After working for 24 years as a union painter, I became an organizer with the Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 4 in 2009 in Rochester, NY.
As a painter, I generally earned between $32,000 and $40,000 per year, depending on how long I was able to work in a year. In a typical year, I was only able to be employed for 9 or 10 months. Construction work in Western New York is seasonal, so workers normally face periods of unemployment.
In addition to these wages, I received a benefits package that included health insurance and a pension plan. These health insurance benefits assured me peace of mind knowing that if my wife or son ever had to go to the doctor, they would be taken care of and we wouldn’t have to go into debt to pay medical bills out of pocket.
These wages and benefits are incredibly important to me and my family. Without them, I would not be able to afford a home, own a reliable car, or treat my family to dinner at a local restaurant.
When I worked for a non-union contractor before becoming a member of my union, the wages were so low that I struggled to afford an apartment or reliable transportation. The job sites were often much less safe than sites managed by union contractors, and workers were often exposed to dangerous conditions.
I received wages that have allowed me to provide for my family and have a comfortable middle class life because of prevailing wage standards. These wages have not made me rich, but have provided me with an income that enables me to be a homeowner, pay property taxes, and put more money into my local economy. Without prevailing wage, more workers would be making poverty level wages, economic inequality would continue to grow, and our middle class would be further weakened.