Betrayed - In the Best Interests of All Concerned
Ferret and Stinky returned from their meeting with the Renegade leaders sullen and angry. Ferret walked briskly back to the bar with Stinky scowling close behind. He took his place opposite the boss and proceeded to report.
"The news isn't good. Those renegade creeps were weird", Ferret stated, "My showing up didn't seem to rattle them at all. It was like they were expecting me."
"What do I care", the Boss replied, "What went on?"
"Those fucking guys were completely unreasonable", Ferret fumed. No progress had been made despite their best efforts. Even Pidgin, the #2 man in the union to which the Renegades belonged could not get through to them.
"Pidgin told them what they were doing was raiding my union and that it was wrong", Ferret explained, "but the pricks said they didn't see it that way. They called it a 'liberation'. Can you believe it? A goddamned liberation."
To try to get them talking, Ferret asked them to provide a list of stores that they were willing to accept as part of a deal. "The sonsofbitches hauled off for a while and came back with a list of damned well every store they'd organized", he recounted.
"Here, have a look", Stinky handed the Boss the Renegade's list.
The Boss scowled. "This", he said tersely, waving the list in Stinky's face, "I could have told you before we sat down. What the fuck went on over there? What about Pidgin, I thought he was going to set these guys straight?"
Pidgin was there, Ferret explained, and he was working hard but it was clear he had his work cut out for him. "Like I said, these guys aren't playing by the rules. They're not even speaking the same language as us, calling a 'raid' a 'liberation' and calling us a bunch of crooks when they should be calling us their brothers".
"It's war from now on," Ferret pronounced, "We've been reasonable up to now, but those assholes are going to regret this." The Renegade's leader would be in for retribution, Ferret decreed, for what he'd done. It was bad enough he'd raided Ferret's turf, but now to refuse to play ball and make a deal, that was too damned much.
At the mention of retribution Stinky's eyes lit up. Retribution was where he really excelled. Drinking deep, he suggested various options: blowing up the guy's car, planting a bomb in his office building, maybe breaking some windows for starters and then working up to more noteworthy stuff. Stinky worked himself up into a froth and Ferret let him go. The two lamented the recent arrest of a local thug whose services they'd relied on in the past. "You lost one of your best guys, Stinky", Ferret egged him on.
Especially galling to Ferret was the Renegades' use, throughout their campaign, of the local media. "They called my boss a crook", Ferret said indignantly. "You just don't do that". Even the Renegade's International Pres was pissed about that. The Renegades had departed from the code of gentlemanly conduct that is expected among union leaders.
Eventually Ferret steered the conversation back to the deal they were trying to make. They went over the Renegade's proposal. Many of the stores on the list were in communities where support for labour was strong. That just wasn't on, the Boss was unequivocal. "They could strike us in these places and we'd hurt," he said. These places were out of the question, the Boss flatly stated, pulling out his pen and stroking them out. Equally problematic was the fact that the list included a lot more stores than the company was prepared to give to the Renegades.
"I thought we had a deal in principle that they'd get 20 and nothing more", he said to Ferret. Ferret told him not to worry. The talks were just getting started. He'd get them down to a reasonable number.
Ferret absented himself to make a phone call. When he returned he explained that he'd been speaking with Pidgin. "Pidgin is a good guy," he explained. "He can be reasoned with. He wants a deal. His International President wants a deal. That's why he sent Pidgin in the first place. He's going to continue his discussions with the Renegades and might be able to talk some sense to them yet."
Ferret reassured the Boss that although the International was having a lot of trouble getting the Renegades in line, if Pidgin could strike a reasonable deal, the International Pres would shove it down their throats. Period. End of story.
The Boss appeared skeptical but agreed to stick around. Ferret was an old wheeler-dealer and was already showing what he was made of. Having persuaded the Boss not to walk away from the negotiations, he darted back to the phone to call Pidgin. He returned momentarily with a shorter list of stores. "This is what Pidgin is proposing," he announced.
"And is the radical fringe ready to go along for the ride?" the Boss asked him.
