Early Choice. Officials of new union linking sheet metal and transport workers endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
Tony Illia/ENR
Officials of new union linking sheet metal and transport workers endorsed Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

The link will boost the fortunes of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA) and the United Transportation Union (UTU). “The merger makes sense for them because there is a lot of sheet-metal work in the rail industry,” says Tom Owens, BCTD spokesman. SMART will have 177 employees and $102 million in assets, according to U.S. Dept. of Labor filings. The two unions approved the link in August with a 74% majority vote. SMWIA President Michael J. Sullivan becomes SMART general president. UTU will have its own division within the new union as well as veto rights.

The merger, two years in the making, comes amid declining union membership. “There has been a lot of union consolidation,” says Vincent A. Panvini, SMWIA’s director of government affairs. The nation’s union workforce dropped to a record low of 12% last year, a 325,000 worker decrease from 2005, says DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Organized labor’s losses led to a 2005 rift in the AFL-CIO that resulted in a seven-union defection, including the carpenters’, teamsters’ and laborers’ unions.

SMART flexed its new political muscle by endorsing the presidential bid of Sen. Hillary R. Clinton (D-N.Y.) during a Nov. 17 Las Vegas rally, one of the few unions to make an early commitment. SMART will spend $6.5 million through its political action committee over the next two years, a substantial increase over its two unions’ previous spending, according to government filings. “The merger gives us more legislative power in more states,” says James M. Brunkenhoefer, the UTU national legislative director who will be a SMART vice president.

UTU, the nation’s largest rail union with 84,679 members, represents rail, bus, airline and mass-transit employees and mechanics, while SMWIA members perform sheet-metal fabrication, construction, architectural metal installation and HVAC work. SMART’s growth strategy focuses on light rail, mass busing systems and regional airlines. It also plans additional union mergers and will target manufacturers that subcontract work to nonunion firms. “With this merger, we have the opportunity to bolster strength at the bargaining table and increase market share,” says Sullivan.

he merger of the sheet-metal workers’ union and a major transport workers’ union will create an organization with nearly 234,000 members in 757 locals in the U.S. and Canada when it takes effect on Jan. 1. The new International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) will be part of the AFL-CIO’s Building & Construction Trades Dept., but 40% of its membership work in manufacturing and shipyards.