Wage theft and worker misclassification are forms of exploitation that litter the construction industry, where unscrupulous employers take advantage of employees to pay them less than what they are owed. A recent Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study found that construction workers lose out on as much as $16,729 per year in income and job benefits; the EPI also reported that wage theft costs American workers as much as $50 billion per year — more than annual robberies, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts combined.

SMART locals are fighting against such practices from coast to coast – helping workers win the pay that they deserve.

Watch coverage of victories against wage theft and worker misclassification by SMART local unions.

“Wage theft is occurring everywhere in the construction industry, and employers will take advantage of those people who may not know what their rights are or have any idea of what prevailing wages are,” SMART Local 16 (Portland, Oregon) Business Manager Brian Noble explained in a recent episode of SMART News. “That’s who they prey on.”

SMART Local 16 has filed 10 prevailing wage complaints against 360 Sheet Metal, an aggressively anti-union contractor in Vancouver, Washington, whose workers previously went on strike after joining Local 16. The company was paying workers $12 to $15 an hour for fabricating duct in its shop, at a time when the prevailing wage (which applies to fabrication of ductwork in the state) was more than $65 an hour.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries has resolved four of the 10 complaints so far.

“In those four cases,” Noble said, “they found that [the owner of 360 Sheet Metal] owed over $200,000 in back wages to 20 workers, and they assessed $115,000 in penalties for failing to pay prevailing wage in the shop.”  

In Virginia, meanwhile, SMART Local 100 filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) alleging that a nonunion contractor on the Potomac Yards Metro Station project had misclassified sheet metal workers performing metal roofing work on the station. This resulted in them being paid approximately 60% less than the prevailing wage – hurting those workers and taking work away from Local 100.

“Misclassification is pretty rampant across the country,” explained Local 100 Marketing Director Chuck Sewell to SMART News. “Our contractors have to abide by certain rules, they have to pay certain rates, they know what the rates are, so that’s how they bid the projects. If you have these low-wage contractors come in and undercut everybody and get the project, it takes work hours from the local.”

The DOL investigation, which ended in the fall of 2022, found that the employees in question were, in fact, misclassified, resulting in more than $288,000 in back wages being recovered for eight workers.

Such wins against wage theft and worker misclassifications are critical for employees, ensuring that they are fairly compensated for their labor. They also demonstrate the crucial role unions play in representing all workers, including those who have yet to be organized.

“It’s important that we make sure all workers are represented and get what they deserve,” Noble concluded. “[It’s vital] that we stop these employers from undercutting our contractors and the industry, and most importantly, that these underrepresented workers are getting what’s truly owed to them.”

As temperatures drop during cold and flu season, and Covid infections continue to pose public health challenges, it’s more important than ever to have proper ventilation in schools, offices and other buildings – and SMART sheet metal members are the highly skilled workers with the qualifications and expertise to perform that work. In Washington state, Local 66 members like fourth-year TAB apprentice Kelsy Sturzen are hard at work ensuring the quality of the air breathed by local students.

“I am one of the people that goes through and makes sure that all of the air coming out of the equipment matches what the engineers have designed for that space,” Sturzen said in a recent interview with SMART News. “We make sure that the equipment is working properly, controlling properly, so that we have the proper air changes per hour.”

Learn more about Sturzen’s journey in the trade and her work on air quality in schools.

Sturzen, who works at signatory contractor Holaday-Parks, Inc., spent the eight years prior to her apprenticeship working as the childcare director at the Boys & Girls Club of King County, Washington – a job she entered immediately after graduating from Central Washington College. Eventually, though, she needed a change, and her husband suggested the apprenticeship program at Local 66. Since then, Sturzen has loved life as a tradesperson.

“What I like about the work is that on any given day it can change,” she explained. “There’s always a surprise, there’s always a new problem to overcome. Some days it’s physical, some days it’s not – it’s never the same day.”

Sturzen, the first female technician Holaday-Parks has hired, is currently working on a tenant improvement project at a local elementary school. Indoor air quality has always been vitally important for the health and wellbeing of Americans, especially children, but that area of work has risen in profile since the onset of the pandemic. Now that Americans are fully returning to schools, offices and other public gathering areas, it’s vital that air is circulated in those spaces.

“I would tell a parent whose child was going to an elementary school that I was working on that the importance of the quality of their air realistically goes along with the quality of the education that they want their child to have,” Sturzen told SMART News. “[Poor] quality of air impedes your ability to think clearly, just like [not] getting enough sleep or [not] getting the proper nutrition. Breathing quality air and knowing that you’re in an environment where you can breathe easily and safely is an important fact to know.”

