The SMART Rapid Response Protocol: Why is this important?

May 30, 2024

SMART’s Rapid Response Protocol is intended to help union officers prepare for and respond to incidents of bias, discrimination and harassment. Why is this important? There are many reasons: (1) we should be welcoming all members; (2) this is a safety issue; (3) we need to recruit and retain members; (4) legal liability; (5) our governments and communities expect change; and (6) union solidarity.

1. We should be welcoming ALL members – At the end of the day, every member wants to feel welcome in the workplace. No one likes to feel excluded or that they are not part of the team. And at the end of the day, people will not want to join the sheet metal trade if their work environment would subject them to discrimination, harassment and bullying. Reviewing the Protocol and taking the steps listed here will help make our environment better for every member, regardless of their background.

Our union should make every member feel valued and respected not only for their skills, knowledge and excellence on the job, but also as human beings.

2. This is a safety issue – As union leaders, representing members is our ultimate purpose, and ensuring safe and inclusive work environments for every member should be one of our greatest objectives. Eliminating discrimination, harassment, hazing and bullying is important for workplace safety because these incidents and behaviors erode workplace cohesion. These incidents are bad for employee morale and productivity, and they can cause significant emotional distress.

Workplace bullying and harassment, for instance, is meant to harm and to cause people to feel powerless to respond. By disempowering a member and reducing their sense of safety and security on the job, such behaviors contradict the basic principles of organized labor. Your members count on you to stand up for them, since they look to their union leaders for protection against any violation of their rights and dignity at work.

3. We need to recruit and retain members – Right now, and for the foreseeable future, we face workforce demands like never before. It is thus essential that we recruit and retain every member with the skills necessary to perform our work. Ensuring that work environments are free of bias will not only better position us to retain our current talent; it will also allow us to recruit new talent to the workforce. In addition, every time an apprentice or a journey-level member leaves our trade, the industry loses their skills, along with the thousands of dollars that were invested in their training. Taking the steps listed in the Protocol will ensure that the opportunities our union offers – skilled, middle-class jobs with great wages and benefits – are available to every person across North America, regardless of their background.

When these incidents occur, it is important for our local unions and regional councils to respond quickly and appropriately. Depending on the severity of the incident, it may hit the news, which can lead to embarrassment and harm to the union’s reputation. That would hinder our organizing and recruitment efforts with any potential members who come across the news article. Furthermore, anti-union organizations, such as the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), have claimed to embrace diversity and are trying to argue that they have a competitive advantage when it comes to supporting and broadening it. This is our opportunity, as the union sheet metal industry, to prove we support and embrace diversity across North America.

4. Legal liability – Proper response to these incidents is also important for ensuring compliance with all applicable laws, including the duty of fair representation (DFR), and for guarding against legal liability. A union may be liable for discrimination against its members and applicants for membership. If a member complains to their union about unlawful harassment/discrimination and the union fails to do anything, the local union/regional council may be held liable for harassment/discrimination or for a violation of the duty of fair representation. This can be very expensive.

5. Our governments and communities expect change – The U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has taken a particular interest in the construction industry recently. And in Canada, the federal government has ratified ILO-C190, a global treaty aimed at eliminating workplace harassment and violence. Government focus and action increases the importance of our union being seen as a leader of these initiatives by our communities, the building trades and society as a whole.

6. Union solidarity – Discrimination and harassment result in toxic and unhealthy environments and create division among our membership. This undermines our union solidarity and our ability to come together on the issues most important to our members. This is our moment to make clear across this union that it is unacceptable for any of our members to face harassment, discrimination, hazing or bullying. Every member is part of our SMART family, and we must look out for each other. We are only strong if we stand together as one.