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Work Time Comparisons

Cost Comparisons

About 7 printed pages.

 


Economics

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ALSO SEE

DEBATE, Work Conditions:Time
and
DEBATE, Work Conditions: Effort

 

 

Work Time Comparison Considerations:
 
See “Debate” section for worker claims and ZAP responses regarding estimates of work time differences between blowers and rake and broom.
 

It cannot be assumed that blowers are faster.  “Males often link the sound of a loud motor to greater power, and according to one study, both sexes found a noisy vacuum to be more efficient than a quieter one, even though the less noisy machine was far superior.” (01.6.2)
 
Blowers, with their loud sounds and vibrations, moving leaves and debris rapidly, might only appear do some jobs faster than manual labor. 
 
ARB reports state that additional work time might be 5%-15% more, if at all. 
 
A Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and L.A. City Task Force timed experiment in which an experienced professional gardener using a gasoline leaf blower took two minutes to gather a patio of leaves into a designated circle.  Using rake and broom, an inexperienced grandmother, who volunteered, took two minutes and 30 seconds.  Total gathering time for three tests each, showed the same 30 second, or, a 20%, difference.  (See details).

Raw footage taped for The Learning Channel production "Inventions We Love to Hate" aired October 17, 2001, shows a 25% difference in worktime for gathering the same amount of leaves from grass. Had gardener and volunteer worked at the same speed, as previously agreed, it is estimated the difference would have been 15%. Removal of leaves was not included in this analysis. (See details).

We suggest that blower time is recorded first in tests of this kind, so those using rakes and brooms can adjust their work speed to that of the blower operator, for a more accurate comparison.
 
These examples may not represent all “real world” experiences, but they do show that what differences may exist are closer than has been claimed by blower supporters, especially since there are several other reports of homeowners working with rakes and brooms completing tasks as fast as do workers using blowers. 

Cost Considerations
The above-noted Department of Water and Power comparison, and other estimates comparing blower use with rakes and brooms, do not take into consideration additional time and expenses.  The costs of health problems fall on residents of the neighborhood, as well as the blower users, themselves. Comparisons should consider:
  • Cost of Purchase
  • Cost of Maintenance
  • Cost of Fuel, including that spilled in refueling
  • Cost of Safety Equipment
  • Cost of Replenishing the Soil with water, fertilizer, mulch and other additives
  • Cost of Health Problems caused by Emissions
  • Cost of Health Problems caused by Fugitive Dust
  • Cost of Hearing Loss.
  • Cost of loss of work and income due to above noted health problems.
  • Time for machine maintenance
  • Time for Fuel Purchase
  • Time for Refueling
  • Time for gathering up and putting on safety gear
  • Time for mounting and Starting the machine

Another comparison did not add picking up and removing leaves and debris to the blower work time, but they did indicate that additional work when speaking about rakes and brooms.  Unless you add this additional time to both methods being discussed, no accurate comparison can be made.

In many spontaneous one-on-one discussions at their workplaces, we have found no gardener who has actually made timed comparisons between blower use and rake and broom on individual residential properties.  We have found several who first state that rakes and brooms will “double” their work time, or more.  The following conversation was recorded immediately after it took place: 
When asked how much more time it took to clean this one particular property with a rake compared to a blower, the gardener’s automatic response was, “It used to take me 10-15 minutes.  Now it takes me an hour”.  After my surprise at such a large difference and stating that, on two different occasions I timed my own gardener, then did the same work at the same speed a week later, and found no difference, his facts changed.  He now said, “Oh, well, it takes an hour for a big property, not for this one.  This one takes me 20 minutes now.” 

What It Means to You, and to Your Neighbor:

Economic concerns of employers and other community residents were seldom brought up in the press during the Los Angeles and California blower controversy, except for quotes stating “They won’t pay more.”  But, these concerns should be taken into consideration.  Anyone could incur health care costs and the loss of income for time taken off work for health problems due to blower-induced air pollution.  And, all taxpayers incur the cost of the healthcare for those who cannot afford it. 
 
