Bob Wilkins has been a unionized painter for 41 years, and has worked for the Mission School District’s facilities department the last 22.
For the last two decades, Wilkins has travelled from school to school, filling daily work orders painting school exteriors, sidewalks, doors, panels, window frames, and scrubbing away graffiti.
“I know every principal,” he said. “I’m happy I’ve stayed with the school district … You’re more than just a number here.”
Wilkins started painting in Grade 9, and has been in unions his entire life. He says he’s seen many changes through the years, living through recessions, budget cuts, layoffs and a changing industry.
“You name a job, I’ve been there,” he said.
He said when he started, around 70 per cent of shops were unionized, and today, it’s under 25 per cent. He left the private sector when his employer started “double breasting,” a tactic of hiring outside the union to undermine collective bargaining.
“I think you need the unions, I really do,” Wilkins said, adding people owe them thanks for many of their benefits today.
Wilkins and a team of four other workers have just finished painting a fresh coat on Windebank Elementary School, a huge job done every eight years. It’s their second whole-school project this summer.
He said his team of painters can finish a school for around half the cost it would be contracted out for. He said he pays attention to project costs, even though that’s not part of his job.
“People that say, ‘Oh you union guys, we’re paying you taxes’ … They don’t really know what we do,” he said. “We don’t have to make any profit, we get the paint at cost, our wages are set, and we’re going to do (the job) right.”
He said he pays attention to project costs, even though that’s not part of his job.
“That’s all respect,” he said.
Wilkins said working through COVID has only slightly challenged the facilities department. They have a safety officer, they wear masks and sign in everyday.
But that’s something everyone has to do.
“This is the new norm,” he said. “You have to adapt, and I can adapt to anything.”