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Pros and Cons of the Painters Union

Updated on July 28, 2017

Pros and Cons of Being A Union Painter

The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, or painters union for short, is a union consisting of roughly 140,000 members in the United States and Canada.

The painters union consists of painters, glaziers, drywall finishers and floor finishers. A union painter receives well rounded training, earning 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.


  • Union painting 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 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, 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 begin earning full scale.


  • 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 completing the three year apprentice program to avoid having to pay them journeyman wages when they graduate. Apprentice wages cost less.
  • A journeyman painter is expensive. With union benefits and hourly wages factored in, a journeyman painter costs a contractor 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. Failure to pay dues results in suspension. Dues must be paid every three months. In 2017, quarterly dues in Chicago were $144.
  • 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 painting walls. Possessing unique skills like paper hanging, faux finishing and wood finishing increase chances of having steady employment during slow times.

The union benefits are very good if you meet the quarterly requirements for hours. Working over time also accrues time and a half pay, as well as bonus hours for retirement and benefits. You are protected if a company tries to cheat you out of your pay or work hours needed for benefits.

Joining the Union

Search the Internet for a painters union apprentice school in your area. If you live in a major city, there is likely an apprentice school 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 union local for painters and express your interest in joining.

The union 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.


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    • profile image

      fresh paint 21 months ago

      that last comment didn't make any sense to me .

    • profile image

      Al 4 years ago

      I've worked union and non-union. I think this econony and our throw away culture has made union members that much more defensive in relation to their jobs. When I was non-union I made less money (mostly in the annuity/ins dept), but I was way happier. 75% of my union is over 50, and a lot of old timers really resent anyone new. Modern union painters/tapers/glaizers proudly shop at wall mart and dunkin donuts. They'd sooner see the union die before turn it over to a new generation. I felt way more brotherhood at non-union jobs! I believe in what the union represents, but I've never worked anywhere where I've felt so reluctant to complain for fear of losing my job. I just put up with ridiculous bs under the union because there is an atmosphere of complicity. If someone is related(which they all are), Italian, bff's, or powerful within the union they won't even try to conceal the nepotism they receive or dole out because the union is a breeding ground for a base mentality that resembles a jail mentality. The union literally recruits at prisons because they seem to hate workers who think and long for anything but being a " uniform" (and desperate career-wise) member who can't afford to challenge them.

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      dasmoozr49 5 years ago

      I retired 5 years ago after 32 years as a union painter.I worked for only 3 companies in all that time ,and only missed about 3-4 months of work (for lack of)in 32 years.My pension is great and my medical Insurance carries until I turn 65.They did it right by me and it`s just a shame that the building trades came to a screeching halt during the recession.Hopefully it will get better,but this is not the time to try to find a union job in the painting field

    • MelloYelloMan profile image

      MelloYelloMan 6 years ago

      I've never joined a union.. but I'm a painter and working for yourself is pretty much awesome. Nice hub man, I agree with pretty much everything :) keep it up bro!