Upon entering the warehouse at MetroPaint’s production facility, the swift, multi-step operation is all within view.
To the left, trucks drop off bins of used paint. Straight ahead, hundreds of stacked cans of paint are stacked along the wall, ready to be processed. In the sorting station above, workers separate by hues and shades, pouring similar colors down pipes that feed into larger containers where they mix together.
And to the right, Karl Burnice, 49, is quickly tapping down lids, ensuring each gallon of MetroPaint meets quality standards. After a year of learning the ins and outs of the warehouse, Burnice has found his place leading paint production.
Burnice started working at MetroPaint just over a year ago with the help of the Galt Foundation, an Oregon nonprofit temp agency that helps people get job training and find a path to stable employment.
MetroPaint, which recycles leftover latex paint into new paint, works with Galt, as well as St. Vincent de Paul, to provide such opportunities.
“They give us an opportunity and they trust us,” Burnice said. “They put their trust in us to get a good product out there and to the public and because of that, I feel appreciated.”
As a government, Metro is required to hire some employees through what’s called a Qualified Rehabilitation Facility. According to the state of Oregon, qualified facilities are organizations that “assist and encourage Oregonians with disabilities to achieve maximum independence through gainful and useful employment.”
Galt assists people facing a range of challenges to successful employment. This includes people with mental or physical disabilities and people transitioning from the criminal justice system through work release programs. After being matched with compatible job opportunities, workers start out as temporary employees at places like MetroPaint and acquire a variety of skills, including everything from handling cash and sales, to relevant lab procedures and training on operating heavy machinery, such as forklifts.
Workers find a chance to be productive and valued
When his grandson had a positive response to chemotherapy, Burnice decided to get back into the workforce. But, he says, finding a permanent solution was difficult because he has a criminal record. A few years ago, Burnice was working on and off again at a few different jobs. When his grandson was diagnosed with leukemia, Burnice stopped working completely – he didn’t know how to react to the situation.
“I kept thinking, when am I going to be allowed an opportunity at redemption?” Burnice said.
He contacted the Galt Foundation. He told them about his situation and interests, and they matched him with a job at MetroPaint. Now he leads the paint production department there, where he’s responsible for – as he puts it – producing as much paint as possible.
“It gives me a reason to be career-oriented again – to say hey, I can still have a career,” Burnice said. “This is not over. I can still be productive.”
When employees who come through these programs begin working at MetroPaint, most start in the paint processing room – a room suspended in the middle of the warehouse where workers are required to put on Tyvek suits and quickly, but carefully, sort through the many different cans of paint they receive on a daily basis.
When employees master the role, they get a chance to transition into other duties.
While the intent of the program is to provide training that can lead to other jobs, some employees have ended up staying.
MetroPaint manager Andrew Staab says these positions aren’t considered temporary. Staab has overseen the program since its inception in 1997 and says it’s provided opportunities for close to 120 employees. As long as people are willing to show up and do the work, he says, they have a secure job.
“It’s just been a fantastic program,” Staab said. “It’s giving people the opportunity to get on their feet, off the ground and really make a great, positive contribution.”
One of Burnice’s colleagues, Alan Hill, 59, arrived at MetroPaint after visiting Central City Concern, a Portland nonprofit that helps people with temporary housing and employment opportunities, as well as drug addiction treatment. Central City Concern referred Hill to St. Vincent de Paul, which then linked him to MetroPaint.
Now, after four and a half years at MetroPaint, Hill has mastered a variety of different tasks and skills. In his role as maintenance lead, Hill says that the most exciting thing he’s learned about is color.
“I never would dream there’s so many color variations,” Hill said. “We fix colors with colors and I just never knew how colors blend together to make different colors.”
Hill says he’s been sober for the past five years, a fact he partially attributes to his job.
“I think this job has a lot to do with that because I have something to do in the morning where I’m needed,” Hill said. “It makes me feel good about myself because I actually have a decent job that pays good and everything.”