go to CT and ask paintbooger. He's union and knows it inside out.
I've done union work, would rather be self employed, but if I did work for someone, it would be the union. There's no comparison when it comes to pay and benefits. Of course, there's the typical cry of low quality, but if you hired 50 guys at a time, that's what's going to happen. I have met some awesome, awesome painters in the union. Being young helps, as it's kind of brutal at times.
One thing to consider is where you are. Different areas have different ways of doing things. One thing for sure, union training (school) in invaluable. I never went. It's another issue to ask about. Depending on your experience they may or may not start you out as a journeyman.
In Chicago, if you want to be in the union, you find a union shop, or a friend in the union. After you get hired, you're with that shop. Chicago does not use the waiting list method. So there is no list to get on.
In Las Vegas, you join the union first, then solicit shops on your own, or, more commonly, sign up on a list and wait for a job call. I don't like the vegas method, becuase you could be #600 on the list, when your name comes up, you may work for 2 weeks, and go back to the bottom of the list. Or you may luck into a year long job. There are all kinds of little rules, like, you could pass on that particular job and wait for the next one, it's a crap shoot. Once in the door, if you impress a company enough, you could be hired on permanently and that's a little better because you go from job to job. Again, in Chicago, you get in with a co. and go from job to job. If you don't like that co. then stick with it until you are known, and go to another co. Also, in the chi. a lot of residential companies are in the union, in vegas you'd have a hard time finding residential union work.
I came to vegas, took the test, plunked down 600 and got a journeymans card. I solicited a little bit, but found my own work and when my name came up I was already working. So, I let the card go. I'm old school and they respect that a lot, but I never got the official union schooling.
So the question is, where are you?
Contact booger in CT, he can really fill you in.