Now don’t get me wrong, I was a union foreman for years. It’s a positive or negative thing depending on which side of the checkbook you’re on. But I’ve been on the writing-the-checks side for twenty years.
The Carpenter’s union came by our job again last week. Manny. Big, loud, blustering, not that bright. He came by about three weeks ago, and three weeks ago he said “Who’s doing your framing?” I said we hadn’t decided. He said, “Would you consider sending it to a union framer?”, I said sure.
“I’ll get you the names of three guys. I’ll fax them over to you this afternoon.”
The fax didn’t come that afternoon, but a couple of days later his sidekick showed up with a list of three union framing contractors, one of whom I knew, the other two I didn’t.
The sidekick said, “Somebody started the framing here, who’s that?”
“Yeah, that’s so-and-so”
He didn’t say much more, he left. Anyway, Manny came back last week “You were kind of bullshitting me. You had already let the contract.”
“Well I let the framing contract, but we’ve still got the sheetrock. I’ve got a call into your guys. It’ll be alright.”
Manny went away, I thought he was just sort of patched up, but he actually called the client. The client agreed to meet him, which I thought was above and beyond anything a client should have to do. My inclination was to call my shark, union-busting lawyer friend and get a restraining order and set up dual gates. About a week later we had a meeting with the client, and he said “The first thing out of Manny’s mouth was ‘Bill lied to me’, and that sort of is the way it came down isn’t it?”
“Yeah it sort of is. I just say whatever it takes to shut him up and make him go away. They don’t even register on my radar screen.”
The client said “Yeah, but that’s not the way we do business, is it?”
There was a long silence, I roll it around in my mind and I think,’ he’s absolutely right’. The test is how you deal with the least of them, not with the best of them.
“When you lie to them, you just put weapons in their hands. You don’t have anything to fear from them. Just tell them the truth, tell them the contract is let, you don’t have anything more to say.”
I was wondering about my reaction. Why didn’t I just face him down and say ‘I’m sorry Manny, this one’s gone, catch me on the next one.’ Why did I sort of smooth things over and think that I was going to make him go away?
I talked to a friend about it and she thought I was dealing with him in the way that I dealt with potentially life-threatening situations as a child. Just smooth things over… make it OK… avoid confrontation… She said “What’s the worst that man could do to you?”
“I truly don’t know. The wrong union, Operating Engineers in Manhattan for instance, the wrong place, they’ll kill your pets and show you photos of your children taken through the school-yard fence. It’s an unknown.”
She said “You’re more powerful than they are. You really have nothing to fear from them.”
I know she’s right but Jesus Christ… you’ve got to tell the truth to wives and girlfriends, partners and workers, friends, the loan officer at the bank, the I.R.S… I’m all the way down to the bottom of the barrel and I’ve gotta tell the truth to the god-damned union business agent?