As we enter 2024, I hope all of you — no matter your faiths, traditions or beliefs — were able to enjoy well-deserved time with your loved ones during the holiday season. You are the men and women who keep our two nations moving, whether carrying freight, transporting passengers or building the battery plants and chip factories of our new industrial revolution. On behalf of myself and the SMART General Executive Council, I want to thank you for all that you do.
Last year we began to not just see, but to live the rewards of the hard-won battles we fought in the past. Federal legislation that we helped pass in 2021 and 2022 — such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act — helped spur record levels of public and private investment in the construction industry. This is already changing lives for SMART sheet metal workers and our families. As just one example, a Ford megaproject in Kentucky has helped SMART Local 110 nearly double in size as we organize and recruit to meet workforce demands — boosting the local’s collective bargaining power, lifting area working conditions, benefiting Local 110 retirees and so much more.
“We know we have more to do, from organizing nonunion sheet metal workers, to ending the pernicious wave of assaults on bus and transit operators.”
Around this time in 2023, railroaders were just emerging from a long, bitter contract dispute with the Class I railroad carriers — one in which the carriers infamously argued that “capital investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contributions by labor.” It would have been easy for members to be discouraged. But instead, railroaders stood together in unwavering solidarity, making use of new media attention and public support to go on offense. At one time, the carriers maintained that they would never negotiate on quality-of-life issues, but in the last year alone, SMART-TD members have ratified tentative agreements with Norfolk Southern, BNSF and Union Pacific that make substantial improvements to sick pay, scheduling and more — setting an important precedent and demonstrating the true power of labor.
Those are just two of our fights from the last year. We know we have more to do, from organizing nonunion sheet metal workers, to ending the pernicious wave of assaults on bus and transit operators. I promise you, we will continue to fight these battles, and we will see victory in the end.
2024 is an election year. We all know what that entails: a wave of political posturing and overtures to working Americans through November. But we also know how important elections are — we’ve seen their impact in the last year alone. This election will present us with a stark choice: pro-union candidates who act on our behalf to secure our future, or two-faced politicians who are beholden only to their corporate donors. I know which option I’m choosing.
So, brothers and sisters, as we look towards 2024, let’s seize this moment. Let’s build a future that will benefit our families and our communities for generations to come.
As I watched and participated in TWBN, I was reminded what this union and all unions have stood for since our earliest days. This event, and the trade unionists who attend it, demonstrate the strength, solidarity and siblinghood that define our movement and make all of our lives better on a daily basis.
For many of us, it can be easy to take that for granted. We have good jobs and the amount of work out in front of us looks good for the next few years — so, being human, we get complacent. But times like these are when we need to lean in and keep the momentum we built moving forward. Nobody else will do it for us.
This is our time to march forward and set ourselves up for the future. At TWBN 2023, I witnessed extraordinary energy, as tradeswomen and allies rallied through the streets of DC. We need to capitalize on that energy — which our sisters are bringing to our movement — and push, together, to accomplish more.
Today, the public stands firmly behind us. Regardless of the division we sometimes see in the United States and the various parties operating in Canada, our fellow citizens resoundingly believe in the union movement — more than any other time since World War II. Now, it’s time to take advantage.
We know that a strong labor movement is vital to our children’s futures. I want to remind you that each of us has the power to secure that future. When your union asks for help in the upcoming months to promote good, union values to our neighbors, take that small step to help out. We have all been there for the first time, whether knocking on doors or participating in labor walks. It may seem daunting, but I assure you: It gets easier over time, and the time spent with your union brothers and sisters will be something you look upon with fondness in future years.
At TWBN 2023, I witnessed extraordinary energy, as tradeswomen and allies rallied through the streets of DC. We need to capitalize on that energy — which our sisters are bringing to our movement — and push, together, to accomplish more.
In the United States, we are heading into another election year. I want you to think about the things that are important to you and which candidates and policies will protect your family’s future. We will see familiar rhetoric from all sides. But regardless of what the issue of the day is, and what promises are made, I want to ask you to stay focused on what matters: the candidates that worked with your union to keep food on the table, money in your wallet, security for your retirement and dignity for all workers. These are strong union values, and if we stick with them, all the others will fall into place.
