Show me the money

July 14, 2000
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When we asked technicians to tell us why they are leaving their jobs, we were surprised by the sheer number of responses we received, not to mention the emotionally charged answers we received from many.

As can be expected, the reasons why technicians are leaving their jobs are varied. One of the top reasons for leaving, however, is money. Technicians feel they’re not being paid enough, either directly through salary or indirectly through benefits, such as vacation, medical insurance, holidays, and sick days.

Contractors say that’s just not true, stating that technicians are making a great wage at $15 or $20/hr, and many also receive medical and retirement benefits.

One contractor, who wished to remain anonymous, says the problem is that technicians are just too greedy, and they expect too much from an industry with a very thin profit margin.

A consensus may never be reached on this issue, but both sides have some very interesting things to say.

More pay, less pressure

There’s no doubt that technicians have a high-pressure job, and especially in the peak months of summer and winter, when they must battle the elements to reach numerous customers whose air conditioning, heating, or refrigeration equipment is on the fritz.

The pressure comes from on high (management) to service as many customers as possible — and the pressure also comes from the customers, who always seem to think that their situations are more critical than anyone else’s.

Many technicians feel the pay is not commensurate with the amount of pressure they must deal with on a day-to-day basis. One Glen Rose, TX technician (who wished to remain anonymous) says that he’s frustrated mainly because of the lack of pay and benefits, but the pressure is also getting to him.

“My current position has [a lot of] pressure to complete work and not enough emphasis on correcting the a/c problems. [My employer] needs to understand that some a/c problems are time consuming, and you just can’t ‘add more charge.’”

Rhonda Patterson, operations manager for Fowler and Sons Inc., Raleigh, NC, agrees that stress can be an issue. “Refrigeration is much more demanding than hvac. We do both. The after-hours calls are too much. [Technicians] can go to a strictly hvac company and make the same money with less hours and stress.”

Another technician from Sioux Falls, SD, left the industry entirely after being a technician for more than 10 years. He says he would’ve been happy to stay in the industry if his employer offered “more cash and more benefits.

Bev Bauer, co-owner of Bauer Comfort Center (pictured here), Cissna Park, IL, says their technicians work between 40 and 50 hrs a week.
“I thought this business would follow suit with the automotive industry. It has not done anything except go backwards in the last 10 years, so I got out.”

Chuck Musaraca, currently in process controls and instrumentation at Argonne National Labora-tory, Argonne, IL, is another former technician who said goodbye to the industry. “The reason I got out was lack of benefits. There were no sick days, no real paid vacation, no paid holidays. The other thing was that the work was seasonal. Sometimes I’d only be bringing home $125/week.”

Musaraca notes that in his current position he receives four weeks of vacation, 18 sick days, and 11 paid holidays. “Everyone’s complaining that they can’t get any qualified technicians. Well, why would I want to work for you for $15 to $17/hour out in the heat or cold, when I can go work somewhere else, like in a factory, and make the same amount of money, plus get a benefits package?”

And when technicians speak up to company owners about money issues, things can get worse.

Thomas Collins, a technician in Esko, MN, says that he asked his employer why some of the new people were only making $0.08/ hour less than he was when these people weren’t EPA certified technicians and they had no oil burner experience.

The response: “One owner has not said anything to me for almost four weeks since I said something about the pay situation.”

Contractors are frustrated

Contractors are also upset over technicians complaining about pay issues.

One contractor in the Chicago area says, “We’re frustrated with the attitudes of people. Technicians want to work the hours they want to work, they want off when they want off. They want the big money and all the benefits without taking any risks.”

This contractor notes that heating and air conditioning prices haven’t increased significantly like automobiles and other items. “But technicians think you’re making a killing. They want what we have, but they don’t want to work for it.

“If they want to go into debt, go out on a limb, and pay all the taxes, that’s OK. But they don’t want to do all that. We’re the ones who make the middle-of-the-night and holiday calls.”

Bev and Sam Bauer, owners of Bauer Comfort Center, Cissna Park, IL, also work a lot of long hours. Bev Bauer says their technicians work between 40 and 50 hrs a week and don’t work Sat-urdays unless something unusual happens.

“My husband is the one who works 70 to 80 hours a week. He works with the men during the day, sells at night, puts away inventory, fabricates sheet metal on the weekends, and catches up on paperwork whenever possible.”

The Bauers started their contracting firm in 1977 and worked out of their home until they were out of debt. It took a long time, but they finally were able to build a new building three years ago. “Now we’re back in debt, but we’re not afraid, because we’ve got a good customer base,” says Bauer.

Money is always a touchy issue. Whether you’re a contractor or a technician, it’s obvious there are big differences in what each thinks constitutes a fair wage and benefits package.

There’s no real right or wrong side to the problem; however, it would be great if both sides could work together to come up with an equitable solution.

Next week: Is it really the money, or is it respect in general that hvacr technicians are seeking?

Sidebar: Summer review targeted for ventilation standard

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — Design guidance for controlling odor in indoor spaces where smoking occurs is described in a proposed addendum to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ (ASHRAE’s) indoor air quality standard.

ASHRAE Standard 62-1999, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, addendum 62o is one of four addenda approved for public review at ASHRAE’s 2000 Annual Meeting, held here June 24-28.

The addendum calls for providing additional ventilation for smoking-allowed areas, and provides guidance on how to determine the amount of additional ventilation over what would be provided in a similar non-smoking area, according to committee chair Andrew Persily.

Other Standard 62 addenda approved for public review include:

  • 62t, which clarifies requirements related to condensate management, including drain pan design, carryover from cooling coils, and access for inspection and cleaning;

  • 62u, which relates to the control of ventilation systems, specifically system controls to ensure adequate ventilation whenever buildings are occupied and under any load conditions; and

  • 62y, which classifies air with respect to contaminant and odor intensity, and limits the recirculation of lower-quality air into spaces that contain air of higher quality.

The addenda are expected to be announced for public review this summer.

For more information, contact ASHRAE at 1791 Tullie Circle N.E., Atlanta, GA 30329; 800-527-4723 (U.S. and Canada only); 404-636-8400; 404-321-5478 (fax); www.ashrae.org (Web site).

Sidebar: Don't discount education

Another benefit that many technicians would like to see offered more regularly is education. An anonymous technician from Macedonia, OH, says that he entered the field so that he could work on state-of-the-art equipment. But his former employer would only send the “young bucks” to school and let them work on the new equipment, then complain when these employees left for a dollar more an hour.

“They said it was too expensive to send me to school and pay me to learn, so they sent the kids at one-half my rate in order to save a buck.” This technician has ended up leaving the industry altogether.

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