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May
2013
13

SF Sheet Metal Workers Organize 1.5 Million New Hours of Work Through Grassroots Activism



This is a cross-post via the Sheet Metal workers website

On February 3rd, hundreds of Local 104 members from across Northern California were joined by leaders and staff from across the United States and Canada for the local union’s Second Annual Campaign for Jobs Leadership Conference. The several hundred members who attended came with the stated goal of securing more quality jobs and building a stronger middle class in their local communities.

Not only did SMART General President Joseph Nigro come to the meeting in Livermore, CA, to address activists at the meeting, he also brought along members of the SMART General Executive Council, as well as Business Managers from the western United States. Building Trades delegations from councils across the Bay Area as well as leaders from environmental and community groups were also in attendance to coordinate joint activities designed to secure future work.

The program, initially started three years ago, is “a work in progress,” according to Bruce Word, Local 104 Business Manager and 2nd General Vice President of SMART. “The members of this union represent the working families that serve as the backbone of our communities. We will accept nothing less than our fair share of the benefits derived from the uptick in work that has come back to our local construction industry here in Northern California.”

The Campaign for Jobs program, of which the Leadership Conference is a part, has resulted in the creation of 1.5 million new man hours for Local 104 members. It involves a grassroots approach where labor works with other community groups to ensure that projects meet the fair labor, civil rights, and environmental standards that benefit middle class communities. Members have made their presence known at local jobsites and by aggressively showing up and making their voices heard at local school board, zoning, and other public meetings. In fact, Local 104 Vice President Rita Magner noted at the conference the over 1,100 actions executed by members in 2012 alone. “We walked precincts, put up signs, and packed city council meetings. That is one reason why over $3 billion in school construction bonds were passed in 2012—all future hours that you can count on!”

At times, our members’ activism has affected industry conditions on a statewide basis. This is most notable where the Western States Council worked together to secure new energy efficient standards for public buildings across California. Since 2005, the California Energy Commission has required the testing of equipment and controls in nonresidential buildings by a competent field technician. While undefined for some time, the rigorous standards set by TABB technicians have now become the new standard for the state of California.

The Leadership Conference featured workshops where members learned about leveraging the regulatory process to ensure developers were held to the highest standards possible when building in local communities. Some of these workshops were done in conjunction with allied groups such as the Greenbelt Alliance, a Bay Area environmental coalition that has worked with Local 104 in pursuing joint interests running across both the labor and environmental spheres.

Other workshops featured a focus on the tactical use of picketing and handbilling, as well as how to strategically work with developers to create win-win situations where everyone benefits—from the member on the project to the developer and also the local community.

Members’ activism has had additional positive consequences. Local politicians, seeing the grassroots support for these programs from Local 104 members and coalitions built within communities, have jumped on board and worked with Local 104 to ensure the goal of fair and sustainable middle class communities.

The Campaign for Jobs program was not built overnight, but is the result of the hard work and vision of Local 104’s leadership, staff, organizers, and member activists who made its success a reality. The approach taken by the campaign is no different from what the founding fathers of this union and the Labor Movement did over 100 years ago, albeit updated with new tactics and new strategies for a far different world

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