We all have a choice when we vote — however you vote, that is your right. I just ask that you weigh your options. When you do, I hope that providing a stable future for your family is one of your top priorities. If so, please support those candidates that support us.
The year of 2023 was an unprecedented success for our union, and all should take pride in what our organization has accomplished. Win percentages on our appeals are higher now than at any time in recent memory. We fought and won the first paid sick leave for transportation employees after going without for nearly two centuries of American railroading. Our brothers and sisters on many bus and transit properties are earning better wages, benefits and time off through hard-fought and overdue agreements nationwide.
Our voices have been heard by the general public, press and in the halls of state capitols and Washington, DC. But more importantly, they are recognizing the validity of our organization’s longstanding issues and concerns. In the future, transportation employees of all types will look back at what we accomplished in 2023 as a positive turning point, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for making this a reality.
When I was first elected, I stated that training was going to be a center focus of my administration. We changed the format to better serve our locals, and I could not be more proud of how well it has been embraced and the results it has produced. The commitment and effort that many of our local officers have demonstrated by participating in our regional training seminars is a tribute to the level of professionalism and dedication needed in SMART-TD to strengthen the foundation on which our progress and future success is built. I applaud all of those that have not only attended one of these events, but also those who have taken and applied the knowledge and skills presented for the betterment of the members we proudly represent.
Your general committee and state board officers are engaged in the issues that affect your daily lives and are doing amazing work. They are unafraid to use their skills, knowledge, and connections to make sure our issues and concerns are heard in efforts to create real-world solutions for our members. I want to tip my hat to the effort they have all demonstrated this year. It is no exaggeration to say that the lives of our members are better today than it was in 2022. I owe a debt of gratitude to every member and officer that has assisted in making this a reality.
This union is solid, cohesive, and moving collectively in the direction of progress. All of us look to 2024 with the prospect of heightened pay, continued improvement in quality of life with additional scheduled and reliable time off and the prospect that our lives and those of our families are on the right trajectory. We are doing everything we can to make your quality of life reflect the true value of your labor.
In the coming months, the Federal Railroad Administration is scheduled to announce the results of the two-person crew hearings held in late 2022, and we look forward to hearing those results. Many of you answered the call and let your voices be heard on this pivotal issue, setting the stage for what would be a historic victory. We are looking to replicate this success as SMART-TD takes on the issue of the rising number and severity of assaults on our passenger/commuter rail and bus members. This issue directly impacts the lives of many of our members and we will not allow it to go unchecked. We must show no hesitation in leading the way on this significant issue while other, less-dynamic unions apparently remain content with the status quo.
Our members deserve more, and we will do all we can in efforts of ensuring their safety.
If 2023 has taught us anything, it is that we are the leader in U.S. transportation labor and our influence grows daily. However, all of this progress can be lost if we sit on our laurels or stop working as a collective group. It is for this reason that I personally request that you all stay invested in the fight for what’s right in 2024 as we lay it on the line to further the causes that define our careers and lives.
In closing, I wish you all a happy, safe and prosperous new year!
Jeremy R. Ferguson President, Transportation Division
The North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) held their annual Tradeswomen Build Nations (TWBN) conference in Washington, DC, in early December. Over 4,000 sisters and allies were in attendance, forging the future of the construction industry. The conference provides opportunities for networking, learning and leadership development for all attendees, whether you are an apprentice or a journeyperson. Workshops and plenary sessions were facilitated by tradeswomen and featured union leaders, apprentice coordinators, contractors and politicians.
It was a fun-filled weekend packed with great information. The conference took to the streets for the banner parade to showcase the enthusiasm and opportunities for a career in the trades. I encourage all locals to send a delegation of sisters to the 2024 TWBN conference, which will be held in New Orleans. The weekend will leave you with a renewed sense of purpose and pride in the labour movement. Our SMART delegation has continued to grow over the years, so let’s keep the momentum going and aim to have more in attendance next year.
In November, the Federal Government tabled legislation to implement the Fall Economic Statement, which included labour requirements for Investment Tax Credits (ITCs) for green technologies contained within it. The ITCs will be available for investments in clean technology, clean electricity, clean hydrogen and carbon capture. To be eligible to receive the maximum ITC, employers must adhere to a definition of prevailing wage that is based on multiemployer collective agreements and have at least 10% of work hours be performed by apprentices.
