Long hours, poor working conditions

July 28, 2000
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In a recent News survey, we asked technicians why they're leaving their jobs. Overwhelmingly, techs responded that they're jumping ship due to either a lack of money and/or respect. But there are other technicians who cite the long hours and extreme conditions that they must work in as key reasons why they want to leave.

In the peak summer and winter months, it's not uncommon for technicians to work up to 80 hrs a week. And, of course, that's when the weather is at its worst. Either technicians are melting in the sun or freezing in the snow on rooftops and in attics. Customers aren't usually too pleasant either when their equipment breaks down in extreme conditions, and it seems that components are required to break down in the middle of the night or on weekends.

There's no question, it can be a rough life. It's sometimes difficult to remember that technicians have their home lives as well - spouses and children that are waiting for them to get home. When another service call arises and the employer says "Go take care of it," the technician often has little choice but to go.

Work keeps pouring in

Lawrence Jordan, Jordan Air Services LLC, Vernon, CT, ended up leaving his job as a technician and opening up his own company. The reason? "My previous employer of 10 years hired a salesman, the work started pouring in, and there were no qualified employees to do the work."

Therefore, the company implemented mandatory Saturdays and double on-call duty. "With an apprentice on primary, you know who was working." The qualified technicians ended up running around, doing callbacks and working late. "After six months of torture, I told my boss I felt like a slave, and he laughed at me and mentioned all the extra money I was making. That was when I decided to quit," says Jordan. The mistake his former employer made, according to Jordan, was to open up the doors to anyone. "They could have marketed to better-quality accounts, instead of going after greasy spoon restaurants for a C.O.D. call at 6 p.m. on a Friday. They took any dump for an account and expected us to be happy. Instead, working conditions went down the tubes and overtime went through the roof."

Another technician from the Dallas, TX, area, who wishes to remain anonymous, works in a meat processing plant and is thinking very hard about leaving his company. "The main reason is the hours. I have four days off per month, and I work 12 hours a day. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the work. But enough is enough. If someone offered me a job today, I would probably take it if I could afford to."

In addition, this technician says that he is frustrated with management. "The more you do, the more they add. As a maintenance tech, you develop a routine. Lately, my routine has been go, go, go."

Chuck Musaraca, currently in process controls and instrumentation at Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL, left the industry primarily due to lack of benefits. However, he also wasn't happy with the long hours. "It irritated me that when it was hot out, I couldn't go home at 5:00 p.m. I've got a family, too, and I'd like to go home and see them." Problems with customers were also a concern. "Every once in a while you get a customer where even if you gave them everything for free, they still wouldn't be happy."

The president of an air conditioning company in Ohio, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that many technicians do not like the hours that a demanding service company requires. "They are looking for a stable eight-to-five job. Wives want husbands home to help with the kids. We are looking at a generation of techs who probably were raised by a daycare center while both their parents worked. They want to be more involved with their families than their parents were with them."

Techs, too, can be at fault

Craig Holmer, president, Alliance Mechanical Services Inc., Roseville, MN, says that one of his technicians left his company, objecting to the long hours. This technician went to another firm where he made less money but was promised fewer hours and no on-call duty. "That was one of the best things that could have happened to us. We replaced him with a first-year apprentice that works harder, makes more money for the company, and has a positive effect on everyone's morale."

Speaking of morale, several contractors cited numerous technicians who caused problems at work. Harvey Schwartz, president and ceo Alliance Heating and Air Conditioning Services Inc., Stockbridge, GA says that two technicians have left his shop in the last five years. These employees failed to meet minimum requirements for tardiness or absenteeism.

Dorrance Yount, vice president, A-1 Air & Heat Inc., Miami, FL, says that he has had problems with employees who've done drugs, as well as employees who have stolen customers and inventory for side jobs. "One of the employees stated to me that the reason for side jobs was I wasn't paying him enough. I rehired him when he came to me because the company he was working for was bouncing paychecks."

However, even though Yount paid this technician what he wanted and also gave him paid vacations, bonuses, paid holidays, and no sales quota, he ended up firing him after nine months, because the technician was basically dishonest. As Yount says, "He got me good. I was really surprised he turned out the way he did, especially after rehiring him, giving him a position, and paying him what he wanted."

So there are problems on both sides of the desk - employers who demand too much of their employees and employees who don't demand enough of themselves. Both contribute to the cycle of technicians leaving their jobs and contractors searching for suitable replacements.

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