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Painters Union Builds Local Alliances, with Focus on Youth

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(This is the first in a two-part series on the IUPAT's Community Organizing for Real Ecoomics (CORE) initiative.)

Engaging with community groups and re-establishing unions as an important community anchor has helped the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) grow its membership while uplifting neighborhoods and expanding equity and job opportunities for residents, including good career paths for youth. The key concept is reciprocity – union support for local causes builds alliances, which in turn build support for unions and their priorities.

It’s all part of a new initiative, Community Organizing for Real Economics (CORE), which harks back to an earlier era when – in the words of General Vice President at Large/Organizing Jim Williams Jr. – unions “were rooted in communities. That’s where we gained our strength.” CORE, he said, “is an effort to reach and touch a whole new generation of workers.”

CORE launched about two years ago when IUPAT General President Kenneth Rigmaiden assembled 16 district council members with experience in successful organizing and political action. The program’s early success prompted Rigmaiden to convene a follow-up meeting in April 2014, where participants shared best practices and challenges.

They also identified five primary areas of focus for local CORE programs:

  • Battling the underground economy in construction;

  • Fighting to maintain affordable housing in urban development;

  • Ending income inequality and its effect on the painting and allied trades industry and the communities where union members work and live;

  • Enacting corrosion control policies that benefit communities and the environment; and

  • Mitigating the negative effects of discrimination in civil and human rights.

“With its focus on environment, economy and equity for our members and their communities, IUPAT’s CORE initiative is very much aligned with the work of Emerald Cities,” observed Jack Hayn, assistant to the General President Rigmaiden.

Thanks to CORE’s community-based model, IUPAT has grown the ranks of District Council (DC) 9 in New York City; prompted DC 58 in Illinois and Missouri to launch several community outreach programs; and seen community advocacy for local workers’ rights lead to justice and more opportunities for IUPAT contractors in Seattle (DC 5).

Working with MAN UP!

In Brooklyn, DC 9 volunteers have been working with Man UP! (Multi-cultural social service Agency for Neighborhood improvement and for the complete Understanding of emergency Preparedness), an organization that mentors local youth and provides community, housing, youth and job development services in distressed communities.

This includes food and charity drives for local shelters, school supply donations and – in partnership with another community group, the Association of Women Construction Workers of America – instruction of youth in the painting and allied trades. These alliances mean that an IUPAT representative contacts MAN UP! when DC 9 is accepting applications for union membership to alert qualifying youth about the opportunity.

In return, MAN UP! recommended IUPAT contractors for a local construction project. The organization also helped resolve a neighborhood union construction project’s noncompliance with a project labor agreement, ensuring local IUPAT member representation on the project.

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