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Sniveling slackers leave me smokin’

I had to laugh yesterday when I read the story about some flat-rate service technicians in Texas and Oklahoma who were suing their RV dealership for overtime pay. 

The Southeast Texas Record reported, "According to the complaint, the defendant would estimate the number of hours they believed it should take the piece work employees to complete a particular job and then would only pay the employees for that amount of time or less. The plaintiffs claim the amount of time paid was arbitrary and had no relationship to the amount charged to the customer."

Boy, would I like to be on that jury.

I have worked with slackers at every job I’ve ever held. You know the type. The whiners who complain they have too much to do, yet find 10 minutes an hour for a smoke break, another 10 minutes to go to the bathroom, another 10 minutes to chat with someone in the next office or cubicle, and another 10 minutes on the phone talking to their spouse, special friend or child.

I have always worked best in an environment where the boss says, “Take me from Point A to Point B and do it within these budget parameters,” be it a budget of time or money. Then, if he gives me a long leash, I am usually able to deliver quality results on time and under budget.

That’s why I love the idea of flat-rate pay for RV service technicians. Eagles who can soar on their own with head-down, single focus efficiency through a project can often make hay when payday rolls around. If they are told the “average” amount of time it takes to complete a repair is X minutes, their competitive spirit usually ensures they have it done in X-20, so they can move on to the next repair.

At the end of the week, they have probably one to five additional repairs than the “average” technician. That leaves their pockets a little heavier on the way home from the bank. I have heard that some top quality technicians working under a flat rate system can make $80,000 per year or more.

Not everyone can do this. It takes undivided attention, training (often at the technician’s own time and expense) and determination to do a quality job right the first time.

I had to laugh yesterday when I read the story about some flat-rate service technicians in Texas and Oklahoma who were suing their RV dealership for overtime pay.  You can read the story by clicking here.

According to an article appearing in the Southeast Texas Record, “The employees state that they were not paid for all hours worked at their regular rate of pay and for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a work week at one and one-half times their regular rate.

“According to the complaint, the defendant would estimate the number of hours they believed it should take the piece work employees to complete a particular job and then would only pay the employees for that amount of time or less. The plaintiffs claim the amount of time paid was arbitrary and had no relationship to the amount charged to the customer.”

Boy, would I like to be on that jury.

The RV Dealers Association publishes a book called the Service Management Guide. Written by a committee consisting of some of the nation’s best master certified RV technicians, the guide estimates the amount of time it should take for an average, trained technician to complete a repair job. The purpose of the book is to help dealers provide better estimates for repair work when dealing with customers.

Funny thing about customers. They prefer to receive a qualified estimate for repair work rather than be told the clock is running and we’ll call you when the work is done.

According to the RVDA, the guide “represents years of research and experience in the entire range of RV service departments in large, medium, and small dealerships, as well as in separate parts and service centers.” The guide provides “reasonable guidance on the hours it should take competent technicians to perform assigned service operations or tasks.”

If McClains RV was following the tenants of this manual, and the technicians running to a lawyer seeking money they didn’t earn couldn’t consistently complete the work within the estimated time frame — then, according to the guide, there is only one conclusion to make. The employees are incompetent — or slackers. Take your pick.

I am sure there are situations where dealers make up their own timeframes in an attempt to cheat the system and steal money from their customers or their employees. But, I can’t see someone of the caliber of Nate McClain attempting to pull a fast one on his staff, or customers for that matter.

Here’s what I think. If this case had any merit whatsoever, the departments of labor in Texas or Oklahoma would have come down on the dealership like a duck on a junebug. I have noticed that state governments don’t take kindly to employers who rip off their employees.

But, since the states apparently don’t think anything is illegal in the flat rate pay plan, the sniveling slackers ran to an attorney to push their case in court. I certainly hope the attorney charges them by the hour, and not a flat rate for the job.

