I decided to humor Firestone and go an interview at a local branch for their lead technician (aka shop foreman) position. Their offer was laughable, but it was enlightening. I can say with the utmost certainty that if you care about your car, or keeping your money, you shouldn’t go there.
Before I get into why I think Firestone’s offer was laughable, we must first review how technicians are paid in California. Being as California is the Socialist, Communist, and Liberal capital, at least according to conservatives, California labor law guarantees that technicians are paid close to a living wage. I’m sure all of you are well aware that professional tools are not cheap. But the industry evolved to place most of the burden on technicians, and therefore we have to provide our own tools. But, California, being the socialist hell that it is, thought that the regular minimum wage wouldn’t be enough for people to be able to afford tools, and also eat and have shelter.
While I am not our resident labor legal expert, I have had several wage claims, so let me quote you California Industrial Wage Commission Order 9-2001, Section 9, subsection B: When tools or equipment are required by the employer or are necessary to the performance of a job, such tools and equipment shall be provided and maintained by the employer, except that an employee whose wages are at least two (2) times the minimum wage provided herein may be required to provide and maintain hand tools and equipment customarily required by the trade or craft.
So, you can see that employers can actually provide the tools for their technicians, and many dealers do*. Oh wait, they say they do, and they make technicians sign many documents saying that they’ve been furnished the proper tools, but they never do. I worked at one dealer that literally provided nothing. But, most times, they provide one set of tools for dozens of lube technicians who constantly lose stuff, break things, or don’t return them. So the technicians are forced to buy their own tools so they can do their job effectively, lest they want to lose their job.
But for years, regular technicians were on a “flat-rate” system. Utilizing the manufacturer’s published labor times, technicians were only paid for those hours that they “flagged.” Usually, technicians had a sheet of paper where they wrote down the repair order number (RO), their technician number, and the labor time for the job they were doing. These were called flag sheets. Technician’s flag rate was usually many times over the minimum wage. A friend of mine who now owns a shop used to make around 40% of the shop’s posted labor rate. Most technicians don’t many anywhere close to that anymore. Back when he was working the minimum wage was around $5.
This gravy train stopped a few years ago, though, thanks to lawsuits. Why it took so long, though, I don’t know. I’m sure many of you can see the issues with the system. If you can’t, let me go over them with you.
So technicians were only paid for the work they flagged. So if on any given day they flagged zero hours, they were paid zero dollars for being in the shop that day (usually eight hours). The key to the lawsuits was that technicians were still be required to be on duty, even if they weren’t working. But the flipside to flag is the change for fraud and incompetence. If you’re paid based on the hours you flag, then the more hours you flag, the bigger your paycheck would be. So many technicians recommended work that didn’t need to be done. Or, technicians just wouldn’t do the work they say they did. I’ve heard so many stories of technicians leaving a shop and stuffed in a corner somewhere were tons of brake pads they never installed. Or they recommended flushes and never did it. The real common one was a brake flush where the technician would just empty the reservoir and put in new fluid. But then there are guys who take massive shortcuts to make the job go faster. I’ve seen technicians cut holes in splash shields to do a trans service (that saved you what, five minutes?)
But this system going away. It still exists in smaller independent shops which haven’t been sued yet. But most big dealers and corporate shops like Firestone have changed their pay system to be compliant with California. But before I get to Firestone, let me go over how most shops handle the new system.
Quite simply, they pay their technicians twice the minimum wage, which, right now, is $22. But in order to keep technicians motivated to sell those flushes and brake jobs that don’t need to be done, they’re still them paying them a flat rate, but when you actually get that higher dollar figure changes from shop to shop. One place that offered me a job paid $22 an hour, but if you flagged over 40 hours in a work week you were then paid your flat rate. Another shop, a dealer group, does the minimum wage, and then they have the flat rate, but there’s no threshold, you’re just paid the higher dollar figure. So let’s say there your flat rate is $30 an hour. After 29 hours flagged you’re making more money for that week. I like that system more because work is always in flux, and in my experience 40 hours a week flagged is not the easiest task unless you’re doing lots of high paying services.
But Firestone! Oh Firestone! They don’t pay their technicians a minimum wage. No… If you work there, and you’re not flagging any hours, you only get $12.50 an hour. But for every hour you do flag, you get paid your flat rate. And they’re cheap AF. They offered me, as a flat rate, my current hourly wage. They offered me a wage that I get right now whether I sit on my ass or not. But there, to take home the same amount of money, I’d have to flag 40 hours a week. And like I said, that can be hard most of the time. But the manager at the store I went to said that wouldn’t be a problem since his top two techs are flagging 50-60 hours a week.
There is no way a technician, let alone two, is flagging that many hours a week unless there is fraud involved. I’m sorry, but there’s just no way. So they can take their shit offer and stick it you know where. I don’t to be anywhere near a place like that.
As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
And I probably should have read this before wasting my time yesterday.