Tuition Painters Informative - Business Practices - House Painting

Review by JimMouser on 2007-01-16
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA -- Before You Call Tuition Painters

For those of you either anticipating using Tuition Painters or joining Tuition Painters as employees, please read the following article before making your decision. You need to make an informed decision.

Tuition Painters, Inc. (www.TuitionPainters.com) is a legitimate business founded in North Carolina with their current headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Their name sums up their business plan nicely, to hire college age kids to operate their own painting contractor business. To that end, they invest resources recruiting, interviewing and training their managers about the business and providing infrastructure such as payroll services, marketing material, etc. For this opportunity, the company collects 35 to 40% of the gross receipts.

A quick visit to their website will give you an overview of their mission. Their website is heavily weighted to the business opportunity afforded the managers. Once you get past the business and management information you will find it difficult to address the performance requirements and compensation of the actual workers (the “bees” for this article).

We have had practical experience with two of our bees working for Tuition Painters; Amanda, our 19 year old VPI student and Jimmy our 17 year old soon-to-be VPI student.

Our experience has been less than satisfactory.

Our bees did the work they were asked to do to the best of their ability. They never received any training from Tuition Painters, never missed a scheduled day of work, never refused to do the work and never received a reprimand for their quantity or quality of work. They have also never been paid the $10/hr. they were promised when hired nor have all of their hours been acknowledged by the company.

According to Paul, one of the founders of Tuition Painters, there are numerous explanations for the discrepancies. Most of the explanations fall back on a piece-work agreement the bees are required to sign before becoming employees. The bottom line is that if anything goes wrong with a job, it is the bees that suffer.

If the job is underbid, the bees pay is unilaterally cut to the minimum wage. Paul Flick says that the crews are told of the number of hours that a job is expected to be completed, however, the bees aren’t allowed to refuse jobs or they risk being fired. The bees don’t have the experience to determine whether the estimate is realistic. The bees don’t have the training to handle many of the situations that arise. Bee managers would find it impossible to function as managers if the bees either questioned their assignments, the make up of the work crews, or the estimates on every job. Bees simply work.

If the job isn’t completed by the work crew (e.g. the allotted hours are exhausted before the work is complete and the crew stops work, the crew is reassigned to other jobs prior to completion, quitting) there may be no compensation at all. If the job isn’t completed to the satisfaction of the client or collection is an issue, there may be no compensation.

The details of our direct experience with Tuition Painters are very simple.

Jimmy worked for Tuition Painters for 35 hours. All of his jobs were completed under budget and to the satisfaction of the clients to the best of our knowledge. His pay was unilaterally cut from $10/hr. to $5.15/hr. for his acknowledged hours (15.5 hours). Although the division manager acknowledged this was a mistake in August, 2006 and that he would correct it, Jimmy has yet to receive his full compensation as of the end of November. The same manager was contacted recently about the situation. His response was to wonder why he was being called about issues “back last summer”.

Amanda worked for Tuition Painters for 80.5 hours. Her situation was slightly more complicated. Misestimated jobs, safety problems (such as working around power lines without training), and quality issues (working with eggshell paint without training) plagued her experience. All of these issues were brought to the attention of the same division manager with no response. This led to wasted hours, unhappy clients, and of course the unilateral pay cut.

After the bees figured out that they were wasting their time, working themselves to death for minimum wage, they made every effort to complete their assignments and terminate the relationship with Tuition Painters without too many loose ends. About the same time, their direct manager was prohibited access to the payroll database so their final hours could not be recorded which accounts for the discrepancy in “acknowledged hours”.

An unscrupulous company could easily build a nice painting business by promising the bees $10/hr. and effectively paying minimum wage rather than manage the business properly.

When you are making the decision to hire Tuition Painters, know that you are usually getting the best effort out of unskilled, untrained, well-meaning kids. When you are thinking of trying painting for the summer (becoming a “bee” for Tuition Painters) be aware that your pay is tied to circumstances beyond your control.

Better Business Bureau Link:

Amanda and Jimmy have taken a philosophical view of their experience with Tuition Painters, chalking it up to “life lessons not to be repeated”. Although they have moved on, I feel that it is blatantly unfair to take advantage of the naïve. The general population needs to be warned of this type of hiring practice and make an informed decision. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many places publishing this type of information. I have filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and have sent a letter to the Virginia State Corporation Commission. In the meantime, feel free to contact me with your own “Tuition Painter” story by email at jim.mouser@lucketts.net, mouser_jim@yahoo.com, or call me (Jim Mouser, the Dad) directly at 540-882-4935. A web site is under construction which may prove effective in getting the word out.

Paul of Tuition Painters was sent the above article in November 2006 and invited to comment. His final correspondence with me was “They have been paid what they were owed”. Update: I have a letter from their attornies stating they "intend to sue" if the above article is published, however, they have not stated the basis for their suit. The above article is a factual account of our experience with Tuition Painters.
Comments:3 Replies - Latest reply on 2007-02-08
Posted by tnchuck100 on 2007-01-16:
If you can document the work that was unpaid thier attorneys should be concerned about what the state wage and hour division may do to them. Maybe the clients can help support your case. Please keep us posted on what happens.
Posted by Anonymous on 2007-01-17:
Good advice chuck and to the poster please let us know what happens.
Posted by John_S132 on 2007-02-08:
My name is Robert and I am from Pennsylvania. My son had worked for Tuition Painters as a "bee", and had an excellent summer. I know my son is a hard worker. He had explained to me the pay system. If a job is completed in 40 hours and was budgeted for 40 hours, he would get 40 hours at his base rate. If he did the job in under 40 hours, he would get paid for all 40 hours. If it was over 40 hours, he would get 40 hours. I used to work in the construction industry and this is a very normal compensation system. My guess is that your "bees" where not working as hard as they should be. This pay system is used to incent people and weed out the poor labor. My son was very happy and made about $3,000 on his summer as a painter. I am happy because now he gets to pay for some of his semester :)

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