My Father, Too
On Your Own
Cheap Labor?

My Father, Too

I don’t know how to begin. My dad had only recently passed away when I read Al Levi’s column about his dad’s sayings (“Father Knows Best,” April 2007). I felt like I had to write something myself.

Dad was 72 years young when he left us March 31. He brought me and my two brothers up in the family business, Burke and Sons, out of Groveland, Mass. He was from the old school of plumbers who had a special relationship with all of his customers.

I realized this when my family and I stood for four hours to greet a solid line of family, friends, current and former employees, and longtime customers during his wake. He had touched the lives of so many people. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to ask me to pick up a coffee to bring to the customer I was heading to next. He always knew how they took their coffee, too. 

My dad was known as a man of his word. Everyone who knew him would tell you that if “Burkey” said he would be there, he would be there. If he said he would take care of something, he would take care of something.

My dad made a good living in the plumbing trade and was the best provider our family could ask for. I have two brothers and three sisters, three sons, and 14 nieces and nephews. My dad would consider himself rich because he built his life around our family.

Even though life as a plumber is always busy, he would find the time to coach the baseball team or bring us hunting and fishing. He had just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with my mother, the love of his life. My mother and father were never far away from each other. If my dad was out in the garden, my mother would be hanging clothes.

Even when he was retired, his schedule was full. Whether it was toting my lawn tractor to the shop or helping one of us with the garden. I feel as though my dad should be mentioned in someway in PM. He will always be loved and missed by so many.

Michael Burke
Powerhouse Plumbing and Heating Corp.
Plaistow, N.H.

Al Levi’s column on his dad’s wisdom sayings reminded me of my dad. He worked for a large commercial general contractor in charge of purchasing, estimating, planning. He and mom raised five sons, and all five of us are college grads with businesses or professional jobs. And we’re all married to our first loves with about 120 years of marriage cumulative among us.

Dad would always say, “Timing is everything” - and I’ve come to realize that applies to business, marriage and family.

Bruce Auld
Andrews Auld Heating & Cleaning
Franklin, N.C.

On Your Own

Editor’s note: In April, Bruce Dix wrote us in response to a January 2007 Randall Hilton column on the perils of going into business for yourself. The following letters respond to Mr. Dix.

Great Letter to the Editor by the “one-and-a-half-man shop” in your April issue (“Glad To Be On My Own”).

I have been a one-man operation since 1967. I thank God each day for being in this great country, free to pursue the trade I love and, at the same time, be in business and show a profit.

I often find myself driving to a job and finding myself blessed that I am self-employed and doing something fulfilling. I am now and have always been proud to be a plumber. No employees to me means no extra problems. I wish you realized how many one-man shops were out there.

Tom Dooley
Tom Dooley Plumbing
St. Petersburg, Fla.

I have always been puzzled on how one-man/one-truck plumbing companies claim they own a business. What Mr. Dix really owns is a job.

How can a one-man/one-truck shop properly service its customer base? It can’t - at least not properly. If Mr. Dix were to go on an extended vacation and a recent new HVAC equipment installation fails while he is gone - mind you this would be the hottest day in July - who would service that customer? Mr. Dix would be jeopardizing his reputation and risk losing a customer to a competitor.

One-man shops suffer this dilemma time and time again. We are always bailing customers out of situations where one-man/one-truck shops cannot get the job completed because they are over-committed and over-sold.

I did start my business as a one-man/one-truck shop in 1993. As I grew my customer base and business, I added additional trucks and staff to serve my customers. I currently operate with 12 trucks and employ 15 people who I have taken the time to train, which includes a dynamite office staff that keeps things pumping. In recent years, I have taken my head out of the trench to look back at how far I have dug.

Harry A. Chargois Jr.
U.S. Plumbing, Heating & A/C
Warrenton, Va.

Cheap Labor?

Jim Olsztynski’s“High Cost Of Cheap Labor,”editorial in April made me think how much has changed since my dad and most other dads had many of the basic skills needed to install or maintain the systems and appliances within their smaller, simpler homes. Since their wives did all of the household cleaning and meal preparation, dads were left with more free time to attempt their own home’s necessary installations and repairs

Today, by contrast, home comfort systems and appliances are highly engineered with complex components requiring special training and tools for installation and repair. Today’s homeowners have also been raised to maximize educational skills and pursue pleasurable activities. As a result, many live in large homes with complex comfort systems and numerous high-tech appliances that they don't have the time or training to understand much less install and repair themselves.

Ours is a dynamic, changing society. However, vestiges of an older order quickly surface when a “blue-collar” worker charges $40-$50 for a 15-minute service call. Some professionals are outraged that the plumber’s fee seems to be too much in relation to a “professional’s” fee for a 15-minute task.

Meanwhile, an industry of consumer protection agencies and organizations promote the fear of unknown workers doing terrible installations and repairs. Too many customers are looking for a problem when repairs that are not understood must be done by workers they have been taught to fear. However, for most services, the middle-class must now hire other middle-class workers who demand pay commensurate with a middle-class opportunity.

Tom Warner
Utility Service Express
Reston, Va.

Jim Olsztynski’s April editorial is something I’ve been preaching for years. I hope enough people read it and pay attention to what he is saying.

My family came from Italy and worked their butts off. The most my dad made was $4.64 an hour. But the three of us kids never really hurt for anything. I got my first real plumbing job in 1974 and joined the plumbers’ union in 1982. That was the best move I ever made. I’m not rich, but I’ve made a good living and will retire with a nice pension next August.

Ted Lancia
J.A. Guy Inc.
Dublin, Ohio

Jim Olsztynski opens his editorial with a story about United Airlines and states “most likely” the reason many fuelers didn’t come to work that cold February morning is they get paid $8.50 an hour.

Is that the reason or isn’t it? I don’t see any references to statistics or studies in your article.

What is a “have” and a “have-not”? What is the “good life”? You ask, “Is this really the kind of society that America wants to be?” Since when do countries have wants? People want things, political subdivisions don’t. I’m sure that a “wrdwzrd” would know that words have exact meanings.

Bill Cameron
Bill’s Home Repair
Orangevale, Calif.