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Sunday, Dec. 12, 2004
If youíre looking for some quiet self depreciating humor, better look elsewhere today. This is one of those times where what you read here will be substantially repeated in real life. ĎCause I just decided to get pissed off and stay that way. This is my reminder to myself just exactly why.

We came to an agreement just over a year ago with the company (actually, itís just one person but Iíll play the corporate game and disenfranchise the company aspect from the human, for now) that builds and develops the City. We had to come to an agreement because two things were happening: We werenít making any money at the jobs we were bidding up there, and they earnestly desired us to stay and bail them out of several scenarios.

So the agreement more or less stipulated that weíd just go with a labor only agreement, get paid on Friday and go home. Pretty much like what anyone elseís description of a job might be. Hired guns. But it went a little deeper.

ďIf you guys help me get these three buildings done, Iíll kick in a bonus. Should be able to get all this done by the end of June, right?Ē said the Benefactor (June being the start of yachting season, and this is a marina after all).

ďUh, yeah. Weíll get it done. End of June? Depends on what all the other contractors do, how they perform. Quite honestly, I doubt June is going to happen.Ē In saying that, I was carrying on the great tradition of the Outfoxed Crew. Never lie, never evade. You want fantasy, or salesmanship, or outright lying? Look elsewhere, sport.

So the work and the jobs carry on in a reasonable manner, and the commercial part of the City is arising from the sand. When we arrived at this labor agreement, two of the three buildings werenít even out of the ground, and the first one was a hopeless mess that weíd basically been shut out of. So asking for two very custom buildings to be put up and completed in 7 months was possible, but not under the conditions that have dogged this place since day one. Lack of infrastructure, lack of available skilled labor, people managing the day to day activities who should not have ever been allowed near a construction site, much less have authority over it. A great deal of the problems in getting things rolling started with the Benefactors relentless, and unending desire to change every damn thing. Build a wall, tear it down. Hell, build half a building and tear it down, since the man canít envision anything. And donít even get me started on paint colors.

At any rate, Stu got a little miffed when June came and went and weíd been slogging away, solving problems and trying our damdest to keep the thing on track, and no word of bonus had been mentioned, even though it was perfectly obvious that with a thousand design changes, the June schedule had been defeated before it even had a chance. And in Stuís own way, he got the Benefactor to release one-third of the bonus to us as we finished the first building. Then he did it again in August, another third, when the second was done. When the third was completed, we figured (stupidly) that the final third was due. There was a huge laundry list of extras and additional things desired, and the labor agreement rolled on until just last week, a full three months after the three building deal was substantially complete.

Now the thing is this ďbonusĒ is not a substantial amount of cash, not in the larger scheme of things. Times were, back a few years ago, that this amount of money was just one decent sized job for us in a series of decent sized jobs. You have to have the perspective that in running your own business, no matter what the goods or service or knowledge happens to be, that business is just a means to produce money. To produce it and distribute it and fight governments over it. Itís a cash machine. You have a monthly goal (better described as the monthly nut) of how much money you need, and you strive to exceed it every month, but you never let it get below that goal. The total bonus amount was about one months worth. Nice, but not earth shattering. Divide it by three and it was pretty much just a shrug, to be honest.

Difference was, again, this was labor money. I might have been shrugging, but I was shrugging on my way out of my bank with a tidy deposit slip made out to me.

So come last Friday, we were all prepared to be rewarded with the final installment. You may perhaps have already deduced that by writing this whole weary missive, the final installment didnít happen, and youíd be spot on correct. And it was one of those situations where, when asked about it, the man hemmed and hawed and basically bullshitted to the point where a blind man could see that he was blowing it off.

Stu and I have never been ones to nag, or whine, or feel compelled to remind people or companies about their promises. It takes a lot for us to get pissed and collect money, or call bullshit on somebody. A whole lot. We werenít raised that way, we expect adults and the companies they spawn to behave in a competent and adult like way. With respect, with honor. We do it, we practice it. I can say without the slightest hesitation that weíve never lied, cheated or otherwise boned anyone in our business partnership.

We like to call it ethics. I care a great deal more about ethics than money. Without the one, you darn sure wonít get the other.

Iím crafting a business letter about ethics just about now. Itís a letter to the Benefactor. Iíve never been shy about business letters, I write a mean one. In fact, Iíll let you see a bit of it, pre-editing. Might be unethical to do so, but you know what? Ethics donít seem to matter much any more.


Dear (insert name of former Benefactor),

Itís my understanding that you will not be fulfilling a portion of our written and verbal labor agreement as regards this project. Clearly, your access to many florid men in suits who make their living defending your actions in court has led you to feel that taking a pittance from us is, in fact, defendable. That it is ethical and the right thing to do.

Perhaps a brief review of our activity over the past 30 months would be helpful for you in assuaging whatever doubts your ethics have brought you. Consider:

Is it ethical to have requested us to leave a thriving business area with dozens of regular customers to work solely for you, on a project just starting out, to give us the impression that we are to be one of the prime contractors, to run the show so to speak, and then to put your son-in-law in charge? A son-in-law who couldnít put together a dog house on his best day?