“It gives me a sense of fulfillment knowing that people are breathing a little bit easier because of the job that we’re doing,” she added. “[We’re] making sure that they come into a space where they know that they’re being taken care of.”

Since opening its doors in 2018, Headless Mumby Brewing Company has defined itself by defying expectations. For one, Headless Mumby exclusively brews lager-style beers – no IPAs, Pilsners or artisanal stouts. Secondly, according to Thurston Talk, those lagers are currently produced by an all-woman brew crew. And perhaps most unique, Headless Mumby is the only brewery to be part of SMART, as well as one of the few independent union breweries in North America.

For co-owner and cofounder Alex Maffeo, a service tech and proud member of SMART Local 66 (Seattle, Wa.) since 2005, signing with SMART was an easy decision.

“We believe that workers’ rights are an essential part of creating a better society not only for the present day but also into the future,” Maffeo said in 2019. “Headless Mumby Brewing Co. is a proud signatory of SMART Local 66 because we want to provide our employees with more than just a paycheck. Access to higher wages, a safe workplace and retirement with dignity are just a few of the benefits that being a member of SMART Local 66 offers, and we know from experience.”

Maffeo and cofounder/owner Keith Ciani originally decided to form Headless Mumby in 2016, purchasing brewing equipment and building out their brewery space – with Maffeo unsurprisingly taking the lead on electrical and HVAC work. Since then, the Headless Mumby crew has cultivated a reputation for quality, craft and community. A recent Thurston Talk article described the brewery as “a cozy local place where families take their kids, bring a take-out pizza and gather for good times,” adding:

“[The brewery] connects with the community through fundraisers, partnerships and collaborations in addition to drawing in the neighborhood families to their taproom. They also take part in cultivating the craft brewing industry by hosting their first intern from the South Puget Sound Community College craft brewing and distilling program.”

Like all SMART signatory contractors, Headless Mumby and its customers bear witness first-hand to the quality that characterizes union labor. All beers are made using top-notch German malt and whole leaf hops procured during the Oregon and Washington harvesting window, and the brewing is performed in-house.

“There are quite a few breweries in town, and Olympia is known for brewing,” Stacey O’Connor, the head brewer at Headless Mumby, told Thurston Talk. “We wanted to feed off of that tradition, but things that differentiate us from other places in town is that we brew only lagers. Because we only do lagers, you’re going to find a bigger selection of them here than you are going to find at any other breweries in town.”    

One of those lagers was created specifically to pay tribute to the power of organized labor: the Local 66 Lager, a light, flavorful, American-style premium lager brewed with pilsner malt and flaked rice. As Maffeo explained in 2019, the Local 66 Lager represents an especially enjoyable way to commemorate all that Headless Mumby and the union have achieved together: namely, stellar working conditions and quality beer.

“Signing up allowed us to easily provide our employees with benefits that would otherwise be unavailable to a business of our size,” Moffeo said at the time. “Now we have the opportunity to celebrate that with an incredibly drinkable lager.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law H.B. 1841, a two-person crew bill that was championed in various forms for seven years by SMART-TD Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn and the other members of the state’s legislative board.
Affectionately known as a “zombie” bill — H.B. 1841 had been buried and put on hold numerous times by legislators but kept coming back in the face of carrier opposition — it became the law of the land March 27.


“We were able to finally prevail by building a cohesive coalition of supporters including police and fire departments, environmental organizations, other labor unions, and interested community organizations to advance this bill across the finish line,” Krohn said. “We not only finally prevailed in our statehouse, we’ve successfully passed the STRONGEST state train crewing law in the entire nation!”

As written, the bill allows the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to “order railroad carriers to increase the number of railroad employees in areas of increased risk to the public, passengers, railroad employees, or the environment, or on specific trains, routes, or to switch assignments on their road with additional numbers of crewmembers, and may direct the placement of additional crewmembers, if it is determined that such an increase in staffing or the placement of additional crewmembers is necessary to protect the safety, health, and welfare of the public, passengers, or railroad employees, to prevent harm to the environment or to address site specific safety or security hazards.”

