A Dear John Letter

Frank Blau
Contributing Writer

A PHC contractor and dear friend shared with me the following letter, sent to him by one of his service technicians.

“As I am sure you know I have grown increasingly unhappy with how things are going. I am writing this letter to give you enough heads-up so that you can hopefully find someone that is capable to work full-time, and to try to explain the reasons for my leaving.

“First, I have never worked for anyone that has tried so hard to take care of me. That has made this decision even that much harder. For this, I am very thankful.

“My unhappiness seems to stem from the following: “It seems harder and harder to find companies that supply equipment that is properly designed, tested and quality controlled. Our job is hard enough without having to go back to fix someone else’s problems. Not to mention that going back cuts into my income as well as the company’s.

“In the past, not as much lately, supply houses seemed to be employing the mentally handicapped. You order something for a job, they send you something else.

“You have been sacrificing yourself for being on call, which isn’t fair, but I am growing less and less patient with the people that call in. People that have legitimate calls on evenings and weekend still don’t want to pay to have someone come out, yet they are more than willing to pick up the phone and wake you out of a sound sleep and not even apologize or feel sorry for that. More and more people want the cheap solution instead of the right solution.

“Money: there is never enough. For me to make what I want for a wage, I would have to spend even more hours away from home, miss more dinners and family functions; and when I am home, write more proposals, hold more customers’ hands. My job is just that, a job, a way to support myself and my family. When it starts to intrude on all aspects of my life, that is unacceptable. In the past month, for example, I was late for one school open house because of problems with a water heater installation, and last time I missed Terri’s father’s birthday dinner.

“When I started working for you, I felt that the company would be growing steadily. It hasn’t really grown, with the exception of putting on truck on the road, which was the result of my hiring. I don’t see the company growing at a rate that would lead me to believe that my position or income would change significantly in the next 5 years. I am 37 years old now. If I wait that long to see what is going to happen, I could end up with very few job prospects dur to my age at that time. Also, this is taking a toll on me physically, (problems with) joints in my arm, wrist, shoulder and ankle.

“These are some of the reasons that I have decided to leave. What will I do? I don’t have any idea. I am basically upset, worried and lost. I know it wont be as a technician in plumbing or heating. I am not leaving right away, unless on the off chance something outstanding shows up, but I would think that I will not be here past February.

“I am sorry for the pain and hardship this will cause you. Again, I am thankful for what you have done for me.”

Familiar Story: After reading this letter, I called the contractor who shared it with me to find out more. I asked him how long the technician has been working for him. Answer: two and a half years. He’s married with two kids and last year made around $25,000 on his W-2 form.

I asked the contractor if he has a company funded profit sharing plan. No, “but we’re working on it.” Same old B.S. What about family medical coverage? No, but the guy’s wife works and her employer provides that coverage. Just great. And if she loses her job…? I asked the contractor how much he made last year. Answer: $50,000. He estimated he worked no less than 3,500 hours. This averages out to $14.29 an hour.

What’s wrong with this picture? You all know this is not an aberration. The story of this service technician is played out every day around the PHC industry, except most are not so considerate as to write such a thoughtful letter of advance notice. They just leave, and who can blame them?

Although this contractor is a dear friend, he still has his head buried in the posterior portion of his anatomy. He is afraid to take the medicine required to bring himself and his employees to their rightful position of pay and prestige commensurate with their skills and value.

Comparable Worth: I received a flyer from Giant Foods showing how much their drivers make. Drives for the supermarket and drugstore chain earn an average annual wage of $53,187. Their top driver made $80,985 and 70 others made upwards of $61,000. Plus, Giant’s drivers earn an additional $16,887 in benefits each year, including full medical, pension and sick leave coverage, up to five weeks of paid vacation, and 12 paid holidays. I don’t know precisely how long it takes to train one of their drivers, but I’m certain it’s not nearly as long as the 4-5 years it takes to produce a full-fledged PHC journeymen or service technician.

Who do you think pays for those handsome wages and benefits of longshoremen and grocery truck drivers? All of us do, of course. It is built into the price of every item shipped to and from overseas, and into every carton of milk and loaf of bread we buy at the supermarket. I do not begrudge those hard-working people the pay and benefits they get. It enables them to buy homes and cars to support their families with a decent lifestyle. It is good for our entire economy for them to have money to spend on such things.

All I want is some comparable compensation for the people who toil so hard and so well in our industry, such as the letter writer cited in this article. If the average grocery truck driver makes over $53,000 a year, then surely our service technicians are worth even more. If the average cargo dock mechanic makes $86,000-90,000, is it so outrageous to suggest that PHC mechanics ought to have the opportunity to earn just as much?

Why is it that those of us who provide that opportunity get accused of being “rip offs?” when a contractor can’t afford to pay his thoughtful, hard-working and talented business associates more than $25,000 a year, with no benefits, just who is ripping off whom?

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