After making my presence known to the local Business Agent, I found a place to stay, the Holiday Inn in Edison. What a dump! But it was the best around and it had a restaurant attached, so I stayed.
Most mornings I would make my way over to the restaurant, hoping that the inside door would be open and I wouldn’t have to go outside to get to the restaurant. (Rarely was it open) Once there, a dependably surly waitress would take my order while I kicked the remains of someone’s dinner from the night before out from under my feet in the booth.
I remember one particularly cold morning. The heater in my room had stopped working for some reason and so I quickly dressed and headed down for a cup of hot coffee. As I entered the hallway that led to the restaurant I was suddenly enveloped in a thick fog. A steam pipe had broken and the hot moist air was filling the corridor (instead of my room heater) making it like a sauna.
But a sauna was definitely better than conditions on the jobsite. The general contractor wasn’t interested in supplying expensive propane heat for the project and was doing his best to ignore our pleas for some warmth. We showed him the job specs that stated that he was responsible for the heating of the entire project…not just his job trailer. He ignored us. We finally had to threaten him with a lawsuit to get some heat into the building.
Once I had some heat I was able to start hiring, and although I continued to ask for skilled steel framers, I was given wood butchers instead. I then had to start a very basic, “beginning framer” class for my employees before I could turn them loose to begin working.
A typical carpenter that worked for me here had spent most of his career working on concrete forms and rough framing, while I needed men who could frame with steel (and had the right tools) and work to an accuracy of plus or minus 1/16th of an inch. Most of these carpenters had never noticed that their tape measures had such small increments!
To be honest; most of the men I hired were nice guys and really wanted to learn. My problem was the fact that we hadn’t counted on this problem when we bid the job, so on the job training was eating away at any profits we might hope for.
One of the men, Tony, was nice enough to ask me to come over for dinner one Sunday evening and so I was able to enjoy that time with him and his family. And while I was there, I asked him why he was still paying ‘travelers” dues to the union, since it was obvious that he lived in the town and had been there for a long time. He had grown up there. He explained that Eddie had told him that if he behaved himself he would eventually get a chance to join the local union and stop paying the $10 a month. Tony’s father was a member and that was going to help as well. I told him that what Eddie was doing was illegal and asked why didn’t the members do something about it? He said that if he complained, Eddie would only give him cold and dirty work, if he gave him any work at all. Tony wasn’t interested in working in a box culvert all winter, forming up for concrete. The job he had with us that winter was his reward for being a “good guy”.
Now I knew… it was going to be a long, long winter in New Jersey. Could it get worse? Of course!