Steve Pham

Fair is fair — even monkeys are capable of understanding this.

In a famous experiment by world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal, different rewards were given to monkeys accomplishing the same task. The first primate was given chunks of cucumber, a perfectly fine reward. Fine, that is, until she saw that her fellow monkey was rewarded with sweet, juicy grapes for the same work. When she performed the same task and was again given cucumber instead of the much preferred grapes, can you guess what she did?

Take a look:

(For those of you unable to view the video, she furiously lobbed the cucumber at the scientist, angrily pounded her hand on the table several times and shook her cage in outrage. It's clear she knew she was getting the shaft.)

This experiment came to mind when I heard of a few rumblings coming from various members of the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association about one of the pillars and key benefits of belonging to the organization: sick route coverage. Apparently, a number of IPSSA members feel that older members are abusing the coverage benefit in a way that violates the very spirit of generosity and camaraderie the association was built upon.

In one instance, which was told to me off the record, a service tech purposely manipulated the system to his advantage, taking time off during a period when costs such as chemicals and fuel are significantly higher. The techs covering his route were forced to absorb those extra costs.

Another case involved a service tech who had fallen ill. It was a serious illness, and his IPSSA brethren rallied to his aid, unstintingly covering his route for months. Bad feelings ensued, however, when the service tech, instead of returning to his route, decided to sell it after benefiting from the free labor.

Another more general observation simply is that IPSSA members are getting older and are using the sick route coverage more frequently.

Now, I’m the first to try to see both sides of a story. In the first case, perhaps there were extenuating reasons requiring an ill-timed leave of absence. In the second scenario, it’s entirely possible that the sick service tech only decided to sell once he realized his diminished health would not permit a return to caring for his route. And lastly, of course people get sick as they get older. Of course. And many service techs are long-time members who have paid their dues, literally and figuratively, with their hard-earned money and time and labor covering others’ routes.

But these speculations are beside the point. The real crux of the matter is that IPSSA may be in danger of losing the very members it relies on the most — those who carry the brunt of the load when oldtimers call in the sick coverage card.

Feelings of unfairness triggers a primal flight-or-fight response, causing the aggrieved to strike out in a knee-jerk fashion (as ably demonstrated by the aforementioned monkey). Before the grumblings grow into a cucumber-lobbing roar, perhaps IPSSA should re-examine its route coverage policies. Currently, issues are resolved at the chapter level, which gives each chapter flexibility to set its own boundaries. But should there be stricter, organization-wide guidelines regarding route coverage?

If you’re a service tech, do you see this as a problem? If so, how do you think the situation can be made more equitable? Leave a comment below.