SMACNA Detroit History
The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association was founded in 1943 in Elgin, Illinois, for the purpose of joining together sheet metal contractors with common problems, solutions, and goals. The Metropolitan Detroit Chapter was formed in 1963 by the merging of two former contractor groups that specialized in residential and commercial work: the Air Conditioning and Heating Contractors (ACHC), formed in 1957 (residential); and the Sheet Metal Contractors Association of Detroit (SMCAD), formed in 1945 (commercial). The contractor members of these organizations employed some 2,000 sheet metal workers represented by two local unions: Local 105 (commercial) and Local 281 (residential), both of which are affiliated with the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association. The Sheet Metal Contractors Association of Detroit (SMCAD) was established by William Rettenmeyer, a former sheet metal contractor who focused on the industry problems of architects and engineers. Air Conditioning and Heating Contractors (ACHC) was developed as a consumer- and customer- protection agency for the heating, cooling and ventilating industry by George Asher, a former labor relations consultant who became the executive secretary of the organization. Upon his death in 1963 his brother, Anthony Asher, a young labor relations employee from the Ford Motor Company, was asked to take over and began the long process of developing a strong and viable organization as it is recognized as today. Asher took both groups, ACHC and SMCAD, and merged them into the Sheet Metal Employers Association of Detroit (SMEAD) in late 1963. To become more reflective of the growing and ever-evolving industry, the name was changed in 1979 to SMACNA Metropolitan Detroit Chapter.
1920’s were a time of spectacular growth in Detroit. Only New York and Chicago built more skyscrapers and major buildings during this decade. The skyline was forever changed by new buildings such as the First National (1922), General Motors headquarters (1929), David Stott (1929) and the Union Trust (1929). These buildings had ventilating systems and some public air conditioned space but they did not result in the extensive duct systems synonymous with air conditioning systems, and were not large sheet metal projects. It was not until after the Great Depression of the 1930s and the end of World War II in 1945 that large buildings were erected in downtown Detroit with large ventilation systems. By this time air conditioning was as basic to a commercial building as its elevators. In 1956, National Bank of Detroit built its new Albert Kahn-designed main office building; Michigan Consolidated Gas Company commissioned Yamasaki & Associates and Smith Hinchman & Grylls to design its beautiful, 33-story headquarters building; and First Federal Savings, Comerica and Manufacturers Bank all built downtown. This surge in complicated design of buildings necessitated higher standards for SMACNA contractors, from basic ductwork to high-pressure systems, and balancing the system after completion. Thousands of details for fabricating and installing air-handling work needed to be standardized. The obvious choice to do this was SMACNA. Combining the best historic sheet metal trade practices with ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers) basic engineering-design criteria, committees made up of sheet metal contractors produced SMACNA manuals, which are recognized by all major architects and contractors as the authority for air-handling design.
In 1957 SMACNA Detroit unveiled the Industry Promotion Fund (IPF) to promote safety and better workmanship. The IPF sponsored meetings and educational programming that resulted in faster and more economical construction and separate bids. Among a first in the country, the IPF provided training and promotion by taking four cents per hour off the contractor’s revenue which generated handbooks, manuals, safety guidelines, hazardous materials information and necessary protective equipment, safe ladders, and emergency fire procedures. The Industry Fund then gave birth to the Better Heating and Cooling Bureau (BHCB). The BHCB assured better heating and cooling by developing a minimum standard of installation for heating and cooling contractors. The BHCB also used funds to educate consumers. Advertisements in the Detroit newspapers, media appearances and promotional literature keep the consumer informed. “My brother always promoted the industry,” Anthony Asher says, “and George wanted to protect the consumer, the homeowner.” The public introduction of the BHCB in 1959 was big news in trade circles and positively affected millions of greater-Detroit homeowners. In addition, through SMACNA Detroit’s efforts, the residential warm air heating code, designed to ensure indoor heating comfort and safety for gas- and oil-burning equipment, was adopted. It became the finest of its kind in the United States.
A mutually respected relationship with the local union is key to SMACNA Detroit’s success. Our labor partners serve union workers in its geographical jurisdiction of Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 80. Local Union 80 was established in 1964 by the merger of Local 105 and Local 281. In the first year, the Local introduced the vacation plan by saving a dollar amount each month for the workers. Later the 5 cents per hour went to the Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Fund beginning in 1964. This fund was created to protect the workers during slow economic times by supplementing unemployment compensation payments from the state of Michigan. This plan couldn’t have been more effective. During the 70s and 80s, an oil embargo and a sag in the economy caused unemployment to rise to record highs. The supplemental pay proved to be the best investment the workers had ever made. An additional 10 cents per hour was funded to the Joint Apprenticeship Fund, which was used to build the first all-air, solar- heated training center in Warren, Michigan, in 1976.
In addition to adhering to the latest standards and technologies through the years, SMACNA Metropolitan Detroit has developed many programs devoted to the business of running a successful sheet metal company. It continuously alerts the contractors to changes in legislation that might affect it; provides input for codes; and its many manuals on correct business procedures provide specific management practices for sheet metal contractors. SMACNA Detroit’s role in labor relations and negotiations industry-wide has, over time, produced agreements that have served both labor and management well. The many joint working committees ensure that the labor agreements will be strictly observed and fairly adjudicated.
Needless to say, the sheet metal industry is a unique member of the building trade assembly. Our trade is a deeply rooted craft that has sustained generations of hard working families and created quality construction companies. The sheet metal industry remains stable as it is continually evolving and developing unlimited opportunities for our exclusive construction team. In order for our contractors to preserve stability and a brand of expertise, our sheet metal workers must sustain a distinct toolbox of skills that sets them apart from the rest of the industry, and the demand for this specialized education is met by our partnership with labor and management through our jointly funded training center. Over the years thousands of journeymen sheet metal workers have graduated from the apprentice’s training program to maintain a safe and productive sheet metal industry.