Release: California repair shops press for “Right to Repair,” fear for their livelihoods

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Sacramento — On Tuesday, dozens of repair shops are taking their message to the Statehouse as part of a virtual lobby day, calling for the state Senate to advance Right to Repair reforms (Senate Bill 983, Eggman). As part of the efforts, CALPIRG is releasing a new survey of 63 local repair shops from across the state to highlight the urgency of the issue. Perhaps most jarring of the survey findings is that 59% of the repair shop workers who took the survey indicated that if Right to Repair does not become law, they might have to close their doors. 

“For many of these local repair businesses, repair restrictions are an existential risk,” explained CALPIRG Advocate Sander Kushen, who helped organize the repair shop lobby day. “Manufacturers have an incentive to get people to replace instead of repair their devices, which is why we need options for where to get our stuff fixed. Unless we can guarantee independent repairers access to the parts, tools and information they need, we can expect them to get continually squeezed out. It’s essential that the California Senate move Right to Repair ahead.” 

Shops’ response to the survey, which also highlighted why having repair options is critical for consumers. Nearly all the surveyed shops (98%) reported that they have been able to do repairs for customers which the manufacturer had been unable to complete, and every shop (63 of 63) which took the survey said they are able to fix products for a lower price than the manufacturers’ authorized shops. 

But, increasingly, shops have to turn customers away because manufacturers refuse to sell them spare parts, or won’t provide repair information such as the service manual. When asked “How often do you have to turn away potential customers because of restricted access to repair parts, materials, software or information?” 67% of respondents said “Frequently,” 32% said “Occasionally,” while only 1 shop said “Never.” 

“I hate turning away a customer who I could be helping, whose business I want, because the Apples of the world refuse to sell us parts or otherwise restrict the repair,” said Tony Heupel, owner of iTech iPhone and Macbook Repair in San Diego. “The manufacturers’ increasing restrictions against repair are a ticking time bomb—I don’t know how much longer our repair shop will be viable unless lawmakers stand up for the Right to Repair.” 

After passing out of the Judiciary committee last month, California’s Right to Repair bill moved to Senate Appropriations, where it remains. 

“Our Right to Repair bill, which focused on medical devices, died in Senate Appropriations last year, and the repair shops know that,” said Kushen. “They want to make sure lawmakers know how important this bill is to them.” 

Fortunately, Right to Repair has gained significant momentum since last session. Last May, the FTC released a landmark report “Nixing the Fix,” which addressed all the manufacturer objections to Right to Repair, and found they had “scant evidence” to justify restricting repair. But while manufacturers failed to justify their hostility to repair competition, the FTC found that there is real harm to consumers and the environment when repair options are lacking. Meanwhile, major device manufacturers have announced new repair programs to expand options. Though these programs have important drawbacks, they do demonstrate that manufacturers can cooperate with Right to Repair. 

“Californians replace some 46,900 cell phones per day, and electronic waste is the fastest growing part of the American waste system,” said Kushen. “It’s absurd. It’s our stuff, we need to be able to fix it.”

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