Thursday, January 17, 2008

McGill Daily: College Pro

College Pro accused of exploiting students
Student-run painting company faces allegations of poor management, low pay, and unsafe working conditions

By Tristan Lapointe News Writer
Summer jobs are tough to come by, but students asked to sign a contract with College Pro – a company some former employees have called a pyramid scheme – may want to keep searching. College Pro, an international student-run painting company, depends on students as a steady source of summer labour – but some workers say College Pro exploits desperate and gullible students, pays low wages, and foregoes safety in the name of completing contracts. The company is built on independent student-owned franchises controlled by student-run regional offices. Once franchises are sold to students, they are responsible to recruit and manage other students to work for them as painters. Tyler Sloan, a U2 Neuroscience student at McGill, spent two months last summer working for one of College Pro’s Montreal franchises and described his time there as underpaid and poorly managed. “Because the franchise owners are eager to make money, they routinely underestimate jobs, leaving their painters to make up the difference with long hours and low wages,” he said. A job may be estimated to take 20 hours – for which the painters are paid in full. But employees are not paid for overtime, meaning that they are sometimes paid as little as $4 per hour. U4 Management student Stephanie Brunet, a former College Pro painter, also complained of low wages. “Regardless of what [College Pro] say about pay, a good two weeks for me was $300, for at least 30 hours a week,” she said. Kate Muddiman, U4 Management, is College Pro’s director for all of Eastern Canada and ran a franchise for two years. She claimed that there is already a complaint process in place – and that the allegations had never been brought to the company’s attention. “College students ought to be able to advocate for themselves,” she said. “If they feel they’re being mistreated or underpaid, they have mechanisms to complain. We’re all at least 18 years old and should be able to handle talking to an employer.” Muddiman said that during one of the summers she owned a franchise, she pocketed $19,000 – but would not disclose her current salary. Muddiman also said that franchise owners must make weekly reports on the status of their franchises and are subject to review for anything from worker complaints to poor sales figures. Brunet and Sloan cited the structure of the company as the biggest source of conflict, saying there’s no incentive to treat employees well. They pointed to a contest the company runs, in which the franchise owner with the most contracts wins a trip to Cancun. “It’s a pyramid scheme,” said Sloan. “These [student franchise owners] are told they can make thousands of dollars in a summer but [that] they’d better not fail…. It all comes down to making money, and not running a good business.” Worker safety has also come under fire. While all College Pro painters are required to pass safety tests and training on safe ladder practices, Brunet said College Pro’s safety protocols were routinely violated on her worksites. “When you’re working above ten feet, you’re supposed to have a safety harness. It’s something we learned in our training seminars before we even started working,” she explained. “For our eight teams of painters, there was only one harness.” Sloan said one customer was so appalled at the lack of harnesses that she ordered staff to stop working until the manager arrived with proper safety equipment. But Muddiman pointed out that a telephone number to report safety violations or other concerns is at the top of every contract. She said her office receives calls, but it takes six complaints before a franchise manager is investigated. According to Brunet, employees were also asked to do jobs above and beyond their job descriptions and training – leaving a trail of dissatisfied customers and only the painters to act as a buffer. “On several occasions we got to a job site and found we had been hired to do something other than painting. We were asked to do caulking, vine removal, even pressure washing,” said Brunet. “When customers got pissed because we didn’t know what we were doing, we sided with them.” “Management left us out as a buffer between them[selves] and angry customers,” she added. When asked about a complaint mechanism within the company, Brunet and Sloan said that most people just quit. Muddiman agreed, saying College Pro had a large turnover rate. “A lot of painters are fired, too,” she said.

Originally published by The McGill Daily, Monday, March 26th, 2007 Volume 96, Number 44


Anonymous said...

I am currently a job sight manager for college pro. I work for a very reasonable franchise manager compared to some of the other horror stories I have read. There are several things I would like to mention to anyone considering to work for college pro. First, if you have any experience painting don't paint for college pro for less than 10+ dollars an hour, know the wage laws and be clear about overtime. Over time pay is the law and no painter or any other laborer for college pro falls into any exemption from overtime pay. OVERTIME PAY IS THE LAW. I have been painting for four years and am not paid nearly enough. Second if you need a job and have no experience be aware that you are not going to do the best paint jobs unless you work for a great manager. I manage three inexperienced painters, none of which have received any real training. I have experience training people which I learned as a foreman for a carpentry company as well as teaching snowboarding. I have been burdened with training all of my painters with out proper pay as a trainer. I have picked up the slack for my manager in this aspect and many many others. The training that college pro offers is by no means hands on. It is all done in a classroom or online. With little training or oversight, paint jobs tend to be poor and unsatisfactory to the home owner. I could care less about the budgets we are supposed to meet, painters are not provided with budgets aimed at quality. This leaves the painters to try and make the homer owner happy and Third, all of the safety precautions mandated by college pro are stated but not enforced at a satisfactory level. These mandates say that it is the individuals responsibility which I agree with, but, all safety training is vague, not hands on and only to protect the company form lawsuits. That is by no means a good business. On my crew I am a man of the people and do my best to protect job quality and keep my painters happy. If you are going to work for college pro, interview your franchise manager when he or she interviews you. It can be a good job if you work for a smart manager and if he or she is a second or third year manager because they can and should pay you more. But don't buy all the bull shit the uppers feed you and by no means should you ever consider being a college pro franchise manager. You may make a lot of money but you would work harder than you ever have before. and will make much more money for some one else than you will for your self.

Anonymous said...

This article is right on point.I worked for them this summer and ended up falling off a roof. We had NO training and NO safety. Yeah, one harness in the truck that no one knew how to use. Hah. Getting the job done quick was all that mattered. I'm now looking into sueing them. They are definately a bullsh*t company.

Anonymous said...

You are all dumb as hell if you felt unsafe at all you did not have to work and could walk off site, it does depend on the franchise because its on for everyone understand what you get yourself into before doing it. Simply blaming the company as a whole is uneducated and stupid. If you don't want to be a labourer your whole life being a franchise of cp is a great way to learn

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