The bill survived a last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler on March 6 to quash it before it passed through the state Senate by a 34-15 vote.
Schoesler, a Republican, attempted to adjourn the legislative session rather than have the bill come up to a vote five minutes before the close of the legislative session, Krohn said.
“Schoesler attempted to shut down the Washington State Senate rather than allow our crewing bill to come to the floor for consideration and a vote,” Krohn said. “It’s an example of just how far the rail carriers and their allies are willing to go to kill off our safe train crewing bill as well as any other railroad safety legislation they oppose!”
That motion to adjourn was defeated by a party-line vote, and the bill subsequently was heard and voted upon.
Five Republicans and a Democrat who caucuses with them voted with every Senate Democrat in favor of the bill. The 15 senators who voted against H.B. 1841 were all Republican.
Krohn said the law is scheduled to take effect Thursday, June 11, 2020, and restores minimum freight crew legislation in the state that had been removed from the books in 1966 thanks to carrier lobbying efforts.
At the federal level, Washington state is a party along with three other states and rail labor unions in the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit lawsuit against the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) attempt to prevent states from passing laws mandating train crew size.
A hearing in the case is likely to be held in late summer or fall.

An article published March 28 on the website of the Sightline Institute follows up on an Associated Press report from over the winter about the Department of Transportation’s repeal of the Federal Railroad Administration’s electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brake rule for tanker cars.
In late December, the AP reported that the Trump administration did not consider in its calculations the most-common type of derailment.
In addition to the AP findings, writers Aven Frey and Eric de Place for the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, which advocates on sustainability and environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest, also said that “PHMSA and the FRA low-balled their predictions for oil train numbers, an assumption that tilted the analysis in favor of the industry.”
SMART Transportation Division has been in favor of the installation of ECP brakes on tanker cars, with National Legislative Director John Risch calling them “the safest, most advanced braking systems in the world.”
The Sightline Institute piece notes that the ECP rule’s repeal “put rail-side communities at substantial risk across the Northwest, particularly because we can expect to see oil train shipping to significantly increase again.”
In response to the repeal of the ECP rule, legislators in the region have taken note.
The Washington State Senate has passed legislation that requires crude oil to be transported by rail to be conditioned to meet a vapor standard that reduces the potential for explosive ignition.
Also, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Battle Ground, Wash., has twice introduced legislation that reinstates the ECP rule. The current version of the Oil and Flammable Material Rail Safety Act is H.R. 851 and was introduced in January.
Read the entire Sightline Institute article here.

NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio (Dec. 19) — SMART Transportation Division is assisting as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducts its investigation and offers its sincere condolences to the victims and families of those affected by the Dec. 18 Amtrak Cascades derailment outside of DuPont, Wash.
Members of SMART TD’s national Safety Task Force have responded to the accident scene and will work along with the NTSB and other rail investigators to help determine probable cause of the accident and to make appropriate safety recommendations at the conclusion of the investigation.
SMART TD has a Party Status agreement with the NTSB that makes the federal agency the chief source of information for this and other accident probes involving trains. Because of this, neither the union nor its representatives will make any official comments as to the status of the accident investigation or the events leading up to the accident. All media inquiries should be directed to the NTSB, which will provide details about the accident and the investigation. Any comment on the investigation from current or former members does not speak for the union or its membership.
“We will await the facts of the investigation and will not speculate in any way about the circumstances leading up to this accident,” SMART TD President John Previsich said. “We offer our sincere condolences to the victims and families of the victims of the Cascades derailment, and our personnel will help investigators as they look for answers as to the cause of this tragedy.”


The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

washington_stateMore than half of Washington’s short line rail miles aren’t up to modern standards, a recent study found.

The evaluation was done by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington State University Freight Policy Transportation Institute at the request of the Legislature. The final result, the Washington State Short Line Rail Inventory and Needs Assessment, was released in late June.

Many of the state’s 29 short line railroads are local and serve farmers in agricultural and timber-growing communities by hauling their products to larger railroads. The study found that more than 55 percent (740) miles of all short line track miles within the state are not able to efficiently handle the 286,000-pound rail cars used in modern freight transport. That means trains have to go slower on the lines, cause more wear and cost more to operate.

Capacity for heavier rail cars is important because products often move from short line rails to larger rail systems to reach national and global markets. Because they’ve been neglected for many years, bringing the lines up to modern standards could cost more than $600 million, the study determined.

The study also highlighted the benefits of short line railroads. In addition to getting goods to market, the rail lines help cut down on roadway congestion and highway wear and tear. As an example of savings from short line railroads, the study found that the Tacoma Rail alone generates public benefits in excess of $11 million annually in addition to cost savings to businesses and shippers. Public benefits include increased safety due to reduced truck trips in addition to less wear and tear on roads.

