New York, NY – SMART Local 28 — the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation union — has, like so many others, been facing the realities of the coronavirus crisis in the daily lives of its members and the work that they, as essential workers, do. LaborPress sat down with Business Agent Jimmy Callahan to learn more about the union and how it is coping with the challenges.
LP: What type of work do the union members perform?
JC: 28 is unique in the Building Trades as we are made up of three distinct areas of craft which are drafting, shop fabrication/manufacturing and field installation. Each area requires a high degree of education, training, craftsmanship and skill which is achieved through our intensive NY State accredited apprenticeship program.
The overall scope of work covered by Local 28 consists of everything from H.V.A.C., roofing; decking and siding; enclosures and specialty metals; toilet partitions; kitchen equipment; chutes and breaching (to name a few). Throughout our history our members have performed their work in all types of residential and commercial construction. In fact, we have been involved in many of the large scaled projects that define New York City such as Madison Square Garden, both newly built stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets, the Freedom Tower, and the Statue of Liberty.
LP: How big is the union and what regions does it cover?
JC: Local 28 is a Charter Local of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, whose jurisdiction encompasses the United States and Canada. Local 28’s Charter covers Metropolitan New York, Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Presently we are just shy of five thousand members including Pre-Apprentices, Apprentices, Journeypersons, Light Commercial Workers, Specialty Workers, Production Workers, Toilet Partition Workers and, of course, those who paved the way for us, our Retirees. Most of our members live within the territory that we cover. So, whether the job is downtown at Wall Street or as far east as the Montauk Light House, our members will be there!!
LP: What does the union do for its members?
JC: Local 28’s fundamental purpose, as with all good Building Trades unions, is to provide superior training, excellent wage and benefit benefits and safe working conditions (i.e., COVID-19 protocols). It has been our history to do so and will continue to be for future generations. During this pandemic Local 28 has instituted financial programs enabling members access to monies traditionally unavailable, with flexible repayment opportunities and without financial penalties. We also have availed more financial assistance to members by extending our “job shut down” benefit to include any/all COVID-19 related issues. All of this has been powered by giving our members the ability to, in real time, file the benefit forms electronically which was traditionally done through paperwork being sent through the mail from office to office. This action has been vitally important to our members receiving benefits even quicker than usual.
LP: What are the major challenges facing the union and its members during the COVID-19 crisis?
JC: The COVID-19 pandemic has posed some serious challenges for Local 28. As I mentioned in my opening statements, Local 28 is comprised of draftspersons (who generally work in an office setting), shop fabricators and field installers, all of whom are working in close proximity, respectively, all day every day. No other trade has had to face navigating such challenges. We have had to, for the first time, allow our draftspersons to work from home. We have had to scale down our fabrication and production models, implement shift schedules and manpower reductions in our shops. Lastly and perhaps the most challenging of all is maintaining COVID-19 compliance regulations in the field, primarily due to the number of variables beyond our control. Local 28 in its best attempt to address the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent regulations has enabled its members to take online safety webinars hosted by industry professionals. We have, in conjunction with our contractors, given all essential PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] to our members. We, as Union Officials representing our members, go to the job sites and hold the building managers (where applicable), construction managers and general contractors accountable for adherence to all COVID-19 job site safety protocols. Obviously commuting to and from the job sites requires our members to exercise discretion.
LP: How is the union communicating with its members during this time?
JC: Thankfully, it’s 2020 and most if not all our members have access to some sort of technology. For the past few years, we have utilized an “electronic alert system” to keep members up to date on membership meetings, funds information and events. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we also use it to inform members of updates on how the pandemic affects our members. This would range from job shutdowns, filing for unemployment, listing contact information to our leadership, and providing safety guidelines for the workplace when they return to work. We currently have bi-weekly meetings with the full-time Officials and soon we will also have open forum ZOOM meetings with the general membership. Our President and Business Manager, Eric Meslin, provides our membership with information on the state of the industry, future work outlook as well as addressing the most frequently asked questions by members. This is done through our website, Official Facebook page, Instagram and Nixle. Local 28 strives in all its endeavors to be as transparent, informative, and inclusive as possible for its membership.
United we stand, divided we fall.