September 18, 2005
Painting jobs on a roll
Special to The Seattle Times
GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Flecks of paint speckled Melvin Bradford's face as he looked up at the spire towering over historic Immanuel Lutheran Church in the South Lake Union area.
Bradford says that painting the spire's cross as he stood in the cage of a boom crane stretched 110 feet above the parking lot was the most difficult part of the seven-week-long project.
It was, perhaps, one of most difficult jobs he has done in his 40-year career as a painter. The work usually isn't that intense, according to Bradford, 57.
"To me, it's relaxing," he says. "It's something I enjoy doing. I get my gratification from standing back and looking at my work and going, 'Hmm, that's it!' "
And for people who want to paint, there is plenty of work.
"The job forecast is very good. The economy has finally turned around. We are really at a shortage now," said Steve Bloom, a local painters' union official.
"The demand is high enough right now that I think an employer, if they've got a guy who wants to work, they'll take the time to teach them," said Bloom, business representative for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council No. 5 (Seattle).
While going through a training program is preferable, people with no formal painting experience should be able to find work in this economy, Bloom said.
People interested in a painting career can call the painters' district council in Seattle at 206-441-5554. They are then referred to the local union in their area. Unions dispatch people to jobs as they're posted.
Demand: Strong now in the Seattle area. You might not even need experience to land a job.
Pay: Can vary widely, from about $10 an hour and no benefits to $25 an hour plus benefits. Union painters typically make $5 to $6 an hour more than nonunion painters, plus get benefits.
Union information: Call the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council No. 5 (Seattle) at 206-441-5554.
Contractor Development & Competiveness Center: A program to assist minority-owned painting contractors, run by the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. 206-323-0721 or www.urbanleague.org
Once hired, the person would enter an apprenticeship program and take classes either at South Seattle Community College's Duwamish campus, or at Bates Technical College in Tacoma.
The job can at times be rigorous and dangerous.
Painters may work on scaffolding or in confined spaces. Respirators often are needed to prevent inhaling fumes.
But Bradford said he enjoys the work and has been doing it since he was 16, working summers for Johnny Allen, a Central Area neighbor and one of the first African Americans in Seattle to own a commercial-painting operation.
"If you do quality work, your name will spread," Bradford says. "I don't cut corners. ... I'm always willing to give a little extra."
Urban League program
Minority and women contractors historically have had more difficulty securing work.
To help them, a program has been set up by the city of Seattle and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle the Contractor Development & Competitiveness Center (CDCC).
It screens applicants and matches them with people, businesses and organizations in need of painters or other help.
That's how Bradford ended up working high on the church. He works for CRH Construction, owned by Michael Hall, 47, who landed the church project through the CDCC.
Since it was launched in January 2004, the CDCC has helped small, minority-owned businesses win contracts worth $15.3 million, said James Kelly, Urban League president and CEO.
Kelly said more than 80 minority contractors use the CDCC's services and that it has successfully matched the small firms with large contractors such as Vulcan, Absher Construction, Kiewit, RAFN and Trammel Crow to work on projects.
"The CDCC is no different than the Small Business Administration whose mission is about providing businesses assistance to small and emerging businesses," Kelly said.
For more information about the CDCC, call 206-323-0721 or go to www.urbanleague.org.
Hall, 47, dabbled in painting when he was a student at Seattle Central Community College student in the 1980s he painted apartments in exchange for rent he didn't decide to make a career out of it until 10 years ago.
The first years were rough. To make ends meet, he relied on credit cards to pay for supplies and worked a lot of hours he didn't get paid for.
But after weathering the usual startup maladies, Hall snagged his first big job in Seattle in 1999 the Fine Arts Building of Seattle Central Community College. In negotiating for the job, he mentioned he had been a student there, though Hall isn't sure if it made a difference in winning the $170,000 contract.
He's kept his company small six or seven people. He doesn't want to run the risk of growing too fast.
"This biz is a boom-and-bust biz," he explains. "You don't want to take on too much. Stay in your niche. Moderate growth works."
Bradford says he enjoys the fresh air and the challenges of restoring historic buildings like the 115-year-old Immanuel Lutheran church. Such projects give him a chance to express himself.
"It's an art," he says. "It's not just a job to me."
Hall agrees: "It's like artwork. There's a beauty to this. You take a building that's about to fall in, and when you walk out, it looks like new money. I might bring my grandkids here and show them this church."
Seattle Times Job Market editor Bill Kossen contributed to this report.
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