It is estimated that more than 12 million Americans use their homes for earning income, either part time or full time.  That is one of every 11 workers. (00.1.2).  Where their concentration or ability to carry on business by phone is disrupted by leafblowers, their incomes, or even their jobs, may be jeopardized.  Tension and lack of concentration due to noise pollution and sleep deprivation, over which they have no control, may interfere with work at home or lead to problems in the workplace.
 
Residents in areas where blowers are used also bear related economic impacts.  They wash their cars and the exterior of their houses, fences and walls more often.  They buy air conditioners and pay extra electricity for their use in order to keep windows closed due to noise and dust drift.  And/or, they must clean the interior of their houses, furniture and drapes more often.  Besides the additional costs of these activities, additional time is required on their part to do these chores.
 
All taxpayers pay the burden of law enforcement where there is no voluntary compliance with a blower ban ordinance.  Employers who allow workers they hire directly or through landscape companies to use blowers are responsible for taking the time of city operators at the “hot line,” those who must do computer entries or paperwork, and of enforcement officers.  Employers have a right and a responsibility to keep an eye on that work they pay for, to get what they pay for, or to find other workers. 
 
Homeowner employers may suffer fines for violations by their workers.  If you want blowers to stop and you cannot negotiate a modification of salary or job description, hire workers who have a policy of not using blowers.  They won’t defy the law when your back is turned. The provision which allows a fine on their employers when the ban is violated was requested by gardeners. 

One homeowner was particularly angry at receiving a letter warning that a violation had recently occurred on his property, because he had purchased an electric blower a year earlier for the gardener who violated the law by using a gas blower. Unfortunately and unfairly, he was angry with the neighbor who reported the violation, rather than with his gardener.
 
Many employers hire more than one business to help with yard and property maintenance throughout the year.  They may have one worker or company for regular clean up (“Mow, blow and go”).  Another company is hired for periodic garden “tune-ups” once or twice a year (light pruning of trees; removal and/or division of plants, replanting, mulching, check irrigation and sprinklers, weed, deadhead flowers and herbs).  And yet another company is hired for  “specialty maintenance,” such as a certified arborist or tree surgeon, or a company that trims trees.
 
A more realistic expectation of the level of cleanliness, on the part of both employer and worker, could cut down work time.  Many homeowners who hire basic maintenance help don’t care whether every last leaf is removed before the worker leaves, since more will be on the ground within minutes.  They should so inform their workers, whose sense of pride in a job well done, and fear of being fired for not leaving the property perfectly clean, may cause that worker to feel a need for blowers, especially if that property is difficult to rake and sweep.
 
Employers might cut down work time by asking the worker what hinders or slows down the work.  For instance, patio chairs could be stacked or put on the tabletop and covered, instead of placed on the deck or ground around a table.  Trees could be trimmed just as major leaf-fall begins.  Edging could be done less often.  In some cases, a slight change in landscape plantings or design might make a difference.
 
An increase in pay may actually be warranted.  Compare the difference in work time between blowers and rake and broom on a specific property, with the worker moving at the same pace.  Or, time the worker, then return the same debris to its original location and sweep and rake it back up yourself.  Even five or ten minutes more time per week per customer can add up to a significant loss of time or income for the worker. But for individual customers, it could mean a monthly increase that is still reasonable, and nowhere near the oft quoted “double my rates.”

What it Means to Gardeners and Others:
Los Angeles is the largest market in the world for these blowers.  It is obvious that manufacturers, distributors, retailers and gardening associations under any auspices, have an economic interest in holding on to their markets. 
 
As more and more cities contemplate leaf blower bans, concern about increased costs to cities for maintenance of public spaces is brought up by blower supporters.  For legal, as well as aesthetic, considerations, many public facilities have high cleanliness standards.  In addition, their clean-up estimates are based on large amounts “hard surfaces” and are far removed from residential needs. Where bans are only contemplated for residential areas, this is not an issue. 
 
Unemployment rates are of concern to elected officials who vote for or against blower restrictions and/or bans.  The perceived loss of income for residential yard-workers due to possible increased work time should be addressed. 
 