SMART and the Canadian Building Trades have been advocating for years for this kind of prevailing wage language. We are hoping, with your support, that we can ensure the Government gets this legislation across the finish line and into law.
The theme of last year’s SMART Leadership Conference, held in August, was “This is Our Time” — and that sentiment couldn’t be truer. With wildfires burning across the country and health advisories being issued almost daily across North America, our skills are needed now more than ever. Fresh air and ventilation verification have never been more important. With news stories regarding ventilation issues in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, indoor air quality is front and centre. And in Ontario, the New Democratic Party has announced that it will be presenting a private members’ bill to improve indoor air safety.
Grassroots groups like Ontario School Safety are advocating for safer school environments in Canada, particularly improved air quality. While the initial focus was on COVID-19 protection, concerns have expanded to other respiratory threats, including the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and pollutants like wildfire smoke. Experts and parent groups emphasize the need for better ventilation and air filtration, suggesting schools consider upgrading to MERV 13 filters in their HVAC systems.
A memo from September 2023 by Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce stated the province’s requirement for a standalone HEPA filter in specific classrooms and areas without adequate mechanical ventilation or lacking MERV 13 filters. The province has dedicated over $665 million towards enhancing air quality in schools, implementing over 100,000 HEPA units, and has allocated an additional $30 million for the upcoming school year for higher-grade filters.
We must collectively use our expertise and meet with local, provincial and federal governments to ensure that our members’ skills are recognized and utilized in constructing healthy buildings and healthy homes.
Clean air concerns are not just limited to schools. This past summer, wildfires caused dangerously high levels of smoke and chemicals in communities across the country. Often, buildings like libraries, schools and malls are designated as cleaner air spaces for the public to find respite from wildfire smoke. With the increasing effects of climate change leading to more frequent wildfires, these safe havens are becoming even more essential. To address this, some towns, such as Renfrew, Ontario, have transformed public buildings into clean-air shelters equipped with strong air filtration systems to protect against harmful particles.
However, at present, clean-air shelters operate sporadically. There is an absence of provincially regulated alert systems, and no standardized method of informing the public about which shelters are operational. There’s a growing call among advocates for Canadian cities to introduce an automatic mechanism, activating all designated clean-air shelters (free of charge) if an area’s air quality remains in the “moderate” bracket for more than two consecutive days. In the face of the ongoing climate crisis, it’s vital for Canada to prioritize health-focused initiatives, starting from the federal tier and extending down to the provincial and municipal levels. We must collectively use our expertise and meet with local, provincial and federal governments to ensure that our members’ skills are recognized and utilized in constructing healthy buildings and healthy homes.
As we begin a new year, we must remember that this is our time. Our time to organize, our time to grow and our time to expand our contractor base. We must bring into our membership everyone that works in our trades. We must utilize all our tools to organize, and we need our membership involved by adopting the SMART Incentive Program. By having our members recruiting the next generation of workers, we will build our locals and set the standard for generations.
We have been growing momentum as we strive for a better Canada and a brighter future. Please continue to stay active, get involved and stay safe!
“This agreement our general committees have reached with BNSF continues to show the strength of our union’s leadership. Together we have made unprecedented inroads on attendance and quality-of-life issues — an area carriers had no interest to collectively bargain,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson. “We have cleared the way for our members on BNSF to expect predictability in their work rest schedules, while at the same time securing proper compensation on a variety of issues that were not agreed to in past rounds of national negotiations. It was long overdue that these issues be addressed. I’m very proud of everyone’s efforts to get this accomplished.”
Negotiations with BNSF under Articles VI and VII of the National Rail Agreement began in January following wide national attention on rail labor’s fight to improve rail workers’ quality of life. The tentative agreement with BNSF was reached by the eight affected SMART-TD general committees months later; votes were cast through the month of October and tabulated on November 2.
The general chairpersons involved include GO 001’s Mike LaPresta, GO 009’s Scott Swiatek, GO 017’s Rich O’Connell, GO 020’s Justin Schrock, GO 386’s Larry Miller, GO 393’s Kevin Kime, GO 577’s Roy Davis and Tony McAdams from GO JTD.