"Hey," Ferret responded, "This is Pidgin's proposal. As far as I'm concerned he's in charge and I'm dealing with him. Those other bastards can go screw themselves."
The list was a little shorter than the first one but still included stores in the labour friendly towns.
"Did you tell those jerks about how much cash I've got to crap on them with?" the Boss asked.
"Ah, he just gave me a strange look" Ferret responded. "There was something weird about the guy. I asked him some pretty pointed questions about what they were up to and they just skirted around all of them. They kept tellin' me how they're going to win at all these stores. It's like they've started believing their own bullshit propaganda."
"I don't care a fuck what they believe, here's what you believe: Twenty goddamned stores is what those bastards are going to get and here's which ones they are," the Boss said matter-of-factly. He pulled out a list from inside his jacket and passed it over to Ferret. "And here's something else you believe: If there's no fuckin' deal tonight, there's no fuckin' deal."
Ferret said he'd call Pidgin shortly and carry the Boss's message.
"Where's Pigman in all this?" the Boss asked. "I thought he'd be right in there with Pidgin. He's his top dog up here."
"If he's not in it now, he soon will be", Ferret replied. "Piggy is a good guy".
"That's right, the Boss agreed, "He's one of us. We'd have no problems if Piggy was running the show".
"Piggy would never have raided us in the first place," Ferret said emphatically. "Even now, if he took over, we'd have a deal in no time".
"I found the way to Piggy's heart", the Boss said with a smirk.
"Oh, I think Piggy's wearing his heart on his sleeve these days," Stinky laughed out loud. "Piggy wants to rule it all but the Renegade bastard is right up his ass. When's their election?"
"In a couple of years", the Boss replied. "I'm voting for Piggy".
"We've got Piggy to thank for getting the International Pres involved in this mess," Ferret said.
"Hey, I'm aware", the Boss responded, "I know about his trip to headquarters and his little chat with the Pres. He told me all about it. The Pres was real pissed when he found out how the Renegades had misled him. He was very grateful to Piggy for bringing it to his attention. Apparently the International was fixing to pour even more dough into the campaign just at that time. Piggy's intervention was timely indeed."
A hush fell over the table as Pidgin and Piggy arrived. Pidgin, a tall taciturn man, looked ill at ease and walked with an awkward shuffle, like a pigeon on an unfamiliar sidewalk. Piggy, on the other hand, was a jolly-looking portly little guy with a perpetual smirk. He practically bounced up and down as he approached the Boss's table.
Piggy introduced Pidgin, "Our International Vice" and shook hands enthusiastically with the Boss. The Boss greeted Pidgin in a professional but dismissive way and smacked Piggy on the back, "Good to see you pardner", he said. They had been very close at one time. Another round was ordered and lively talk about old times ensued with Piggy, Stinky and the Boss reminiscing about escapades from years past. Pidgin and Ferret eyed each other coldly and waited while their understudies played with the Boss.
Finally, Ferret could wait no longer. "Let's get down to business", he said. "Do you have the authority to make a deal?" he asked Pidgin.
"Hell no," Pidgin replied, "They don't even know we're here. For all intents and purposes this meeting never happened."
"But be that as it may, my intention is to work out an agreement that I can communicate to my International President. I might even be able to sell it to our Renegade brothers but if I can't I can't."
"Well I've got a deal for you" the Boss, "and I trust you already know the terms."
Pidgin said that he did, however there were some problems. "There are a number of locals that have contributed generously to the Renegades' campaign and I'm going to have to take care of their interests" he said, making it clear that the problems were political and not ideological. "I need something for these locals. That's why some of the stores that are on our list are there".
Piggy reassured the Boss that this was all about keeping some loyal troops happy. He himself didn't care what stores his union got, but he had some good guys out there in the locals and had to look after them. They had been led down a garden path by the Renegades, as had the International. They'd been asked to contribute some troops and had done as they were told. "You can't hold that against them."
