A TED talk on Arborists

Brando CalPankian

Active Member
Location
Washington

These are things we've all been saying for years. We are not mere tree cutters. We are atheletes, biologists, ecologists, soil scientists, engineers, and caretakers of the worlds oldest living creatures.

Why have we not banded together to make this field better in North America? Wages have stayed stagnant for decades, most of us do not have benefits, every company you talk to has a critical shortage of well equipped and trained people, and the education resources are limited to a few select avenues. In Washington, we have a real apprenticeship forming through IBEW for the line clearance folks, but rarely do we hear about high paying apprenticeships in the private side. Why? Other countries have done it. Fledgling countries like Singapore have made us look silly in this arena. I don't get how we are some of the lowest paid tradesmen in the country while literally risking life and limb when we do all of the listed above and much more.

My dad is a humble electrician. He makes well over $60 an hour, non foreman, with full benefits and gets to work on a contract basis. We're lucky to eek out $30-$40 working in the elements, at heights, and providing our own equipment and knowledge. How do we have this network of professionals constantly talking on forums and facebook and social media, but we can't come together to train the next generation to be greater than us, to be good stewards of our field and offer truly thrivable wages and the opportunity to learn, grow, and build others into better human beings.

I'd love to know y'alls input in this. I'd traveled the country working coast to coast, sometimes for the big three and others for small ma and pops, and never did find somewhere that lived up to the field's potential. Bartlett had amazing training but shit wages. Davey had no work life balance. Asplundh treated you as disposable but paid well. Ma and pops were just trying to score the next deal, often misleading clients or lying outright to employees since there's 12 guys lined up to come work for cheaper. It's sad. How has the situation not improved over the decade plus that I've been in love with arboriculture? I'm sure many of you see the same thing.

Just my rant for the day.
 

Brando CalPankian

Active Member
Location
Washington

For those of you interested in how arboriculture relates to forestry, especially in the urban wildland interface.
 

dspacio

Active Member
Location
Narragansett Bay
It's such a deep topic.
In the American past, workplace improvements were gained through things like strikes and industrial sabotage. Many here have likely read about the Wobblies. The electricians are still benefitting from Union activities that were put into motion decades ago.

For tree crews, we aren't in the same position as factory workers or corporate jobs where there is an owner or boss to pressure for better conditions. Organizing a shutdown of tree work simply would not happen. We are often making effort to encourage folks to fully consider their trees.

Electricians, iron workers, union carpenters, etc have ample opportunities to work for huge budget projects, urban growth, new schools, municipal budgets, etc.
Tree workers are gaining each job by job, primarily directly for a homeowner.

A homeowner can get a loan to remodel their bathroom or an addition, and there you find a few grand for the electrician. Homeowners only get money for treework after the tree fell on their house. I am amazed there are no budgets (that I know of) for preventative hazard reduction! It's crazy when I recommend proactive work, then only return to deal with damages after it happened because NOW the insurance will fork out the money! And dealing with roof damages etc...

I have thought about this a lot, (when I was boatbuilding, grinding fiberglass for days, wishing I could ask for an extra $5/hr from someone affording a multimillion dollar fun ship. even getting let go when I asked for hazard pay one time in an extreme job!) and I think that what Joe Hill said was right, "Don't Mourn, Organize!"

It's a massive topic. At the moment many people aren't even interested in working again because communism lite feels attractive to them. the dollar is losing relevance as it's being printed willy nilly. billions continue allocation for Raytheon (local weapons manufacturer) and their employees can hire me to work in their yard. Can't help but address the negative sides of modern economics.