Under the next phase of this process, SMART-TD and BNSF will begin implementing the agreed-upon changes. Members who are eligible for additional vacation will have the opportunity to schedule that vacation in 2024. Implementation of other provisions of the agreement will take place over the coming weeks and months.
“We would like to thank our members for their patience throughout the negotiation process, and for casting their votes,” the eight general chairpersons of the involved committees said in a joint statement. “The overwhelming approval ratings prove that our members see the value in this agreement. We were determined to obtain meaningful improvements to our working conditions, and this agreement does exactly that. While our fight is never over, we are confident that this will serve as a substantial step in the right direction.”
The general chairpersons also expressed appreciation to Vice President Joe Lopez, who helped lead negotiations, along with Vice Presidents Chad Adams and Jamie Modesitt.
“Our general chairpersons showed exemplary leadership and cohesion through the up-and-down nature of these discussions,” the three vice presidents said. “We congratulate them on their accomplishments and commend them on their focus on what matters — improving the quality of life and working conditions of our members.”
In May of 2023, SMART dealt a major blow to Union Pacific when, after four years, we successfully received an arbitration award that sustained our claim for protective benefits for five SMARTRailroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) members that were furloughed by the carrier and replaced with contractors.
On October 1, 2019, Union Pacific sent a notice to SMART stating that it was furloughing nine employees working in the Water Service Department, and that the carrier intended to contract out the work. Union Pacific refused to follow the black letter of the collective bargaining agreement and instead arbitrarily selected which of the furloughed employees would receive protective benefits, denying benefits to others.
SMART filed a claim on behalf of the members that were refused protective benefits, and the case was heard before a Special Board of Adjustment in 2021. The claim was originally denied by the arbitrator; however, SMART asserted that the board’s decision was not based on the clear language of the agreement and filed a motion to vacate in district court. The court agreed with SMART and remanded the case back to the arbitrator, which meant going through the entire arbitration process a second time.
“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job. The money will go a long way.”
RME member Don Yei
The case was heard again in March 2023 — and SMART prevailed. Union Pacific was ordered to provide protective benefits to the members’ choosing based on the options set forth in the agreement. In total, these SMART members will receive more than $840,000 in protective benefits.
“Union Pacific is a huge railroad, and it fought hard to deny the members what was rightfully theirs,” said International Representative Joe Fraley, who handled the case. “But even when times got tough, the members had SMART’s back — and SMART had theirs. Together, we fought smarter, we fought harder, and we won. That’s what being SMART is all about.”
“I am honored and humbled to represent the members — the members are the real heroes here, and they deserve every penny that they will receive,” he added. “We would not have done it without all of us working together. We would not have done it without being SMART.”
For the victorious members, the case demonstrates the material difference of union solidarity.
“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job,” said RME member Don Yei. “The money will go a long way.”
The Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) Committee is a joint venture between SMART, SMACNA and the International Training Institute (ITI), with members of the committee pursuing one crucial goal: to create a diverse, inclusive, unionized sheet metal industry that is welcoming and fosters belonging for ALL people. Only by doing so can we sustain a thriving industry and bring more workers and sectors into our fold.
BE4ALL launched in December 2021. Since then, various BE4ALL subcommittees have focused on implementing the committee’s goals, delivering material results aimed at ensuring our industry is welcoming and inclusive of all current and future members. In 2023, that work took various forms.
January-March: Subcommittees chart their course, mark victories
The year began with the successful launch and continuation of various programs meant to strengthen the unionized sheet metal industry.
Through the ITI, BE4ALL distributed hundreds of bathroom kits to JATCs across the country – the result of apprentices pointing out the absence of menstrual products in local training facilities – with SMACNA dispensing a “how-to” guide demonstrating the ease of providing such products on the jobsite. As then SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. stated in a letter to JATC co-chairs, trustees and coordinators, providing menstrual products “creates a better learning environment” and lessens “potential stress.” The ITI also continued to host virtual bias and belonging training sessions, as well as in-person train-the-trainer bias and belonging trainings – helping ensure that leaders and instructors are creating welcoming and inclusive environments at all levels of the industry.
BE4ALL also introduced its 2023 BE4ALL Calendar, which was sent to local unions, JATCs, contractors, and to SMART members via the Members’ Journal. The calendar, meant to help members, employees and colleagues learn more about the different cultures and faiths that make up our industry, included information about a wide range of observances and important dates, with a digital version complementing the print calendar with links to more resources.
