By Don McIntosh
Members of Painters Local 10 have just won immediate raises of as much as $4.27 an hour in two new master agreements—following an eight-month campaign to catch up to the compensation of other building trades. Both agreements took effect July 1 and spell out wages, benefits and conditions for union painters when they work in Oregon and Southwest Washington for contractors in either of two employer groups.
One is a new agreement with the Signatory Painting Contractors Organization (SPCO). Ratified June 28, it replaces a previous contract that expired March 31. New hourly wages for journeymen will be $26.56 for commercial and residential work (a $2.62 increase); $28.36 for industrial work (a $3.22 increase) and $34.23 for bridge work (a $4.27 increase). [Registered apprentices make 70% to 95% of the journeyman rate, while leadmen, foremen and general foremen make wages above the journeyman rate.] The contract also spells out $13.84 an hour in total contributions to union-sponsored funds for health, pension, and training benefits and labor management partnership and promotion. And members got a $300 signing bonus. The new agreement runs through March 31, 2023, and leaves wage increases for the second and third years up to negotiation, given current economic uncertainty.
The other master agreement is a first-ever contract with the Associated Wall and Ceiling Contractors (AWCC). Ratified June 17, it locks in a minimum hourly rate for journeyman of $27.00. Up to now, AWCC employers have employed painters under the terms of the SPCO agreement, which they had no hand in negotiating. Most AWCC contractors were paying above the SPCO scale. Pay increases under the new AWCC contract are retroactive to April 1 so that members will get a check for the difference based on prior wage levels and hours worked. The agreement runs through June 30, 2024.
Because Local 10 members rotate in and out of jobs for both groups of contractors, ballots were mailed out to all 437 local union painters for each of the contracts. Both employer groups must use Local 10’s hiring hall for referrals before they can hire off the street.
The two agreements cover work done in Oregon and six Southwest Washington counties: Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, Klickitat, Wahkiukum, and Pacific.
The contracts are similar but not identical: The new hourly wage is 44 cents higher at AWCC, but SPCO contractors will pay 30 cents an hour more toward the union-sponsored pension. There are also differences in provisions governing overtime, pay for travel time, and bonus pay for working out of area. Employers pay for parking under the SPCO contract.
“We finally got a real raise,” says Painters District Council 5 field representative Scott Oldham.
For Oldham, 51, a catch-up contract has been something he’s wanted since 2001, when he first became active in Local 10.
“This is the reason I started participating in the union,” Oldham said. “I was like, ‘Why is our wage so low?’”
Oldham says wages for local union painters have been stagnant in recent years, and even fell behind the wages of the most skilled nonunion painters (though union benefits have always been superior.)
To lay the ground for a big catch-up raise, the union first negotiated back the ability to strike in 2017. Previously, contracts had specified that an arbitrator would set terms when the two sides couldn’t agree. Then last October, the union formed a member contract committee to get organized and ready. As many as 80 members took part in committee meetings, half of which were held in English and half in Spanish. Oldham said the campaign ended up raising member expectations so much that even raises of over $3 an hour — the biggest in 38 years — came as a disappointment for some members. Oldham himself thought the raise would be bigger than that when bargaining began, but the COVID-19 crisis made it harder for the contract committee to meet and maintain momentum, and it added economic uncertainty to the industry. Plans for some kinds of construction, like hotels, were stopped dead. And commercial office projects may also have a harder time penciling out as companies adjust to having more employees work from home.
Oldham says union members hope to continue to make up more ground in future negotiations. In Seattle, journeyman painters in Local 300 make $31.15 an hour for commercial work under the master agreement.
The big wage increases won’t just make a difference in members’ take-home pay. They may also make it easier for the union to recruit more painters and thereby grow the union workforce. No sooner was the contract ratified than Oldham started putting posters up at paint suppliers advertising the new higher wages under the headline “painters needed.”