I have positive thoughts on where to go with this as well. But for now that's how I see the cards on the table.
 

evo

Well-Known Member
Location
My Island, WA
I've been having these same thoughts... I couldn't find a local shop that would work on my Isuzu FRR and was making arrangements to ferry over to the dealer. Finally I got the number of a medium to heavy mobile diesel mechanic, $135 an hour of well spent $...
IT did get my gears going though, as regionally base prices seem to be 100-150 a worker hour, on the island 70-100 and the rock star catering to the rich gets 175+...
We are as highly specialized as my diesel mechanic, mobile, BUT nearly all our tools are consumable and our overhead is much higher...
 

dspacio

Active Member
Location
Narragansett Bay
I've been having these same thoughts... I couldn't find a local shop that would work on my Isuzu FRR and was making arrangements to ferry over to the dealer. Finally I got the number of a medium to heavy mobile diesel mechanic, $135 an hour of well spent $...
IT did get my gears going though, as regionally base prices seem to be 100-150 a worker hour, on the island 70-100 and the rock star catering to the rich gets 175+...
We are as highly specialized as my diesel mechanic, mobile, BUT nearly all our tools are consumable and our overhead is much higher...
In my early work experience, I hit a carpentry market that was saturated with a bunch of newly unemployed boat carpenters, rates went lower and lower as all these guys in their mid-40s with tools and experience needed the work bad, for their kids, etc. rates across the board went south and stayed there.
mechanics nationwide seem to have this thing where everyone knows they charge big time. same with plumbers.
it would be fantastic if people respected and valued our work in the same way. I guess when the car breaks, or the toilets jammed, or the faucet is spewing water... one says "I'll pay anything, just fix it now!" while the trees are so easy to ignore, on the average.
 

Brando CalPankian

Active Member
Location
Washington
I'm working as a mechanic right now actually. It was what I could find diring my rehabilitation for my medical condition that would allow my service dog. Working for a shop pays garbage. I like the work, just not as much as arboriculture. Debated being a plumber, but when I have to fix my own plumbing I remember how little I like playing in poop all day. I'm hoping the green movement highlights the value of tree care and urban forestry and legitimizes our cause. The utility industry has had a huge wakeup call with the fires and lacl of veg maintenance, and their wages have skyrocketed, in some areas outpacing linemen.
 

Brando CalPankian

Active Member
Location
Washington
One of the worst things I see is the conceptions about arborists online. You google search, and it shows as low skilled work that is severely underpaid, driving down the quality of interested recruits. Many contract climbers make 3-500 a day, which if done 5 days a week is 78-120k a year. Hell most of the decent companies pay their marginal climbers around 30 an hour. We as an industry need to be pushing this further. I see it happening, and changing, as it has over the course od my career. Our equipment is getting more sophisticated. The work is getting safer through education and training. There are more and more college pathways to arboriculture. There has to be some brotherhood in this to pull together in local areas and say okay, big 3 local companies, or 5, or whatever, we're going to raise rates collectively. Pay better. Train better. If sparkies and poop fitters can, hell if laborers and flagger can, we can too.

I'm telling ya, I don't want to be a plumber or an electrician to get by. But I am starting to consider it some days, as at times this just seems like a lost cause. It's depressing at times.
 

dspacio

Active Member
Location
Narragansett Bay
a reflection from yesterdays climb is: I think the 2nd half of the day, home was likely worth $2-3M ?? waterfront view of newport harbor, even the "modest guest-house" likely the square-footage most of us work for..
the difference of an extra $50-200 for someone like that...
over the past 7 years, in tree work, carpentry, sailboat work, about 80% of my clients are millionaires. it's psychologically very heavy at times.

I don't hate on em, this guy was great, actually one who was observing my work and I didn't mind at all, he was very respectful and available so we could collaborate to get a result (he and his son were compromising).
I bet this guy would have no problem giving me an extra $200 on the spot if I had time to break it down to him. I am going to advocate more to the guys contracting me. We all gotta look out for each other.

The craziest thing about this (i know it's wild talk), but the prices of everything in America are not looking stable over the near future so by the time I get my raise it may not even be a raise anymore.
 

Brando CalPankian

Active Member
Location
Washington
Absolutely true. I think today is the day I leave Ford for this reason. Empty promises, no benefits, poverty wages, all while attempting to live and purchase tools every other day. Hello business ownership.
 

Brando CalPankian

Active Member
Location
Washington
Dealership as a mechanic. It blows. I had high hopes for this job too. I got cleared to go back to climbing after being disabled for a year. I can work one day climbing and make what I do here in a week. Lol
 

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