The Pros and Cons of Joining the Painters' Union
The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), or Painters' Union for short, is a union with roughly 140,000 members in the United States and Canada. It consists of painters, glaziers, drywall finishers, and floor finishers.
Pros and Cons of Being a Union Painter
Members receive well-rounded training and earn significantly more per hour than a non-union painter. While the Painters Union' certainly provides a viable career opportunity for anyone who's willing to learn the trade, it isn't without its flaws. I've listed the pros and cons below.
Pros of Being a Union Painter
- It pays well. For example, a journeyman painter in Chicago, in 2011, earned nearly $40 per hour after completing a three-year apprentice program. Union painter wages will vary depending on where you live in the United States.
- The Painters' Union provides a good pension plan for retirees.
- Painters receive good health and dental insurance.
- Union painting contractors must follow the collective bargaining agreement that guarantees a set hourly wage and prevents unfair working conditions. If a contractor violates the union constitution or collective bargaining agreement, you can report problems to a union steward. If a contractor decides not to pay you, the union will make sure you get your money.
- Apprentices get three years of free training through the mandatory apprentice program. In trade school, painters learn all aspects of the trade including color mixing, taping, spray painting, drywall, wood finishing, and wallpaper and industrial painting.
- Apprentices begin working at a reasonable wage and receive steady raises as they progress through the trade school program. The wage is guaranteed no matter what contractor you work for. Upon graduation, the apprentice is awarded their journeyman card and begins earning full scale.
Cons of Being a Union Painter
- The insurance benefits and pension are great, but you won't receive them if you can't find steady work. A certain number of work hours are required each quarter to receive benefits.
- Contractors often lay off apprentices after they complete their three-year apprentice program to avoid having to pay them journeyman wages when they graduate. This is because apprentice wages cost less.
- A journeyman painter is expensive. With union benefits and hourly wages factored in, a journeyman painter costs roughly $500 per day. These high costs can make it difficult for a seasoned painter to find work unless the painter is being recommended or has relations with someone in the company.
- Payment of union dues must continue while you're unemployed, and failure to pay dues results in suspension. Dues must be paid every three months. In 2017, quarterly dues in Chicago were $144.
- There is no paid vacation or sick time.
- A journeyman painter working in a comfortable, air-conditioned apartment every day earns the same money per hour as a painter working in a hazardous environment spraying toxic paints.
Is the Painters' Union a Good Career?
The Painters' Union is a well-paying job with good benefits if you are fortunate to find work with a contractor who will keep you employed long-term. Employment can be unstable unless you are a skilled painter who can do more than paint walls. Possessing unique skills like paper hanging, faux finishing, and wood finishing increase your chances of having steady employment during slow times.
The union benefits are also very good if you meet the quarterly hour requirements. Working overtime accrues time and a half pay as well as bonus hours for retirement and benefits. Additionally, you are protected if a company tries to cheat you out of your pay or work hours needed for benefits.
How to Join the Painters' Union
Search the Internet for a painters' union apprentice school in your area. If you live in a major city, there is likely one there. All apprentices must complete a three-year training program before obtaining a journeyman card and accompanied wages. Call the apprentice school in your area to find out if they're currently accepting new students. Another option is to visit a local union for painters and express your interest in joining.
The requirements for enrollment in the Painters' Union might be different in your area. You may want to contact the district council office, if you have one in your area, to ask about enrollment. Once enrolled in the union and apprentice school, you will be required to make your first-dues payment.