help fulfill the need for live, in-person training from local leaders closer to home.

The cost for TD members to register to attend the seminar is $50.

The RTS includes classes for local governance, roles of a local president, secretary & treasurer, legislative representatives and local chairpersons in protecting members and on the SMART Constitution, among others.

The classes are taught by national officers and other subject-matter experts associated with SMART-TD.

TD President Jeremy Ferguson and other union leaders are scheduled to appear to answer membership questions. To register for the seminar, visit https://register.smart-union.org/.

The deadline to register to attend is November 1, 2023.

Please note: Attendees are responsible for making their own hotel reservations.

For more information, contact Iowa State Legislative Director Christopher Smith at 641-278-0699 or by email at utuislb@hotmail.com or Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy at 312-236-5353 or by email at: bob.guy1@comcast.net.

In early June, SMART Local 16 (Portland, Ore.) journey-worker Lisa Davis was named one of the winners of the June NABTU Tradeswomen Heroes Award, which “honors two apprentices and two journey-level workers in the United States and Canada that set an exemplary example both on and off the jobsite.”

“Sister Davis is leading the industry as the first female HVACR Education Specialist for SMART International Training Institute [ITI],” read the press release announcing Lisa’s win. “Sister Davis’s passion for moving the industry’s direction to increase safety, diversity, equity, and inclusion standards in the workplace is nothing short of what she has been able to accomplish to reach those goals.”

In 2005, Lisa graduated from the University of California, Davis, solely committed to one goal: becoming a surgeon. Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Lisa moved to Oregon to attend Oregon Health and Science University — but she soon realized a life in medicine wasn’t her calling.

Sister Davis is leading the industry as the first female HVACR Education Specialist for the International Training Institute.

The next three years found Lisa exploring what that calling might be. She worked as a barista, in an operating room and on a farm in Hawaii. After those disparate and exciting experiences, though, it was ultimately something much simpler — a job working as a mechanic in a bowling alley — that changed her life. It was there that she realized working with her hands with mechanical tools, rather than a scalpel, was her ticket to happiness.

Following that epiphany, Lisa sought out Oregon Tradeswomen and completed the organization’s training before she was accepted into the apprenticeship at Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 in Portland. There she completed a building trades apprenticeship and service program. A passionate advocate for education, recruitment, retention and diversity, Lisa worked her way up to become Local 16’s first female instructor. She also helped form a diversity committee and served on the ground floor of the local’s mentoring program, both of which continue to this day.

In 2019, Lisa furthered her role as a mentor by joining the ITI as a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) service and testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) specialist. She also serves on SMART’s International Women’s Committee, where she helped craft resolutions and amendments leading up to the union’s 2019 national convention.

“Sister Davis continues to elevate all members by devoting her extra time to actively working with her peers to create and implement DEI and safety language within government laws, initiating mentoring programs, training and educating members, and simply ’Doing the Right Thing,’” the press release concluded. “[Her] commitment, dedication, and hard work have proven that opportunity is a viable pathway for members to reach their fullest potential. Sister Davis is a true HERO for all members of SMART.”

Michael Harris, a longtime staffer at the International Training Institute (ITI), has taken the reins as its administrator. A second-generation sheet metal worker, Harris got his first taste of the industry at age 16, when he spent the summer working in a sheet metal shop.

Initially opting for college, Harris later changed course and worked in a custom fabrication shop alongside his father before joining the SMART Local 20 (Indianapolis, Ind.) apprenticeship program in 1991. During the fourth year of his apprenticeship, Harris began teaching part time at the Local 20 training center, moving to full-time teaching in 1997. By 2000, Harris took over as director of training for the statewide training trust.

In 2005, Harris joined the ITI staff as a welding assessor, and in 2009 he took on the role of program administrator, overseeing programming and instructor training and managing field staff. After the retirement of James Page in 2020, Harris assumed many of the responsibilities of ITI administrator in an acting capacity, assisting Funds Administrator Daniel McCallum in running the day-to-day operations of the organization. Effective Jan. 1, Harris officially accepted the role of ITI administrator.

 “Mike has been instrumental in the success of ITI over the years,” McCallum said. “His knowledge and experience have made my job as funds administrator far easier. He is absolutely the best person for the job.”

Harris hopes to continue to build on ITI’s success, adding new instructional offerings and developing programs for the sheet metal workers of tomorrow.

“I’m excited to take on this new role at ITI,” Harris said. “I genuinely believe that the ITI trains the best and the brightest. Our instructors are top notch, our programs are among the most advanced and dynamic in the industry. And our staff is second to none.”

May 24 marks the rollout of the Membership 101 portion of SMART University, an online video-based educational resource designed for new SMART Transportation Division members to get acquainted with their union.

The first flight of releases includes video primers on local meetings, the roles of local officers, how to approach a carrier investigatory hearing and other important topics for union members.

At this time, access to these videos is exclusively as a resource available in the Member Portal of the revamped SMART website. Instructions on how TD members can create an account to access the Member Portal are available on the website.

“This is an exciting project that we’ve been working on for some time,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said. “These videos can be accessed anytime and anywhere. In conjunction with our Regional Training Seminars and other training efforts, we’re hoping that these serve as building blocks to engage one another and to make our union stronger.”

Suggestions for future videos can be emailed to the TD President’s Department at president_TD@smart-union.org.

Additional educational efforts for union officers are forthcoming and are expected to be rolled out very soon.