The Boss's eyes narrowed and he leaned menacingly over towards his old pal. "Do you realize how much this shit has cost this company?" he asked. "How much crap your union has caused us? And what the fuck for Piggy? Some mouthy bitches that don't know how good they've got it. They belong to Stinky, not you, OK? They got fuckin' problems, let Stinky sort 'em out. That's the way it's done isn't it? Why the fuck should I give you anything right now? You start all this bullshit and now you wanna cherry pick? Bullshit. You'll get what the fuck I give you."
Pidgin was taken aback by the Boss's forcefulness but looked sympathetically at him nonetheless. Piggy jumped in to smooth things over. "Look, none of this shit should ever have happened. There's no doubt about that. These guys are on a crusade. They've got it in for the company and they don't know how to stop," he said. "But they don't call the shots. We call the shots. If we can work something out here, it'll fly."
The Boss seemed placated. "You know the deal," he said. Piggy nodded.
"There are a few things I'm not too clear on", Pidgin piped, "I don't understand a lot about your labour laws up here. The Renegades are telling me that some of the stores we want to offer up are full of hotheads who'll take us up on duty to fair representation charges with your labour board if we just cut them loose. Is that going to be a problem?"
"Don't sweat about the Board," the Boss said, "The Board would like nothing more than to see this mess go away".
"We could do a voluntary rec", Stinky said. "No fuss, no muss, no votes."
"Would your Board have to approve the deal?" Pidgin asked. "Would there be any level of scrutiny".
"Fuck no," the Boss said with a wave of his hand. "We'll get the lawyers to go to the Board and say whatever has to be said. It will all just be a formality. You guys withdraw all your applications, we sign a voluntary rec for each of your stores and that's the end of it. The Board isn't going to get in the way of this deal. I'll even line up the Board Officer if that makes you feel better."
Pidgin looked impressed. "Wish our Board was like that" he said jokingly.
"Now I've got a question for you," the Boss pointed his cigar at Pidgin, "Once this deal is done, I don't want any shit getting stirred up at any of our operations. You've got some real loudmouths in a few of those places. What are you guys going to do to keep the peace?"
"The members at the stores that will be going back to Ferret's union will be told that this is a decision that has been made by the two International unions. It's in the best interests of all concerned. The continuing hostilities between our two unions are counterproductive and not helpful to the labour movement. We can and should be working together. We intend to work together and expect that they will support that decision."
The Boss smiled.
"Come on, let's talk." Ferret motioned for Pidgin and Piggy to join him at another table and the three of them hauled off to confer privately. Stinky stayed behind.
"Hey compadre", he said to the Boss, "It's gonna happen. We're gonna settle this thing. Be reasonable man. We're being reasonable and we're the ones whose well they've been pissing in. They'll get their 20 and we'll get the rest. Who cares what stores are in our bag as long was it's most of 'em".
"I don't know why you're in such a hurry to give up the places where you've got good support," the Boss looked at him suspiciously.
"Hey, in any war some soldiers have to go down. Besides, it's just a short term thing," Stinky explained. "I don't know what your plans are for bargaining", he said with a wink, "but after a few months of strikes, lockouts or maybe a shitty contract or two, d'you really think those broads will be rallying behind Pidgin's union? Shit no. They'll be passing the petition around and lining up at our office to sign up. Hell, we're already getting calls from some of the poor girls who want to come back to papa. I'm tellin' ya, in a year's time you'll see that last of Pidgin and his mighty union". Stinky staggered out to relieve himself.
"Do you think there will be a deal tonight?" The apprentice asked the Boss.
"Oh yeah, if I want a deal tonight I'll get one tonight," the Boss replied. "I've got 'em all where I want 'em".
"Where's that?" the apprentice asked.
"In a verrry compromising position", the Boss replied with a sly look. "When they are meeting you on the sly you have an immediate advantage. If the members ever got wise, or if his enemies ever got wise, it's curtains. The minute you walk into the back room with me, your ass is grass and I'm the lawnmower." They laughed.
"What about the stores he wants in the union towns, are those going to be a problem for us?" The apprentice asked.
