In March 2021, Palmer Scholars established its inaugural Palmer Pathways Advisory Committee. The committee, composed of seven community leaders in the trades, guides the work of the Palmer Pathways initiative. John Boufford was recently named the inaugural chair of the advisory committee.
Attracted by the starting wage, John entered the industry as a drywall finisher at 28 years old. He worked as a drywall finisher for 15 years and nearly 10 years into his career, began paying attention to the work his union was doing. Soon, he was elected as the Vice President of the Painters Local 300 of Seattle. John’s leadership contributed to the creation of the Local 364 Drywall Finishers union and in 2011 he became the elected Union Representative. During his two four-year terms for the union, John participated in contract negotiations, project labor agreements, and relationship building with public entities like Sound Transit. After losing an election for a business manager position, John said he financially didn’t skip a beat. “I had a trade to go back to as a journeyman drywall finisher. It was great to have that to fall back on, but I missed union work. I missed representing people, looking after people, making sure contractors are following their agreement and everyone is treated well.” Shortly after, John was hired as a Project Labor Specialist at Sound Transit.
John found his way to Palmer Pathways via CityLine, after seeing Palmer Scholars Executive Director Jonathan Jackson speaking to the new Pathways initiative. ““There are workforce utilization goals in the Sound Transit Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for 20% of all hours to be worked by apprentices, 21% by people of color and 12% worked by women.Some contractors on our projects struggle to meet those goals and Palmer Pathways is a program that is addressing that need,” John said. Recognizing the impact being a state-recognized pre-apprenticeship program could bring to the program, John, along with the rest of the advisory committee, guided Pathways staff in applying for recognition. “I was at the meeting where the State Apprenticeship Committee approved the Pathways program,” John said. “The committee had the nicest things to say and were so impressed by the program--how it was put together, the relationships, the partnerships that Jonathan and Christina have developed--and quite honestly, so am I.”
Having worked in the trades in multiple capacities, John recognizes the unique challenges that communities of color and women have when entering the trades. “African Americans are highly underrepresented in the trades,” John said. “That’s part of the work that Sound Transit is doing. One of the key objectives for employment in our Labor Agreement is to build a workforce on Sound Transit projects that reflects the diversity of our region. That starts with preparing underrepresented and sometimes underprivileged people to enter an apprenticeship program. Now we’re turning our attention toward the retention of these new apprentices. Through jobsite culture training for supervisory staff, we’re addressing some issues that can crop up on the job like microagressions and microassaults to checkerboarding, and underemployment. Things that might seem minute in the moment but can add up over time causing some to abandon their apprenticeship and career in the Trades. I believe the training and especially the mentorship component of Pathways will help folks deal with and work through those issues.”
John has big dreams for the Pathways initiative. He wants to see as many unions as possible creating articulation agreements so that those graduating from Palmer Pathways have direct entry into their apprenticeship programs. “I want the Pathways program to turn out at least 20 people per year and find them a construction career with good benefits, a living wage, health care for their whole family, and pensions so they can retire with dignity,” John said. “My vision is changing lives for the better, which is what I know this program is going to do.”
Are you interested in getting involved with Palmer Pathways as a mentor or would your union or business be interested in forming a partnership? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.