In the first quarter of 2023, several BE4ALL subcommittees kicked off additional, year-long campaigns to provide resources, education and opportunities to get involved with making our industry welcoming to all. The BE4ALL Committee’s first-ever Toolbox Talk – titled “On Being a Good Crewmate” – hit local union halls, email inboxes and social media in the beginning of the year. The first of many Toolbox Talks distributed throughout the year, Toolbox Talk #1 touted the importance of creating welcoming workplace environments and developing a sense of camaraderie and mentorship on the job. (The committee distributed another Toolbox Talk, titled “Effective Communication,” in March.)
In these pictures, SMART members from various local unions read the first BE4ALL Toolbox Talk
Education is power, whether knowing one’s rights in the workplace or the history of the unionized sheet metal industry. With that principle in mind, BE4ALL hosted its first Learning Journey of 2023 in January, focused on Martin Luther King, Jr. Guest speaker Dave Dennis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, joined SMART members, SMACNA contractors and others to discuss and celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, with participants joining in conversation, music and song. In February, the committee hosted another Learning Journey on Black History Month, and in March – to complement Women in Construction Week – BE4ALL launched a series of spotlights on social media, highlighting influential (and often overlooked) women in American and Canadian history.
And finally, the committee launched its first of four challenges to SMART members: the BE4ALL I Got Your Back challenge, designed to inspire union members to foster connection with one another. By making a connection with a coworker, posting on social media and sharing something new they learned about each other, members were entered to win a $100 gift card and a commemorative golden BE4ALL hardhat.
April-June: Continued progress, celebrating Juneteenth
The second quarter of 2023 represented onward progress in BE4ALL’s various year-long programs, as well as a coordinated campaign to recognize and provide education to SMART and SMACNA members about Juneteenth.
The committee continued distributing materials intended to promote techniques to practice inclusion; educate and spread awareness; and engage union sheet metal workers and contractors in the BE4ALL initiative. A June Toolbox Talk, titled “Building a Respectful Workplace,” emphasized the importance of solidarity and common courtesy at work – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because studies demonstrate a connection between respectful workplaces, worker safety and business performance.
Meanwhile, several Learning Journeys gave workers and contractors the chance to learn more about the movements that inform the unionized sheet metal industry. In April, SMOHIT Administrator Aldo Zambetti hosted a Learning Journey on mental health awareness – a vital topic whose profile has grown in the construction industry in recent years. In May, Dr. Sam Vong, curator of Asian Pacific American History, Division of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, a vice president of the California Federation of Teachers, and the founding president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, discussed the history of Asian/Pacific American labor in the United States. And in June, the committee put on a Learning Journey celebrating and teaching about LGBTQ+ Pride Month, featuring a brief history, practices for inclusion and testimonials from SMART members and contractors.
On Juneteenth, BE4ALL sent an informational poster to SMART, SMACNA and ITI headquarters, as well as local unions, contractors and JATCs – detailing the history of Juneteenth and the importance of recognizing it in 2023 (and beyond). The committee also hosted a Juneteenth Learning Journey with Tsione Wolde-Michael, a historian and former Smithsonian Museum curator, and shared information to social media, SMART’s video news program and other platforms.
July-September: Celebrating BE4ALL in Washington, DC; workers tell their stories
During the third quarter of 2023, the BE4ALL Committee found various ways to engage the broader SMART and SMACNA memberships. At the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference – which welcomed local union leaders from SMART’s sheet metal and Transportation Divisions, various political guests, SMACNA leaders and more – a BE4ALL booth in the exhibitors’ hall hosted a wide array of visitors, from International staffers to local leaders to SMACNA contractors. As part of the conference itself, BE4ALL Committee members hosted back-to-back breakout sessions, connecting with SMART members and leaders to bring them into the broader effort to create a welcoming and inclusive industry.
BE4ALL hosts a breakout session at the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference
Education efforts continued with Learning Journeys and Toolbox Talks. SMART MAP’s (Member Assistance Program) Chris Carlough and Jeremy Holburn of the SMOHIT Mental Health Network were featured guests during a July Learning Journey on addiction and recovery, and in September, the committee welcomed Dr. Sandy Placido – assistant professor of history at Rutgers University – for a learning journey in observance of Hispanic Heritage Month. SMART members and SMACNA contractors also received two Toolbox Talks: one on the steps we can all take to build a respectful workplace, and another on the actions we can take to support our coworkers.
