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Unionized Service Shops
October 1956 Radio & Television News

October 1956 Radio & TV News
October 1956 Radio & Television News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Electronics troubleshooting and repair services experienced the same sort of customer skepticism over honesty of diagnosis costs and replacement part prices as most other similar services, including auto mechanics, home appliances, even medical treatment. The mindset was and still is you pay a high enough price for the initial product and/or service and that should be the end of the cost of ownership. If you have read through some of the many articles published in these vintage electronics magazines, you know a lot of ink was spilled lamenting the existence of the problem, along with advice on how to deal with customers. People didn't mind so much paying for replacement parts as long as they believed the serviceman as not trying to sell components that were not really bad. What was really balked at was the labor charge for diagnosing and repairing the product. In the 1950s and 1960s, a house call to work on a TV or radio was typically only a couple dollars, which even with the high value of the dollar back then still was not very much. Common practice, in order to prevent gripes over service charges was to keep that part of the bill as low as possible, then make money on price mark-ups on replacement parts. Yes, there were plenty of unscrupulous servicemen, but it really was hard to make a decent living when customers challenged every line item on a bill, and often tried to bilk the company out of payment. It was not unusual for someone to let a serviceman fix his set, then hand him a check and tell him not to cash it until next week, then cancel it at the bank.

Take a look through the list of "Mac's Radio Service Shop" episodes for titles about dealing with customers. Here is another take on the subject in "TV Service Can Be Successful."

Why have radio and TV service shops in San Francisco signed a contract with the electrical workers union?

Unionized Service Shops, October 1956 Radio & Television News - RF CafeBy William Leonard

After numerous fruitless and frustrating attempts to enlist the help of other industry elements in some program that would cure the ills of the independent electronic service industry in their cities, associations in Chicago and San Francisco have turned to labor unions as providing a possible solution to their problems. The San Francisco TV Service Guild recently signed a contract with Local 202 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. This contract, or labor-management agreement, merely provides for wages and working conditions; however, more than this is expected from the union. Some of the aims of the shops which have joined the union are municipal licensing and the elimination of cut-rate service operators. These goals the union will seek to attain.

The philosophy of union officials in working with independent service businesses was summed up by Edward John Bird, business manager of the Radio and Television Engineers Local 202 of the I.B.E.W.

"As business manager of a local union representing approximately a thousand television servicemen in this area, one would think that my interest would stop there, namely in the financial welfare of the people I represent. However, this is not so. I have as much, if not a greater interest in the economic status of the industry as a whole and the financial success of the individual employer whether he be big or small.

"The reasons, of course, are obvious. No employer can long endure if on the one hand he has to afford his technicians the economic rewards their individual and collective skills entitle them to, while on the other hand he is beset by every kind of unscrupulous and unfair competition from every conceivable angle.

"Accordingly, we have dedicated ourselves to rid this area of the 'gimmick boys,' and 'fly-by-nighters,' and their ilk and will use every fair and legitimate measure to do so. We have approached every association in the eight Bay Area Counties and asked their cooperation in this endeavor. To say the least, the response, though at first on the slow side, is now assuming snowball proportions. As a union, we are very encouraged and grateful for the confidence afforded us by the various city and county associations and will leave no stone unturned to merit that confidence. Together we have a big job to do, but rest assured we will do it."

Many of the service dealers on the West Coast and elsewhere seem to feel that there are three main reasons why a healthy business climate does not exist for their profession. The first reason is that the parts distributors from whom they buy replacement tubes and parts, in many cases, also sell directly to the consumer at the same prices as to the service dealer. The service dealers point out that once the customer has bought a part or tube at the net price, he objects to paying a service technician the list price for a part that has to be replaced.

Another contributing factor in the opinion of many service dealers is the unrealistic price structure on replacement parts and tubes. The maintenance of list prices that allow for discounts which are much higher than for other similar products has led, they feel, to distrust on the part of the consumer. The average markup from net to list prices for TV receiving tubes, for example, is about 100%. Because of this, many service dealers are able to charge less than a realistic service charge for a call because they will make up the amount on parts profits. This, service dealers feel, has hindered the acceptance of realistic service charges by the public.

Ethical service dealers point out that the third big reason why the service industry is not a healthy one is because of the existence of unethical "sharp" operators. Often, these operators sell a set owner more tubes than the set really needs to return it to proper operation. This he does by misadjusting the tube tester he uses so that good tubes will read bad. The extra tubes he sells this way more than makes up in profit for the low cost of the service call that he usually advertises. To these activities should be added those of the gyp operator whose sole aim is to pull sets for major overhaul jobs in the shop at exorbitant prices.

Members of the San Francisco Guild believe that unionization will help them overcome these problems.

Union Contract

The contract signed by the San Francisco TV Service Guild and Local 202 of the I.B.E.W. provides for a $2.65 1/2 minimum hourly wage for technicians. They also receive time and one-half for overtime past 40 hours per week. The contract makes shop owners members of the union. The forty-two shops holding membership in the Guild signed the contract and the immediate objective is to bring an additional forty shops in the city into the Union. Although the provisions are not specified in the contract, the Union has agreed to throw its full weight against part-timers and cut-rate shops. They plan a cooperative management-union drive to bring about city and county licensing of technicians and the passage of key zoning ordinances.

To relieve the shortage of trained technicians, the Guild and the Union are setting up an apprenticeship education program for the purpose of creating a new corps of qualified technicians. Under committee guidance, apprentices entering the trade will be sent to city vocational schools two nights per week for four years. Upon graduation, they will receive journeyman certificates. Also planned under joint management-union sponsorship is a "finishing school" program for journeyman technicians to get them ready for color.

Although other Bay Area associations have expressed an interest in the management-union type of contract, Union officials do not plan to expand their organizational efforts until the major goals have been reached in San Francisco.

In the opinion of Guild officers, if the objectives of their contract with the Union are effectuated, they will be able to meet the growing competition of manufacturer-sponsored centralized service successfully and keep the control of consumer service in the hands of efficiently managed independent service businesses. They do not feel that the contract will provide an umbrella for the inefficient service shop however ethical its operations may be. But they are of the opinion that given a clean business atmosphere in which to operate, the independently owned and managed service shops will provide the most efficient service at fair prices.



Posted October 5, 2020

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