Testifying about how blower bans might affect the job market, one landscape contractor first told a California Assembly Local Government Committee that she would have to charge more money, thereby losing customers and having to fire workers.  Soon thereafter, she stated that she would have to hire more workers if blowers were banned.(98.11.1) 
 
Economic claims are confusing, and bear looking into.  Varying claims were made by gardeners, themselves, that leaf and debris gathering that takes, for instance, ten minutes of blower use would increase by 20% (total of 12 minutes, or 2 minutes longer); or 40% (total of 14 minutes, or 4 minutes longer); or to “twice as long” (which would equal a 100% increase, to a total of 20 minutes, or 10 minutes longer).  Some claim their work would increase to “an hour” (which would equal five times as long, a 500% increase) without blowers.  See Work Time Consideratons at the top of this page for unbiased tests and comparisons.
 
The previous estimates, widely quoted themselves, are based on other estimates which have been put forth as “studies”, and have been found by ZAP to be either misinterpreted, non-applicable to residential blower use, or nonexistent.  Man-hour work comparisons by city parks and other public spaces, may be influenced by the need to justify larger budget requests.  Regarding the work-time estimates of various city officials in Orange County, an Orange County Grand Juror who helped research a leaf blower report said, “Until they really analyze it, I don’t see how they can come to a conclusion.”  (99.10.1) 
 
Small business gardeners, especially, need accurate information.  The reasoning behind many oft-quoted emotional statements is faulty.  Gardeners said they would have to double their rates or go on welfare.  This technique actually backfired with respect to customers.  It seemed to leave no room for dialogue or compromise.  The statement is so absurd that many employers closed their minds to further consideration of what the truth might be.  Others did their own math and were annoyed by the exaggeration.  For instance, why double rates for an hour of work that also includes mowing, trimming, edging, weeding, watering, and leaf and debris pick-up and removal, when leaf and debris gathering is only a part of that hour? 
 
Landscape companies may charge a great deal more than the independent gardeners or workers, and should be able to either absorb differences in leaf, dust and debris gathering time, or be knowledgeable enough to be able to justify a slightly higher fee, unless their prices already seem too high to property owners.  In that case, a reduction of services, agreeable to both parties, would compensate. 
 
Many other types of businesses include regular, reasonable increases in their contracts.  However, this seems to be a business in which the original fee for service is seldom increased, the workload reduced, or either discussed.   When the supposedly “time saving” blowers first came into use, workers did not reduce their fees. 
 
Independent or small gardening businesses have fears of losing their jobs to someone who will charge less, even though their rates may be very reasonable to begin with.  Only one participant in Survey99 had ever been asked for a raise.  He agreed.  Yet 86% of participants would be willing to discuss a pay adjustment with a worker who was willing to discontinue the use of blowers.  This reticence of workers and small gardening businesses to discuss their pay or charges is not the problem of, or within the powers of others to change.  They will have to work this out themselves or with the help of their gardeners associations or local government small business advisors.
 
Few employers in any line of work offer raises without a pre-existing schedule or agreement, or a specific request by the employee.  However, if approached in a reasonable manner with reasonable requests, employers may prefer to work something out rather than having to find a new, reliable gardening service. 
 
Few people from either side of this issue seem to have considered options other than pay increases for equalizing work time when blower use is stopped.  In business, when the market changes, service providers change with it.  The press, retailers, and industry business associations should take the initiative to educate even the independent contractor or small business owner about realistic business practices such as adapting to the market, justifying price increases, and finding alternatives for the “dirt blowers”.  If a machine must be used, we suggest electric vacuums, which also shred and compress debris.
Options to Lessen the Economic Impact on Gardeners
Gardeners have a compelling concern about how much time it takes them to complete chores, especially because they are reticent to ask for an increase in their fees. 
For the small business gardener, the additional increase in leaf gathering time, if any, is not severe.  Rakes and brooms, used properly, do not take more, but only different, energy than leaf blowers.  Water clean-up takes more time than either.
 
Employers should be informed of the economic implications of actual, timed comparisons of the differences in work time between one method and the other on their own property, and be advised of things,such as patio furniture placement, that hinder or slow down work with rake and tool. Dirt and dust can often be swept back into a planting bed.  Many homeowners who hire this type of service don’t care whether every last leaf is removed.