Study findings can be used by lawmakers and others to plan for future rail investments as well as exploring funding sources. Recently, the Washington Legislature passed, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed, a new revenue package which included over $107 million for statewide freight rail track improvements. The funding includes $47 million for the state-owned short line rail system and $31 million for the Freight Rail Assistance Program, which supports economic development and rail preservation initiatives.

washington_stateOLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington state rail safety regulators March 19 recommended BNSF Railway Company be penalized for failing to timely report multiple hazardous material spills along state railways.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) issued the formal complaint following a staff investigation into BNSF’s failure to report 14 releases of various hazardous materials, including crude oil, to the state within the required time period.

State rail safety rules require railroads to make a telephone report of the release of a hazardous material within 30 minutes of learning of the incident to the Washington State Emergency Operations Center’s (EOC) 24-hour duty officer.

The commission staff investigation found that between Nov. 1, 2014, and Feb. 24, 2015, BNSF committed 700 violations of this reporting requirement. Under state law, each day the company fails to report an incident constitutes a separate and distinct violation. The commission has the authority to impose penalties of up to $1,000 per violation, per day of state law or rule.

When a company fails to notify the EOC that a hazardous material incident has occurred, critical response resources may not be deployed, causing potential harm to the public and the environment. There could also be a delay in response and containment resources necessary to clean up hazardous material spills.

The violations were recorded as a result of the following incidents:

  • Nov. 5, 2014, Blaine – BP Cherry Point facility – crude oil spillage on tank
  • Nov. 17, 2014, Pasco – Pasco grain yard – 18-inch streak of diesel fuel on tank car
  • Dec. 7, 2014, Wenatchee – BNSF Wenatchee/Apple yard – hazardous solid waste dripping in rail yard
  • Dec. 8, 2014, Spokane Valley – BNSF Trentwood Station – tank car dripping gas/oil from bottom valve
  • Dec. 9, 2014, Seattle – Balmer Railyard/Interbay – shipment of hazardous solid waste reported leaking liquid identified as primary sludge
  • Dec. 9, 2014, Everett – BNSF Everett/Delta yard – two instances of shipments of hazardous solid waste reported leaking liquid
  • Dec. 9, 2014, Vancouver, BNSF Vancouver yard – shipment of hazardous solid waste reported leaking liquid identified as primary sludge
  • Dec. 10, 2014, Everett BNSF Everett/Delta yard – shipment of hazardous solid waste reported leaking liquid identified as primary sludge
  • Dec. 13, 2014, Quincy – Columbia subdivision – locomotive fire released 100 gallons of lube oil onto tracks
  • Jan. 12, 2015, Vancouver – BNSF Vancouver yard – seven tank cars found leaking crude oil
  • Jan. 13, 2015, Auburn – BNSF Auburn yard – six tank cars found leaking crude oil
  • Jan. 25, 2015, Seattle – BNSF Interbay yard – one BNSF locomotive mechanical problem spilled 100 gallons of lube oil
  • Feb. 12, 2015, Seattle – South Seattle storage facility – UTC inspector found crude oil leaking down the side of a tank car

In October 2014, commission staff sent BNSF a copy of the reporting requirements, and provided the company technical assistance to ensure that BNSF was providing proper notification to the commission regarding hazardous material incidents.

Staff also sent a letter to the regulated railroad industry on Feb. 4, 2015, emphasizing the requirement to provide reports and telephone the EOC within 30 minutes of learning of an event involving fatalities or injuries, the release of hazardous materials, or property damage greater than $50,000.

The companies were informed that failure to provide the required reports is a violation of commission rules and that staff may recommend enforcement action or monetary penalties for companies that fail to report incidents as required.

The company has an opportunity to request a hearing to respond to the allegations.