The committee’s third quarter challenge to SMART members asked union sheet metal workers across North America to submit their stories answering one simple question: “How did you become a SMART member?” The answers ran the gamut of experiences, from apprentices to retirees, Northern California to London, Ontario. A first-year apprentice in Rockford, Illinois talked about how Local 219 “changed [his] life.” A Local 12 retiree in southwest Pennsylvania thanked his union pension for allowing him to retire with “dignity and grace.” A Local 104 member out of northern California said that building America as a union sheet metal worker gives him “pride … and the greatest sense of fulfillment.” And a Local 47 (Ottawa, Ontario) instructor recalled how “joining the union was transformational for [him].” Overall, the submissions illustrated both the diversity of the unionized sheet metal workforce, and the solidarity that bonds members together.
October-December: After 12 months of hard work, preparing for the journey ahead
In October, BE4ALL hosted a Learning Journey on Indigenous history, featuring special guests Sarah Adams (Choctaw nation) of signatory contractor RedLand Sheet Metal, as well as Lyle Daniels, community and Indigenous director at the Building Trades of Alberta. It was the final live Learning Journey in the year; in November, however, the committee conducted a social media campaign spotlighting Canadian labour history, rounding out the committee’s 2023 program. The committee also kickstarted its quarter four challenge, asking members to answer the question: “Why are you proud to be a SMART union member?” The challenge is ongoing – winners will be announced in early 2024.
In November, members, contractors and JATCs received the final 2023 Toolbox Talk, on microaggressions. Local unions, contractors and training centers were also encouraged to take part in the 2023 Pedal to the Metal Toy Drive, an initiative designed to spread joy to children during the holiday season and raise awareness of family-sustaining careers in the unionized sheet metal trade. Local unions and contractors gathered toy donations to distribute to those in need in their communities; the BE4ALL Committee provided gift tags with QR codes that offer more information on becoming a union sheet metal worker. As part of the effort, SMART sisters and allies brought toys to SMART International headquarters in Washington, DC, during Tradeswomen Build Nations; the substantial haul was donated to Mary’s Center, which offers high-quality healthcare, education and social services to all.
Toys donated during TWBN 2023 in Washington, DCLocal 33 (Cleveland, Ohio)
As the year came to a close, BE4ALL set its sights on 2024 – and beyond. Immediate next steps include the publication of a rapid response protocol, aimed at helping local unions and contractors respond to incidents of bias, hazing and bullying. Additionally, the ITI and the SMART Education Department plan to expand bias and belonging trainings, and the ITI Accreditation Board has approved a requirement to deliver bias and belonging classes – at least one class annually – in its criteria for any level of JATC accreditation. BE4ALL will also continue bringing more members into the fold by increasing access to bathroom kits, hosting more Learning Journeys, providing additional Toolbox Talks, once again distributing a BE4ALL calendar, and much more.
The BE4ALL Committee has made substantial progress over the last two years – and there is much more work to be done. To get involved, text “BE4ALL” to 67336 (message and data rates may apply).
LaborPress honored SMART-TD General Chairperson and Alt. Vice President Anthony Simon and other labor leaders with its annual Labor Leadership Awards on November 28. Simon is general chairperson of GO 505, where he represents Long Island Rail Road conductors, track workers, building and bridge workers, track supervisors, car repair workers and other TD members.
Simon started his career as a station cleaner, winning election to a variety of positions in his local union before becoming general chairperson in 2007. “I have achieved industry standard wage increases, pension improvements, maintained work rule protections, benefit packages and most importantly kept all of our members working during the COVID-19 pandemic when MTA ridership was decimated,” he told LaborPress.
Congratulations on this well-deserved award, brother!
Picture of the Pa. Capitol from then-Gov. Tom Wolf from Harrisburg, Pa. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Across the country, SMART members are running for elected office — and winning. As leaders in their communities, these members are able to influence the policies that matter to their fellow union workers, and they can ensure union issues are prioritized.
