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Why Was He Fired?

Progressive wasn’t thrilled with me exposing the fact that they’re now writing some paint times as ‘judgment times.’ In fact, they were furious,” says Mark, a tech with 33 years experience who lost his job after sending in a “Letter to the Editor” about how area Progressive direct-repair shops are being told by adjusters that if they’re not painting color on the whole panel, it’s a blend and only pays partial paint time.

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“When I got out the Mitchell P-Pages and told the adjuster those blend times are only intended for adjacent undamaged panels for the sole purpose of color match, he said it didn’t have anything to do with the estimating software and that this is what he was told to do by his supervisor. He also said that if we weren’t a DRP, we’d get book times.”
Along with the “Letter to the Editor,” Mark also sent in an estimate with the customer, vehicle and claim numbers blacked out – except for one claim number that was overlooked. But it wasn’t overlooked by Progressive – which traced the claim number back to the dealership where Mark worked.
Several things then happened:

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  • Mark was told that Progressive had suspended the shop from its DRP.

  • Mark was told that he was being fired because he’d violated the privacy agreement he’d signed.

  • Mark was told that he was a great employee who did great work.

  • Mark found another job within an hour after he was fired.

    Says Mark: “Maybe now that I’m gone, Progressive will lift the suspension.” (Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I’d bet that suspension was lifted about seven seconds after Mark was fired.)

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    When I told this story to repairers, most of them came to the same conclusion: The industry complains about a tech shortage, yet it doesn’t seem to value the few veteran techs it does have. A few repairers, however, also recognized the underlying morals of this story:

    1. It’s about offer and acceptance. Says one repairer: “Everyone’s eyes are wide open in these deals. Shops aren’t entitled to anything, much less a profit. And if they’re willing to sign on, they get what they deserve.” What happens, however, is that management agrees to these deals, unbeknownst to techs.

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    2. Techs need to just say “No.” “Mark would’ve been better off (as would the industry at large) if he’d just said no to partial panel time for a full panel job,” says one repairer. “This is more of an indictment of the flat-rate/commission pay plans than of one insurer. If more techs said no, then management would have to demand more from insurers or opt out of the program. A shop paying flat rate won’t suffer under the Progressive program as long as its techs submit because the shop’s profit margin is guaranteed.”

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      But not submitting is easier said than done. “We feel helpless,” says one tech. “If we complain too much, we’re shown the door. And what’s out there? Other shops with the same deals. When an insurer decides it’s going to adjust book paint times to its benefit, it’s in effect giving paint techs a cut in pay.” That’s partially true: Techs do risk their jobs by saying no. But it’s the SHOP, not the insurer, that’s cutting tech pay. The shop is agreeing to the terms and counting on techs to keep quiet and take it.

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    3. Payers don’t dictate prices and procedures. Says one repairer: “In an unregulated industry like this one, prices are subject to whatever the market will bear. Payers do not control prices. You can use any guide you want and give written quotes in Euro exchange rates. It’s the availability and price of a quality repair that determines the market.”
      The problem is availability; insurer programs are designed to take advantage of an overcapacity in the body shop market. Says one repairer, “The fact that there are shops willing to sign onto programs that eliminate their right to price their own work is proof that many are either desperate, stupid or both.”

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      Yes, I’m concerned that a shop would fire a veteran tech to appease an insurer. But I’m even more concerned that the majority
      of shop owners I spoke with didn’t recognize that Mark’s firing
      wasn’t as much about devaluing veteran techs as it was a symptom of bigger problems facing the industry.

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