'SMART' Union on Horizon?

Sheet Metal Workers International Association President Michael Sullivan put on a smile, but knows there is work to do and issues to resolve. “We must have will and determination to resolve issues,” he told his audience.

LAS VEGAS - With June being just around the corner, members of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) hope to get some good news from the courts in the not-so-distant future.

At the recent 2008 Partners in Progress Conference, SMWIA and Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) had hoped to be operating under a new union.

Last year, SMWIA and the United Transportation Union (UTU) announced plans to merge into a new 230,000-member union called the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART). However, to date, not all is going as planned.

The general executive council of SMWIA approved the merger, which, under SMWIA constitution, did not need membership ratification. The UTU board of directors put the merger before its membership for ratification and more than 71 percent voted in favor of the merger. The UTU board of directors called SMART “the right merger at the right time.”

Mike Sullivan, SMWIA general president, looked to become general president of the new union, which was scheduled to become effective Jan. 1 of this year.

A group of UTU members successfully complained in court that members should have been provided - prior to the vote - with a copy of the SMART constitution into which the UTU constitution was to be inserted intact. The complaint was filed following allegations that UTU members were not made aware of conflicts between the two constitutions and the courts ruled accordingly. Some 140 UTU general committee, state legislative, and international officers overwhelmingly voiced support Jan. 30 for a cooperative process to resolve differences over the stalled merger.

The UTU officers urged that UTU International President Mike Futhey and Sullivan follow the federal court’s order - as well as recommendation of UTU counsel - that the two (Futhey and Sullivan) settle upon the text of a SMART constitution.

When that task, which may require arbitration of conflicts, is completed, the UTU membership would be provided a copy, and then asked to vote on ratifying the new constitution. A federal district court issued an order extending until at least early May a temporary restraining order against implementation of the merger. Federal District Court Judge John Adams ordered that the temporary restraining order extended “until 10 days after the court rules on the pending motion to intervene.”

The judge ordered that a hearing be held in his courtroom “regarding the motion of Paul Thompson et al. to intervene as party defendants herein.” Others joining Thompson as party to that motion - seeking immediate implementation of the merger - are UTU International officers James Brunkenhoefer, Roy Boling, Tony Iannone, J.R. Cumby, John Babler, John Fitzgerald, and Vic Baffoni.

Following that meeting of UTU officers in New Orleans, Futhey said, “It is my feeling that the memberships of both the UTU and the SMWIA are best served by having a proper constitution prepared and presented to members for a vote.”

So, the waiting continues.

At the Partners in Progress Conference, Sullivan declined to discuss the new union publicly, preferring to direct the 500-plus union and labor management attendees to the task at hand: improving unions.

“Things have been pretty tough in some segments,” said Sullivan. “We need to go the extra length to make sure you have success. We must have will and determination to resolve issues.”

Publication date: 04/28/2008

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