By Richard Bermack, Contributing Writer and Photographer
With the tag line of “High Performance/High Value,” District Council 16 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades is an alliance of the finishing trades unions, including glaziers, floor coverers, tapers and painters. Their logo is a lion, and they are a high-powered organization, united by the goal of finishing buildings with style. They represent workers in Northern California and Nevada.
One of their current jobs is One Rincon Hill, Tower Two, a 49-story residential glass tower with panoramic views of the city and bay, featuring 298 luxury condos. On the Job Site talked with the workers, who shared their excitement about what they do and being in an organization that combines the different unions in the finishing trades.
–Voices From the Union–
My favorite part of painting is cutting in the trim. I feel like Picasso. You need a steady hand to paint a straight line. It took me a while. But you have to crawl before you can walk.
It’s a great experience being a painter and meeting people in other trades. While you’re doing your own work, you can see what they’re doing and gain a lot of experience. You get an overall sense of the big picture and how we’re all working together making the building turn out great. That’s what it’s like being part of District Council 16.
On this job you have a view of the whole city. From up here you can see all the cranes. It’s reassuring. I know there is going to be more work when this job ends. Follow the cranes, that’s the name of the construction game.
I’ve been in the trade 30 years. I started when I was 18, and it’s changed a lot since then. The trade has evolved with different materials and a different pace of work. It’s getting harder. They want more volume of production and at the same time more perfection. I’m also getting a little older. I’ll be 50 in November, and then in five more years I can retire.
District Council 16 is great for the trades because we have more members and that makes us stronger. When we started, we were just the tapers and painters, and now we are also the glaziers and the floors coverers. Before, it was tough. It was hard to get anything done, and our voices weren’t being heard. Now we have more members behind us.
It’s a good trade to get into, but it is hard work. You get to meet new people, you go to different job sites. It’s not the same thing day after day.
When I started we used to be almost all white and English-speaking, but now we have [more diverstiy]. I think it’s wonderful. You become more open-minded. Diversity is always a good thing, no matter what the group.
It’s the same thing about District Council 16. We have glaziers, floor layers, and all the other finishing guys on the job. They recognize you. “James, how you doing? We got a contract coming up...” They give us information about what’s going on in their union, and we give them information about what’s going on in our union. It’s like a big family.
I remember when we were on our own as tapers. There was a lot of animosity and backstabbing, and more politics. Now we get more representation, and that helps out all the crafts as well. When you see the glaziers on the job site you can let them know, “Hey, we’re doing a good job here representing District Council 16, so let’s get together.” We’re a big family, absolutely, District Council 16.
Being a painter is lovely, and the people you meet on the job are wonderful. When you start work it’s all bare sheet rock and spackling. When you leave at the end of the day, the walls are painted nice and solid, the trim is done, and it is just a good feeling.
We all get along much better, now that everyone’s in the same organization. Now we’re like one team. Before people argued and fussed a little, but now you get on jobs and it’s organized a lot better.
The benefits are good for the kids, and so is the money. You start the day early, get the job done, and leave early enough to get the rest of the things you need to do during the day done.
I like doing a quality job. It’s great being part of the finishing group. We’re all working together to complete the building, like one big family looking out for each other. That’s what I like about being in District Council 16. Every job is different, but you get to work with the crew and we all communicate pretty good. I feel blessed with all the work we have right now.
The unique thing about this job is the radius of the wall, and we need a 6-inch border all the way around. Cutting carpet on a curve is challenging, but after 15 years in the trade I have the feel for it and know the little tricks. What is the trick? Patience.
The apprenticeship program is pretty good. I go to school every three months to learn more about the trade. Everyone on my job site has been good to me. Overall I’m happy with it. My dad was a glazier, and he’s glad I’m a glazier and in the union.
I like being in a council with the different trades. It bonds us all together as one big team and one big family. That’s what being in a union is all about. We feel like we are all together and not working against each other. It’s pretty awesome.
I like looking back at the job and seeing how nice the carpet looks and knowing I did a good job.
My favorite job was doing my church in San Mateo. I was happy I could help them. Every time I go to the church I remember I did the carpet. My kids and my friends know, the carpet looks great, and it makes me feel great.
I’m happy to be in the union with all the benefits and know I have a retirement. And being with all the other trades makes it even better.
I like working in high spots with an incredible view like this. On top of Rincon Towers you get an incredible vantage point of one of the most beautiful places in the world, San Francisco.
I’m just one of the worker bees. There are so many things to be done. They just give me a task and I jump right in and do it. I help out wherever I can and let the big-league guys deal with the big picture.
I want to feel confident about my work, so that if my boss or the owner of the building came by I would be proud to show them the work I’m doing. I’d say,“Yeah that’s my work,” and hopefully they like what they see. I’m about craftsmanship.