by Lucky Papageorg, AASP/MA Executive Director
Historically, there have been many groups that have been oppressed unjustly by those in power.
These different groups stem from those brought here against their will, those who migrated here for a better life and those who were here well before anyone ever heard of the Americas. Groups have been marginalized, exploited and discriminated against based on religion, nationality and the color of their skin. From Native Americans to those dragged from their homes in their native land to be enslaved, to those who migrated to escape intolerable conditions in the homeland, ALL have felt the injustice of oppression by those who were singularly minded, focused on and driven by greed and profits.
Just a little over 60 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr gave his “I Have A Dream” speech which sparked a movement to help bring equality to ALL men (and women). Dr. King’s moving speech dealt with the notion of emancipation and the fulfillment of the promises made by “the architects of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
In 1963, there was another document signed meant to bring fairness and equality while stripping insurers of the power they had bestowed upon themselves. That document was the Consent Decree of ’63. The collision repair industry had proven that the insurance industry had conspired to unfairly control and suppress collision repairers. The powerful and the rich had rigged the system to defraud their policyholders while taking advantage of the hard-working individuals and business owners in collision repair. Those 1963 oppressors of the collision industry and vehicle owners, are the “Goliath” insurance companies of today, nay the entire insurance industry. They may be known by different names and be subsidiaries of one another but make no mistake about it: they are part of the same insurance industry which has – for far too long – unjustly oppressed the hard-working men and women who restore vehicles to their pre-loss condition and functionality.
Times are very different, but the types of abuse and suffering that was endured still exist today. (No insult or disrespect is meant in any way in the parallels drawn.) There is a severe inequality between any other retail business and the business of collision repair. For far too long, the “menial” labor intensive work performed by “body men” was looked down upon. Long hours of strenuous work under far-from-ideal working conditions at wages that kept workers from being able to improve their status in society was the norm then as it is now.
When the occasion arose for anyone to advance his or her status, they were met with rebuke and punishment. Today, we see collision repairers who have made great strides to improve themselves and are showing fellow colleagues that they too can succeed. In far too many instances, these same “uppity” shops have been singled out as troublemakers and chastised for not knowing their place. Sadly, there are many who were “killed” (i.e. driven out of business) by insurers bent on making examples of them to keep the rest of the industry in its place. In some rare instances, frustration levels on the part of some repairers may have led to less-than-honest practices; however, these instances cannot be allowed to darken the reputation of the entire collision industry. The abusive actions of a few should not damn the entire group.
When examples of less than honest or proper actions and practices by individuals or shops are spotlighted, it should make everyone aware and caution that there are “bad” players in all walks of life and business and that all collision shops are not bad players. Some would argue that I am being a bit of a hypocrite by painting the entire insurance industry with a singular black brush. To that, I would answer that the isolated, and sometimes fabricated examples of misdeeds found in collision repair, do not compare to the daily infractions perpetrated by insurers. Far too often, and almost without exception, insurers are far from forthright in nearly every aspect of their claims handling process – from the way they sell “peace of mind” and freedom of choice to the public, to their misrepresentation of facts to legislators. Add to these items their absolute disregard and manipulation of existing laws and regulations (mostly attributed to the lack of enforcement) meant to protect consumers merely to protect their own profitability dictated by their greed. They do this all the while presenting themselves as protectors of the public when rather they are solely concerned with protecting their profits at the public’s expense.
The theme of our general membership meetings since November 2022 has been “Breaking Free in ‘23,” and just like those who banded together at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in August 1963, our goal has been to raise awareness and empower individuals to take the actions needed to improve their lives. Many have taken up that banner and have made changes to weaken the grip of the insurance industry. Today, just as with the Consent Decree of 1963, collision repairers have been making consumers more aware of the practices of insurers. When shops do so, they have realized that in most cases, consumers are not the “sheep” insurers think or hope that they will be. Collision repair shops who have implemented the “copay” process to cover the “short pay” attempts of insurers are indeed benefiting. They have experienced an uptick in their fair and reasonable profit margins and are able to cover their expenses, pay their well deserving and highly technically advanced technicians (notice: NO LONGER body men) more in line with counterparts in other industries. In doing so, they have been able to welcome back technicians and draw new blood into a better and more exciting collision repair industry.
Our next General Membership meeting, set for October 21, will continue to add more tools to better protect collision repairers who have already made advances. It will also help give those who have been considering making changes in the way they run their business the opportunity to make the dream of a better collision repair industry a reality. Dreams that come true are the ones that have an action plan behind them and people willing to fight to see their dreams come true.
I too have a dream that one day we will see a fair and equitable labor reimbursement rate being paid based on expertise, training and proper equipment, not one based upon the lowest common denominator, which is not brought about by intimidation, misrepresentation or the “killing” of businesses. Changes which can be made by the mere use and enforcement of current rules and regulations and even with common sense.
If you have already made changes in order to “Break Free In ‘23,” KUDOS to you! If you are still on the fence, please realize that you and only you can make the difference to positively affect your business, your future and the future of the collision repair industry. Please join us at the General Membership meeting on October 21 to see how. (See page 10 for details) If you are not already a member of the ALLiance, consider joining. (See the application on page 7.)
YOU CAN DREAM TO DO MORE IN ’24! YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN! TOGETHER, WE CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN!!
Want more? Check out the October 2023 issue of New England Automotive Report!