"At the end of the day - no. I may throw him a few just to seal the deal but I'll give him the ones that don't mean much to us anyway. Low volume places don't make that much difference on the bottom line even if there is a strike. One here or there isn't going to make much difference. My objective is first to get them down to a reasonable number - 20 - and then to get them to the 20 I'm prepared to give up and then..."
"Then what?" the apprentice asked.
"Oh, you'll see. When the getting's good, you get everything you can", the Boss said. "This is going to be quite an education for you".
Ferret returned, a staggering Stinky in tow, from Pidgin's table. He had the list of 20 stores that the Boss had given him. In a separate column now was another list, with 21 stores. These were the stores Pidgin was prepared to accept as part of the deal. The Boss looked at his apprentice and smiled. Some of the stores Pidgin wanted were still unacceptable to him but there was no question that Pidgin had found his way to the Boss's ballpark. Pidgin's union was signaling that it was prepared to cut loose the vast majority of stores for which it had certification applications pending and that was a very good sign.
"Well, it's a good start," the Boss said to Ferret, "But there's a bunch of company stores on here and I said very clearly to you that I'm not giving those assholes any company stores."
Ferret looked testy but kept his composure. Pidgin and Piggy had come down a long way he told the Boss. They were going to need at least a couple of company stores to get to a deal. They were concerned about the number of people they were cutting loose and the political problems that might cause, but to their credit, they'd gotten over it. "They are also making noises about joint bargaining with our union or at least a "me too" agreement," Ferret told the Boss.
"The answer is no," the Boss said flatly. "There will be no joint bargaining, there will be no "me too" agreement. They're going to bargain their own deals with me".
"And that's what I've already told them," Ferret stated. "There's no way we're sitting at the table with those guys."
The Boss pulled out a pen. Looking over the list of stores Pidgin was proposing, he crossed out the store #'s of places he was not prepared to part with and replaced them with others. "There", he said handing the list back to Ferret. "My best offer. They can take it or they can blow it out their ass."
Ferret left again and spoke with Pidgin and Piggy for a long time. When he returned, Pidgin's list was down to 20 stores, only two of them company locations. "No deal", the Boss said. "They've got my best offer. I'm walkin'. Tell Pidgin that it was nice meeting him. If he'd like to revisit my generous offer in the morning, I'm always happy to talk but the ante is going up."
He butted out his cigar, finished his drink and left. Ferret, somewhat stunned by the Boss's abrupt departure hurried back to the table where Pidgin and Piggy sat waiting for him.
As the apprentice settled the bar tab, Ferret and Pidgin were each at a pay phone, speaking excitedly.
The Boss and the apprentice walked slowly through the darkened parking lot to their cars.
"I thought we were awfully close there," the apprentice said, "Why'd you call it a night".
"I have them where I want them now I'm going to squeeze them. Don't forget my long term goal is to squeeze a rollback out of both these unions."
"So why didn't we go for that tonight? You've always said to strike while the iron's hot," the apprentice asked.
"These boys want a deal. They have to have a deal because of the jam I've put them in. We got very close to a deal just now. They thought it was there, they could smell it. Right now they're scrambling around wondering what the hell went wrong. They'll spend the night calling their HQ's explaining to their Pres's why it fell apart and how hard they're going to work to get it back on the rails. Then they'll see what it's gonna take to get me to yes."
The apprentice drove aimlessly through the quiet city streets for a long time waiting for revulsion to chase the numbness away. It was taking a long time tonight. She felt a profound loathing for these repulsive men. Thousands of people had just been traded away, over a few drinks, just like that, in the best interests of all concerned. The slave trade of our times she thought.
Home at last, she sat down to take note of the day's events. It was 3:00 a.m. By the time she finished the notes she would give to the Boss later in that morning and the ones she would keep for herself. Standing up, she reached under her suit jacket and pulled off the clammy tensor bandage and the apparatus it held in place. She switched off the bulky recording unit feeling somewhat vindicated that to this day; none of the boys had caught wise. Tomorrow she would drop off the tape at held at a non-descript concrete building a few blocks from the corporate office. "Let's hope", she said tossing it on a chair. Then, despite the lateness of the hour, she picked up the phone and called the Renegade leader.