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Painters Union Launches National Boycott Of PPG In Pittsburgh

Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Union workers and supporters gather to protest PPG Services, an online project management tool that connects commercial facilities with professional painters. PPG Place.

Members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades launched a national boycott against PPG products with a protest in Market Square Friday afternoon.

At issue is a new program from the paint and coatings company called PPG Services. The platform, which launched last September, is an online project management tool that connects commercial facilities with professional painters.

Credit Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA
Painters Cody Bohaski (left) and Joe Kovach attended the demonstration during a break from a job at PPG Place.

The union calls it “an Uber like service” as it is the platform, not workers, that sets prices for jobs. The union alleges that PPG Services will transform the painting profession into gig work, which will decrease wages for workers, degrade quality and perpetuate “worker exploitation and poverty.” 

The union points to Federal Reserve research which found that gig work "is associated with more [economic] fragility.” The study found that 58 percent of people who do gig jobs as their primary source of income would have difficulty handling an unexpected expense.

“When you have a manufacturer that sets pricing in the construction industry on wages, that’s a dangerous, dangerous thing for working people,” said James Williams, the union’s director of organizing. “[PPG] picked [a price] out of thin air … nobody knows how they came up with it.”

Sarah Boden
Credit Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA
Protesters gather at Market Square, outside PPG Place, to protest a new online platform that union workers say undermine their ability to command higher wages.

“[PPG Services] could put me at a lower rate, put less food on my family’s table, and I won’t have that,” said painter Cody Bohaski, who attended the protest during a break from a painting job at PPG Place, a mirrored, castle-like complex named for PPG, the structure's anchor tenant. 

PPG spokesman Mark Silvey said in an e-mailed statement that the rates painting companies receive through PPG services "are often at or above what painters may charge customers, as we are able to command higher prices due to scale and the value of our offering."

In a news release announcing PPG Services, senior vice president Tim Knavish said the system benefits small and medium-size painting firms, allowing them to grow their businesses. He said it also benefits customers.

“Our customers are looking for a simpler resource to manage ongoing general painting maintenance across their multiple facilities,” Knavish said.

The union is calling for a boycott of all PPG products, which includes not only the company’s own brand name paint, but also Glidden, Comex and Histor, among other brands.

Credit Sarah Boden
Chelsea Duffy says PPG is trying to transform her profession into gig work, which threatens her livelihood.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of the Labor Education Research at Cornell University, said that it’s very difficult for a national boycott to be effective because a “huge number” of consumers must stop using a product for it to impact a company's bottom line. 

“On a national scale, consumers don’t stop using a product … because there is no one watching them,” said Bronfenbrenner.

Though this might an uphill battle, union painter Chelsea Duffy said she’s determined to oppose PPG Services.

“As of right now, it doesn’t look so good,” said Duffy. “But we’re gonna keep up the fight.”

IUPAT represents painters as well as people who work in drywall finishing, glazing and glass work, sign and floor covering installation and other sectors of the construction industry.