Saturday, March 25, 2006

More Beer!

Fallbrook Square was not the normal job. And neither was the pay. So we took advantage of it for as long as we could. Even hoping that Alex wouldn’t call us back until we had gathered up every dollar we could from this project.

Day after day, we would hang drywall for 3.5 cents a foot and day after day, Ralph would moan and groan about how we were robbing him. Yet, each afternoon, we would all gather in the general contractor’s office for beer…and Ralph would always buy.

5 days a week, Ralph would come by the job about 2 and bring us more nails. That’s when we would say, “Ralph. It’s getting close to 3…have you bought the beer yet?” “No…not yet.” “Well, you better hurry; we’re almost through here…”

Even though we were making good money, it was sometimes difficult to get the money from Ralph. He would always have an excuse; “Sorry…I forgot my checkbook, it’s back at the office.” We would eventually have to confront him at his home, in the evenings, most weeks…or we would have to threaten to quit. Since we were the only crew he had, it was a pretty effective threat as long as labor was hard to find.

It should be mentioned that since we were piece-working, we had no union protection and if Ralph decided not to pay us, there wasn’t much we could do…and we both knew that. And at the same time we were making big bucks, we weren’t receiving any of the other union benefits and so we had to keep an eye on the status of our health benefits.

Eventually, to regain those benefits, we had to get back to hourly work. And for a lot of journeyman, young and fast journeyman, this became a normal pattern for their employment. They would work hourly just long enough to get their health insurance paid about 6 months in advance and then they would quit and go piece-working for cash. Back and forth they would go…

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