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Pros and Cons of the Painters Union

Updated on January 10, 2012

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 not only caters to painters, but also glaziers, drywall finishers and floor finishers. If you want to become a union painter, this article will lay out the pros and cons of the painters union:


No doubt, union painting pays well. For example, a journeyman painter in Chicago, in 2011, earned nearly $40 per hour after completing a 3 year apprentice program. Union painter wages vary, depending on where you live in the United States.

Good pension plan.

Good health and dental insurance.

All union paint contractors must adhere to the collective bargaining agreement and union constitution, which enforces rules meant to prevent unfair working conditions. You get a union mandated break in the morning at 9:30, 30-minute lunch at noon and a 15 minute clean-up at the end of the day.

The union provides free, but mandatory, apprentice training at their own school, where painters learn every aspect of the trade, such as taping, spraying, wood finishing, wallpaper, industrial painting and a lot more.

An apprentice begins working at a decent hourly wage.

Since apprentice wages are cheaper than journeyman wages and cost a contractor less money, an apprentice can work steadily throughout the 3 year program.


The generous insurance benefits and pension are worthless if you are not working enough throughout the year to meet the quarterly work hour requirements. If you can't find work in the winter months, or any work at all, you won't receive any benefits from the union.

Many union paint contractors lay off apprentices shortly after they complete the 3 year apprentice program, because the contractor doesn't want to pay the journeyman wage. That doesn't happen with every contractor of course, but unfortunately, it happens.

The union enforces ratios for the number of journeyman and apprentices working together on a job, but many contractors break the rules and man jobs with mostly apprentices, if not all, to reduce overhead costs on the job.

On average, a journeyman painter costs a contractor roughly $500 per day, between the hourly wage and union funding. Due to the high expense, a journeyman painter will have a hard time finding a job, or any steady work at that price in this economy, especially since most contractors are taking a hit due to the devastated construction industry.

You must pay union dues every three months, whether you're working or not. While union dues are a good thing in many aspects, in the painters union, you must continue paying dues even if you remain out of work for several months, or years. If you don't pay dues, you are suspended from the union.

Technically, as a union member, you are not supposed to take on painting jobs for yourself. If you are caught bidding on union work privately, or working privately on a painting job for yourself, you could be fined and even lose half your pension in some cases.


The painters union does not provide stable work, unless you have a friend or relative who can help you out. Union costs for a journeyman are very high and as a result, a contractor will be less likely to hire someone without a recommendation or family relation in the company. The union has great policies and indeed excellent benefits, but you won't receive insurance or a pension without work hours, which right now, is really tough in the construction business.

Joining the Union

Use Google to search for a painters union apprentice school in your area. All apprentices must go through a 3 year program before obtaining a journeyman card and journeyman painter wages. It would be best to call the apprentice school in your area first and find out if they are even accepting new students or not.

There might also be a district council office for a painters union in your city. Look it up online and see. Call them to get all the details about joining. The union requirements in Chicago might not be the same as New York or anywhere else in the US. Once you enroll in the school, you will have to make your first dues payment and begin your fun filled quest for employment.

If you are an experienced painter, it may even be possible to buy your journeyman card from the district council office.

This article is not meant to discourage anyone from joining the union. No doubt, the painters union does provide good wages and benefits, but only for those who can find steady work, which is not easy.

Unless you have a relative in the union who can help you out, it is very hard to find steady employment as a union painter. That of course has more to do with the horrible state of our economy than the union itself, but overall, I don't recommend the painters union. I was a union painter for nearly 10 years and leaving the union to start my own business was the best decision I ever made.


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    • MelloYelloMan profile image

      MelloYelloMan 5 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!

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      dasmoozr49 4 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

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      Al 3 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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      fresh paint 13 months ago

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

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