Out In The Open

[Editor's note:This letter is in response to Mark Skaer's column "It's Time For Open Dialogue," Sept. 29.]

I flinched a little when you described the conflicts between manufacturers and contractors as "backstabbing," and that you were tired of it. As a contractor, I wish that we had not left you with that impression. The truth is that both the manufacturers and the contractors have some valid arguments to make and there is a need for the industry press to study this situation and report objectively. This situation is heating up and will not go away soon.

I don't know why you found it necessary to give credit to Terry Nicholson for being the author of the timeworn phase, "The only constant is change." Contractors who have been in business a number of years fully realize that our industry has never been static and changes constantly. The trend over the past few years is requiring contractors to make some radical changes and some contractors are fighting for their very survival.

Manufacturers are now contractors and performing services that they once left to contractors. Contractors see this trend leading to a monopoly, which will not be in the best interest of the end users.

Contractors welcome the opportunity to speak directly to the decision-makers of the manufacturers and let them know where we stand. We accept them as contractors, but we also expect them to be responsible and keep the playing field level. We have some specific issues with each manufacturer. We would like to see these issues brought out in the open, and this is where the press can serve us.

Pat Rucker
Entech Sales & Service

You Are Correct, Sir

[Editor's note:This letter is in response to Charlie Greer's guest columns "Do You Really Want 24-Hour Service," July 14, and "Debate Rages About 24-Hour Service," August 11.]

It was with great interest that I watched the reactions to your article on whether we should give 24-hour service. From what I read, most of the responders missed your financial point of not doing it.

The article really crystallized my thinking. You are absolutely right on all that you wrote.

I do hope you did not take the other readers' criticisms to heart. Your truly enlightened article did a great deal of good for me and my small staff. Because of you, our nights and weekends are enjoyable.

Joe Gwozdecki
Ethan Clark Air Conditioning

Underpaid And Unappreciated

[Editor's note:This letter is in response to Charlie Greer's guest column "Take Care Of Your Techs, Please," Sept. 15.]

Taking care of techs doesn't seem to work in Southern California. There is an overage of owners and a shortage of techs. Techs only stay long enough to get their own license. My hometown is full of one-man shows. I think the workers' comp meltdown has a lot to do with it. No one can afford the rates, so they lower wages to compensate. Low-paid employees milk the system so they can stay home and make more money. Plus, it gives them more time for side work. It's a vicious cycle.

It's affecting all trades in California. I'm amazed when I drive by jobsites and see young men framing $6 million homes working for $7 per hour and HVAC installers putting in duct systems for $8 per hour. Of course they're going to pursue other careers. In-N-Out Burger pays more than most contractors.

I feel I was forced to become independent. I started in this trade in 1989. The company that hired me started me at $10 per hour and put me in a service truck my first day and sent me on calls. I had no experience and was out charging $52 per hour for my inexperience. I learned quickly and got to know what I was doing in about six months.

After that company folded, I then went to work for a community hospital as an HVAC mechanic. They started me at $11 per hour. Five years and much training later, I was at the journeyman level, but only making $11.66 per hour. My wages went up 1 percent per year. I was an experienced mechanic making less than a living wage. I asked the company for a $1 per hour raise so I wouldn't have to get a second job, but they refused. I then took on another job working days for another service contractor who paid me $13 per hour six days a week, while still working five nights at the hospital.

I was working over 100 hours per week in the heat doing skilled labor. Needless to say, I wasn't able to maintain that rate for long. Six months later, I was very tired and got the break that I needed. I got a hernia while rope pulling a compressor up to a rooftop. I had to have surgery. The surgeon gave me 30 days off. I didn't file a workers' comp claim, paid for the surgery myself, and collected three weeks of 80-percent disability. But the month off gave me the chance to look for another job.

I applied at another hospital while I was off. I was offered a job starting at $18 per hour. At the end of the 30 days, I went to put in my notice at both jobs since I had found a career while I was off. Neither employer was happy. The hospital said goodbye, but the contractor I was working for suddenly decided she wanted to start taking care of me and got in a bidding war with the other hospital. She ended up offering me $20 per hour (a raise of $7 per hour). It sounded so good, so I stayed. She gave me a nice paycheck but nothing else - no benefits. I was content with my paychecks, but a large portion went towards insurance and my IRA.

She worked me to death. I worked 12 to 14 hours per day, six days a week - so much for having a life. Quitting the other job only added more hours to my day job. I couldn't win. Either I was working for low wages or working all the time or both.

So, four years later I decided to become self-employed. All I wanted was a livable paycheck and time off to live. No one ever offered me those things. I've been doing things my way for the last four years and I finally achieved what I wanted all along. I never would have made the jump if I didn't have to.

Daniel Olesiak
Bighorn Heating & Cooling
Palm Desert, Calif.

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Publication date: 10/27/2003