Members of the SMART Transportation Division’s Washington State Legislative Board have been quite busy in recent weeks.
Working with the board members and state emergency management officials, state senators and representatives of the Washington State Legislature Jan. 29 introduced six bills that could have a direct impact on Transportation Division-represented railroad employees and the safety of the communities in which their trains operate.
House Bill 1809 and Senate Bill 5697 re-establish state-mandated minimum railroad crew-staffing levels on all trains operating in the state.
Also introduced were a yardmaster hours of service bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and a rail crew transportation safety bill.
Under the proposed crew-staffing legislation, all trains and yard-switching assignments will be staffed with no less than two qualified employees. Trains designated as hazardous material trains of 50 cars or less, will be staffed with no less than three qualified employees, with the thirdemployee assigned to work on the rear of the train in a position to be able to safely observe and monitor the train.
Trains designated as hazardous material trains of 51 cars or more will be staffed with no less than four qualified employees, with two employees assigned to work on the rear of the train in a position to be able to safely observe and monitor the train.
Hazardous material trains are defined utilizing the current national standards adopted by Department of Transportation and all Class I carriers. The State Utility and Transportation Commission can direct carriers to exceed the minimum requirements if specific conditions affecting safety or security necessitate additional crewmembers.
Hearings on both bills have been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 9 in the House Labor Committee and the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, Transportation Division Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn said.
“Our workers know how to run these trains safely, but the railroad refuses to provide adequate staffing, exposing the public and railworkers to death and injury. These bills simply restore Washington State’s commonsense safety standards,” Krohn said.
“We looked at what went wrong in each of the catastrophic explosions and the close calls, and it’s clear that one or two people simply can’t monitor and safely operate these dangerous cargos. Adding even one more person to a train, particularly at the back of the train, will save lives.”
H.B. 1809 was introduced by State Rep. Larry Haler (R-Richland) and currently has a total of 33 additional co-sponsors.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) said, “This bill just requires a minimum level of staffing because an adequately staffed train is a safe train.”
S.B. 5697 was introduced by State Sen. Linda Evans Parlette (R-Wenatchee), Chairman of the Senate Majority Caucus. It currently has 23 additional co-sponsors.
“Safely moving goods through Washington State is in everyone’s interest. The public is counting on us to ensure that trains, no matter what they are transporting, are safely operated,” Evans Parlette said.
“I’ve worked as a conductor for 10 years with a perfect safety record and this bill will make trains safer,” said Local 324 Chairperson and Legislative Rep. Paul McGill of Seattle.
The text of the bills read, in part, “Any person, corporation, company, or officer of the court operating any railroad, or part of any railroad or railway within the state of Washington, and engaged as a common carrier, in the transportation of freight or passengers, who violates any of the provisions of section 3 of this act are guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined not less than one thousand dollars and not more than one hundred thousand dollars for each offense.”
Krohn said the bills are in response to concerns raised by emergency management officials who have become aware that the crewmembers on the head end of trains, in most cases, cannot see their train beyond a limited sight distance. Recognizing that the train crews are the first responders, they believe that trains that pose a significant risk to the public need crewmembers on the rear of the train, in a position to be able to see the train and take appropriate action if something goes wrong.
Krohn said he attended a freight mobility roundtable discussion last year featuring a presentation on oil-train safety from emergency responders. “Not aware of who I was, Director of the Seattle Office of Emergency Management Barb Graff mentioned the BNSF Railway one-person crew contract proposed to the members of General Committee of Adjustment GO 001 last year. She said she was glad that it was voted down and said two-person crews were not enough on hazmat trains.”
That led to Krohn and members of the state legislative board working with emergency management officials to get the ball rolling on the two bills.
“As an emergency manager, I plan for disaster and work for safety. Human eyes are key to safety and proper staffing is important, which is why I support this bill,” said Dominic Marzano, emergency manager for Kent, Wash., and division chief of the Kent Fire Department – Regional FireAuthority.
Noting that railroad yardmasters are required to work excessively long hours by railroad carriers, H.B. 1284and S.B. 5696 will prohibit a yardmaster to “remain or go on duty for a period in excess of twelve consecutive hours…An employee may not remain or go on duty unless that employee has had at least ten consecutive hours off duty during the prior twenty-four hours.”
If the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission finds that a Class I carrier violates the provisions of these bills, if passed, “the commission may assess a civil penalty of not less than ten thousand dollars and not more than fifty thousand dollars.”
Krohn said that yardmaster and BNSF GO 341 General Chairperson Jeffrey Sellman was the impetus behind these bills and worked tirelessly to advance them in the legislature.
Finally, H.B. 1808 and S.B.5797 will, if passed, “regulate charter party carriers providing railroad crew transportation and every contract crew hauling vehicle with respect to the safety of equipment, driver qualifications, insurance levels, and safety of operations. The commission must adopt rules and require reports as necessary to carry out this chapter regarding contract crew hauling vehicles and establish federal motor vehicle safety standards for contract crew hauling vehicles, regardless of seating capacity, as the minimum safety standards.”
“I am really excited about how we’ve advanced these bills in the legislature,” Krohn said. “They are reasonable bills that won’t break the bank of the railroads. They are a reasonable precaution to protect the public and our members.”
Krohn encourages Transportation Division members and all concerned railroad employees to contact their lawmakers and seek their support of these legislative proposals.