SMART General President Joseph Nigro opened the proceedings of the First SMART General Convention August 6 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas with a message stressing education, strength and unity.
Following the presentation of the Colors by the Palo Verde High School Junior ROTC and the singing of the Canadian and U.S. national anthems by former Sheet Metal Local 67 former bookkeeper Melina Narezo, Nigro advised delegates and guests that union leadership at all levels need to make sure they know their jobs and responsibilities.
“Let’s make sure you represent the people to the best of our ability—whether it’s planes, trains, buses or sheet metal, our leaders have to be educated; they can’t just shoot from the hip.”
After affirming that a merger between the former Sheet Metal Workers International Association and United Transportation Union was formally consolidated, Nigro acknowledged that some differences of opinion among the membership remain and encouraged discussion and debate.
“We’re going to fight some. We’re going to bleed some. But we’ll all bleed the same blood,” he said. “I’m tired of saying ‘we’ and ‘them.’ I want to feel comfortable saying ‘us.’ So, get all your animosity out.”
“We need to close the convention on Friday with one mission—that we are one union. That we are not divided, and we won’t let anything divide us. A house divided will fall. We will not go that way.”
Nigro spoke directly to all levels of union leadership—business managers, business agents, general chairpersons, and local chairpersons—when he said that service to the membership must come first.
“We will not tolerate anyone who won’t represent their members,” he said.
“You don’t have to like Joe Nigro, but you do have to like and work for your membership. Our mission is to make SMART the strongest union in North America.”
Noting the strength that can be found through SMART’s united membership, Nigro referenced a labor dispute between members of Transportation Division General Committee of Adjustment GO 505 and management of the Long Island Rail Road. GO 505 General Chairperson Anthony Simon led eight coalition unions in the dispute.
After asking for members of the delegation of GO 505 to rise, Nigro said his attendance at a labor rally there this summer was one of the most fulfilling moments of his union career.
“It was outstanding. Seeing sheet metal workers and transportation people, getting together and fighting together for the same cause—the SMART union! When I walked into that parking lot with over 3,000 people, I was so proud. Anthony, you and your boys, we’re proud as hell of you!”
Nearing the end of his address, Nigro offered his vision for the organization’s future.
“Transparency, transparency, transparency. And accountability. Our books are open to our members. We’re going to show them how we’ve spent their money. We also need to be accountable as officers for our actions and our decisions,” he said.
“Our deliberations over the next five days will give us the opportunity to move forward renewed, stronger, and united. This is our time to forge a new future with the dignity, with the integrity and the honor that built this great union. It’s all about our union . . . our members . . . our strength. Together, we are all SMART.”
In closing, Nigro advised it was time to move forward with the union’s business at hand.
“As a famous conductor once said: ALL ABOARD!”