Member Spotlight: Paul Sullivan, Vice President, IUPAT DC 35

 In News, Newsletter: Summer 2020

Most young apprentices or journeymen don’t give a lot of thought to what’s going to happen 35 or 40 years down the road. Understandably, most live in the present and are focused on doing their jobs well and providing for themselves and their families.

But Paul Sullivan, Vice President of DC 35 for the last decade, has the perspective of a retiree, looking back on a more than 35-year career as a DC 35 member and officer. He says all of the hard work and involvement in his union paid off, with health and pension benefits second to none and the camaraderie of friends for life.

“A lot of people who don’t have what we have won’t be retiring any time soon, or at all,” Sullivan says. “My financial advisor has said to me, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are.’”

The union has meant a lot to Sullivan, joining the Painters Union after getting off active duty in the U.S. Navy. “As luck would have it, I ran into a friend of mine who owned a union company and he talked me into joining. The rest is history.”

Sullivan, who lives in Salem, MA, says the wages and benefits were always good and got even better over time. The benefits and health insurance gave his family peace of mind, and the pension and annuity have given him retirement security.

Sullivan started out in 1983 as a member of Local 391 and then of 1280, where he served as the local’s warden, recording secretary, then president. He specialized in sign pictorial and decor graphics. He switched to full time painting, paperhanging and drywall finishing in the greater Boston area.

He strongly advises members to get involved in their union because it’ll make a world of difference in their lives and careers.

“After I joined DC 35, I made a pledge to attend all the union meetings, which I hadn’t done in the beginning, and it made a huge difference in my career,” he says, noting that being active in the union led to a seat on the Executive Board.

His advice to those just getting started: Attend union meetings, get to know your business representative and other active members and learn to be as multifaceted as possible because the more you know, the more valuable you will be on the job.

“Work as many hours as you can, set aside a little money for the tough times, which are inevitable, and remember that the retirees count on you to keep the funds coming just as you, one day, will count on others,” he advises.”As a retiree, I have peace of mind because I have guaranteed income, and thanks to the hard work of our leadership team and the hard work of our members, my wife and I don’t have much to worry about.”

Sullivan can’t say enough about the union’s training and organizing program, which he has seen grow and improve exponentially over the decades. “Our great training program and organizing drives help us stay one step ahead of the competition,” he says. “Worker safety is paramount in DC 35, and the FTI does everything it can to help our men and women in the field—CPR, first aid, silica awareness, OSHA 30, PFT, etc. There is always something new coming down the pike, and the FTI is on top of it.”

Organizing is arguably the union’s top priority–to keep and increase our market share. But there are huge obstacles to union preservation and growth that we constantly must fight.

“It’s dangerous out there and make no mistake–there are people (politicians) out there who want unions to fail and we must do our due diligence to defeat them and bring in new members and new ideas to help us win,” he says. “Like the back of the shirt says: ‘Strength in numbers.’”

Sullivan says he’ll probably step down in June because “it’s time for the younger ones to step up.” Being a member of DC 35 has given him the luxury of saying: “If I wasn’t in the Painters Union, I’d still be working.”