Is it ethical, or even not stupid to assume that these same customers who we blew off 30 months ago to not be terribly excited about handing us work again, now that youíve mysteriously run out of work in mid-winter?

Is it ethical to request bids from us on particular buildings, to receive said bids which take me weeks to put together, and to then release our bid to other competing contractors, including, as it turns out, your son-in-law? Jesus, this isnít only unethical it smacks soundly of an advanced case of nepotism. And if this project was being conducted under any state auspices, it would be considered highly illegal. They calls it bid rigging, son.

(ed. note: Interestingly, we bid the first of the commercial buildings on this project, bid virtually every phase and specification. Your company uses our prices to shop for other subcontractors who perform some of the most awful work I have ever witnessed, then you have to pay other firms - in some cases it was us - to come in and clean up the mess. Just how much money did you really save by thinking that our subs, our supervision, was just a bit too pricey for your tastes? Iíve got a pretty good educated guess that says not only did you lose money, you lost a lot. And a helluva lot of time as well. Tick, tock. June, remember?)

Is it ethical to expect us to not get the contract on a particular job, but to keep us involved in this thing on a limited basis somewhere else, just so weíre available to act as professors in Construction 101 to your son-in-law and to your ass-hatted Project Manager, who canít find said ass with both hands and is arrogant about it? Trust me lad, if youíd been around on that particular Sunday (and quite a few other days from the looks of things) when I saw your trusted little minion hauling trailer loads of lumber and materials that youíd paid for off the job and straight to his house, which he just so happened to be totally remodeling, you might have had cause for concern. Reckon Iíd be remodeling too, if I had free materials showing up all the time. Reckon the job would get done a lot quicker if I was to coerce subcontractors into doing free work on the house in return for getting their invoices pushed through, with a little padding to them (never believe that subs and contractors donĎt talk freely amongst themselves). Yep, reckon I would, if I didnít mind being labeled a common thief. But I reckon too, that when your Manager tried to get us to do work for his house, on your dime, that I basically told him to fuck off. One of my few satisfying moments in the last 30 months, I can tell you that.

Is it ethical to assume that our costs, our gas and transportation and insurance and everything else would be a static thing, and that our labor agreement shouldnít ever be changed to reflect increases. Word to the disconnected rich people. Gas went up 40% in a few months. Tolls on the most expensive toll bridge in the country went up 30%. And I donít even want to talk about insurance and taxes. Or the fact that we became a non-profit company. I donít have any experience with non-profits, and Iím pretty sure I donít want to ever again.

Ethics? While on this little labor gig, we performed work that was amazing, in the opinion of all who saw it, including yourself. Thing is, for every dollar you paid us for labor, you were putting 2 dollars worth of value/escrow into your pocket. You know this. The cost of getting another contractor to do work of this magnitude would probably surprise even you. But you know enough of it to know you just got the biggest value deal for the work performed that has ever been done in this area. Count on it.

Ethics? Does holding a carrot out on a long stick and promising the moon in the form of the ever delayed future buildings mean we should just keep trotting along in our naivetť, trusting that we could count on at least an income? As one of my fellow contractors felt led to say, ďYou get promised the moon but you get handed Uranus.Ē Well put.

Disemboweling a little company, which has bled money until there is nothing more to bleed, might cause you some ethical discomfort, but it surely isnít showing up in your bland refusal to pay what you yourself promised to. Iím going to call you this morning and ask you flat out, ďAre you going to pay this money or arenít you?Ē and whether or not you pony up the funds, Iím going to tell you this.

I donít respect you, your company or your version of what ethics are. Iíve tried to, Stu and I both have. Iím damn disappointed in you, and if that seems to be a mild form of invective, you might realize that respect is the one thing that Stu and I hold in the highest regard. Weíve been silent about the tactics, the politics, the lying and the thievery, and thereís been so much of it. You know a lot of it, we know more. Weíve known you for 20 years, have worked with you and generally got along just fine. But thereís something about this project, I donít know what it is, that has taken your judgment and your sense of ethics and tossed them right into the high wind that blows off the marina every morning. Itís amazing to me that you would continue to pay us, every week, to come to a project when itís plain that you have no suitable ending scripted for us other than total emasculation.

You have led us on, and in taking our trust as well as uncountable hours of sweat and work and worry, youíve made to clear to us your intent in a way that soothing words and dead promises canít.

It is your corporation versus ours, or what is left of ours. But it really comes down to the men who run them.

A man is what a man does. We are not rich men. You are more wealthy than I will ever be, and I understand this. But a man, a man cannot live with the sort of shameful behavior that this situation has become. If he can, he is less of a man. If your word has become this invaluable to you then please donít expect us to hang around, waiting for it to change.

And I wonít dignify our position by telling you to screw it, since itís evident that the only screwing going on here is the sort that has already been accomplished.

Time to move on.

Oh by the way, screw you. And your money.

Yours in good ethics,

Outfoxed

Outfoxed moral of the day: Donít tell any lies: Thereís less to remember (but I remember, conversely, every single one told to me by those who should have an earnest interest in being on the up and up)

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Thanks for reading. Even these long memos to myself.

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