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About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is a freelance writer and podcaster who has been writing about the RV industry since 2000. He is the former editor of RV Daily Report.

6 comments

  1. Greg, I work in DFW as a Master Certified technician with 32 years at the same dealership. I KNOW some of the practices at McClains as I have talked to current and former Techs that worked there in the DFW stores. The Complaint the local techs had and the reason they quit when another job came up was simple. The Service Advisor was estimating jobs at a specific hour time and then the Dealership was paying the Flat rate time in less hours. For instance, they would quote the customer a job at 3 hour flat rate time and then the job was sold. The job was dispatched to the technician but the tech was then paid only 2 hours of the 3 hours sold. I believe THAT is part of the basis for the lawsuit. And, THAT practice is a ripoff for the Technician and has nothing to do with whining or complaining but fairness. Doug

    • And in addition to that when a job paid 3 hours (based on Spader) and you finished in 2 hours your (upflag) of 1 hour had to be spit. The shop of McClains paid the tech .50 in addition to the 2 hours but paid (Tech 100) .50. Tech 100 didn’t exist and increased net profit of the shop and the managers were paid a commission based on that net profit. A half hour 2 or 3 times a day taken from 7 techs that were there. That’s 10.5 hours per day @ $125.00 per hour. $1112.50 every 8 hour shift. Greg needs to go to work for McClains they would be perfect for each other!

  2. William Robinson, Jr.

    Greg, do I understand you to say that you have worked under a flat rate system? If not, you know not of what you speak. When I worked it as one of the 1st certified techs in NH, if you didn’t have a “special” relationship w/the service writer, you got stuck w/all of the crap jobs that you could not possibly do w/in said time, while those on the good guy list would get the gravy. I have read Dougs comments on other forums, and he’s a pretty sharp dude. Listen to what he says. On another note, I usually agree w/your editorials. Robbie…. 30 years of NON flat rate DoD nuke submarine repair work, and flat rate grunt work in the Marine Corps – Viet Nam.

  3. Also there are state rules on pay. In most states a tech can not be paid on commission and the flat rate you discribe is commission. Our dealership uses a flat rate system that depending on how many hours are “collectable” they get paid more per hour. But there is a minimum they get paid per hour regardless.

    That way they are paid for the 6 hours they worked on it even if only 3 was collectable. They would have 50% collectablility on that job. The hope is by the end of the week that techs are close to or above 100%.

  4. Not sure how that particular shop established the “flat rate time” required for a job, but I found that it was in the best interests of the company, the customer, and the good technicians in my shop. The ones who had “be-backs” for further repairs or who were too slow to do the work in the first place didn’t like it. If done fairly the system does give a bonus to the best techs who do the work quickly and right the first time. Rightly so. Even electrical repairs can be done on flat rates. We won some, we lost some, but overall the shop profits went up, the best techs had “raises” via the bonus, and customers were happy knowing the final bill before the job was done. Well, it did cost me (or the service writer, or service mgr in some shops) more time to set it up, but it paid off.

  5. A total lack of real world experience in the rv service industry leads to articles like this. The real issues are as follows:

    -Flat-rate times are made up by the RV manufacturers to control warranty costs
    -Poorly run departments that are supposed to support technicians productivity
    -Poor parts availability, wrong parts
    -Many jobs are not billable, a lot of free work
    -Politics in shops dictates quality of jobs received
    -Oem support is non existent
    -Dealers not investing in training or equipment
    -Overall poor treatment of technicians, no quality of life

    So come on down and help me replace a galley counter top for 1.0 that has a stove top, sink, faucet, and a glued on back splash. The new counter top has to be trimmed to fit the non square area so it doesn’t crack again.

    Flat rate tech with 25 years experience, RVIA Master Certified, EPA 608 Universal and 609 MVAC, AWS Certified welder, OSHA 10 hour card , HVAC and Industrial electrical school graduate. Etc…….

    Greg, do some research next time.

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