There are a variety of reasons why members run. They want to serve their neighbors and communities. They want to make sure labor has a voice in our decision-making bodies, and that our priorities — such as prevailing wages, project labor agreements (PLAs), registered apprenticeship utilization, health and safety protections and other workforce standards — get the attention they deserve. They want to push back against anti-union and anti-worker rhetoric from inside our governing bodies.
“They want to make sure labor has a voice in our decision-making bodies, and that our priorities — such as prevailing wages, project labor agreements (PLAs), registered apprenticeship utilization, health and safety protections and other workforce standards — get the attention they deserve.”
“The more of our members that hold public office, the better we are as an organization,” said SMART Local 33 (northern Ohio) Business Representative and Toledo City Councilman Matt Cherry. “Our local has had some very big wins because of this position, including countless PLAs and licensing requirements.”
Anyone can run for elected office. Read through the tips below to learn how you can start the process:
Get involved locally:
Get active in your community. For example, SMART members currently in office have served on boards, committees and task forces in order to get to know their communities and other elected leaders before running for elected office.
Consult with your union:
Talking to local union leadership is the first thing every SMART member currently holding office has done.
Attend the AFL-CIO’s Path to Power training. This training is designed to teach union members and local activists how to run for public office and build power that will positively influence our communities.
Make sure you get the endorsement of SMART. After talking to your local, contact your AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, state federation and state building trades council. These are bodies that can help you seek out other local union endorsements as well as endorsements from other community stakeholders.
Build a campaign budget:
SMART members currently holding office have raised funds from individuals, unions and/or through the local political party. Having the support of the labor community will be key to helping you raise money to support your campaign.
Aside from elected positions, there are many opportunities to get involved in local politics. All cities and counties have committees, boards and commissions that constituents can join. Serving in this capacity is an important way to help advance SMART’s priorities and build our political power.
“If you’re thinking of running, do it,” said East Haven, Conn. Town Councilwoman and SMART Local 40 member Kimberly Glassman. “By and large, most politicians have no idea the contributions that the unionized construction industry makes. They don’t know why prevailing wage laws are so important. They don’t know what a PLA is. But our opposition is well-funded and motivated to decimate our industry. Just being in the room where conversations about municipal or state projects are had is a huge win. It’s moving the dial for all of us. The more of us that hold elected office, the better.”
SMART members in New Jersey at a Passaic Central Labor Council labor walk.
This election cycle, SMART members across sheet metal and the Transportation Division flexed their muscles at the ballot box, helping elect union-friendly candidates across the United States. That includes SMART members who ran for office themselves, pledging to pursue policy that supports working families.
In New Jersey, the SMART New Jersey State Council endorsed a bipartisan group of pro-labor candidates that won big. Johnnie Whittington of Local 27 (southern New Jersey) won his election to the East Windsor Township Council, while Glen Kocsis — also from Local 27 — won re-election to the Neptune City Council: putting the voice of SMART workers in powerful positions to benefit their union brothers and sisters.
“So far this election cycle, 82% of our labor candidates have won their elections,” said Joseph Demark, Jr., president of the New Jersey State Council for Sheet Metal Workers, president and business manager of Local 25 (northern New Jersey) and executive board member of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO. “Together, we made the difference and won!”
In Kentucky, SMART members endorsed and helped re-elect Andy Beshear as governor. His victory is a big win for workers — during his first term, he made Kentucky the battery manufacturing capital of America, and he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with union members from the picket line to the governor’s office. Thanks in no small part to Beshear’s leadership, SMART members are seeing an extraordinary amount of work in the Bluegrass State — and our union is growing as a result.
Up and down the ballot, in races across the country, SMART members fueled a score of impressive victories. Warren Faust, SMART International representative and former business manager of Local 44 (northeastern Pennsylvania), won re-election to the Wilkes-Barre School Board. And in Virginia, workers marched to the ballot box to help pro-union candidates take the state House and Senate, putting advocates for working families in control of policymaking.
Ultimately, 2023 reiterated the importance of the union vote. Election Day reminds all legislators: When you stand with union members, union members stand with you.
“From door-knocking, to phone-banking, to peer-to-peer text messaging, we showed the power of our vote,” said SMART-TD Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs. “When we stand together as one, there is NOTHING that can stop us in our tracks.”