The Snake's Keep
On her way to the office in the morning, the Boss's apprentice stopped at the non-descript concrete building a few blocks from the corporate office and dropped off the tape she'd made of yesterday's meeting. "Anything good?" Asked the agent who greeted her. "Threats of violence, blowing up a building, broken bones, lots of drunk talk too", she replied. "I've gotta run but we need to talk. Don't call us, we'll call you", she said casually and went on her way.
At the corporate office, the Boss was in a festive mood. He arrived early, something that was quite unusual and convened a special meeting of his staff. As coffee, liqueurs and a large bottle of Dom were carted in, his apprentice and the three young men who made up his team of labour relations specialists gathered around him, the apprentice seated on his right, as always.
"Well, people", the Boss addressed his team, "We've had some very interesting developments in the raid. Second-in-command", he said nodding to the apprentice, "Please give the boys a report".
She knew he was going to do this and was prepared. The Boss was well aware that her three ambitious colleagues deeply resented her unofficial 2-I-C status in their small department and did what he could to help nurture the resentment along, as did she. Matter-of-factly, she reported just enough to tell them that very important events were unfolding, but not enough make them feel that they were players in these events.
"We met last night with representatives of both unions, Don Pidgin from the URAC and John Ferrette from the SHU and their Canadian Directors, Stinky Ritz and Pigman Godcliff. Our objective was to facilitate resolution of the raid by URAC's renegade faction of democratic unionists on 200 of our stores that are represented by SHU; a resolution that was acceptable to us. A confidential proposal setting out our terms was forwarded last week to both Ferrette and Pidgin who signaled their agreement in principle. Pidgin indicated that he needed time to get buy-in from the renegades before signing off. Yesterday was zero hour for that. Pidgin met with Freddie Beaton, the President of the renegade URAC local and Mack Unocogleone, his campaign coordinator, earlier in the day. Pidgin was unsuccessful in getting them onboard but returned to meet with Ferrette and us later in the evening. He indicated that URAC was prepared to pursue a resolution without the renegades' involvement.
Our proposal of last week dictated the number and location of stores at which we are prepared to allow URAC to acquire bargaining rights, it being understood that SHU will get the rest. Our talks progressed well yesterday and are very advanced at this time. Ferrette is on board with our proposal. Pidgin is on board as far as the number of stores that his union will get but was holding out for some company locations, which we are not prepared to give him. The Boss ended the talks late last night to give Pidgin some time to rethink his position. We are quite optimistic that he will come around and", winking at the Boss, "then some."
"You'd better believe it", the Boss replied enthusiastically. "Well, done." He nodded approvingly at the apprentice.
The young men voiced their approval and congratulated the Boss for pulling off another seemingly impossible feat of manipulating union leaders.
"How is URAC International going to get Beaton to buy this?" one of them asked.
"They're not going to buy it", the Boss responded, "They're going to eat it!" Pidgin had some problems selling it to the renegades, the Boss explained, but those were his problems. "In fact, I'm glad the weak-kneed asshole hemmed and hawed at the last minute. It gave me the window of opportunity I wanted to do a little last minute squeezing. If they want their 20 stores it's going to cost them a bit more now", he said grinning at the apprentice.
"Now for the late-breaking news", the Boss continued, "Just as I expected, Piggy called me at home this morning. He was really apologetic about Pidgin's last minute waffling. He told me the big wheeler-dealer is still a bit queasy about political fallout but that it's nothing for us to get excited about. He wanted to know what his union could do to get the talks back on track, and I told him: They'd have to drop all the damned litigation those renegade bastards have filed. Every last unfair labour practice charge, everything and that's not all..."
"We're not going to drop ours too are we?" asked one of the young managers. "I'm on a few of those files and I'm enjoying it."
"Hell no," the Boss was adamant. "I told Piggy that too. He seemed taken aback. He thought if we would drop ours, that would make it easier for them to drop theirs but I told him that we're not dropping anything. We've got all sorts of stuff on the go against their organizers including those defamation lawsuits. Why the hell would I drop any of it? It'll teach those pricks a lesson about messing with me. Piggy doesn't seem to get it that this thing is too far advanced now. Gimme an inch..." he gestured to his groin, laughing.
"So when we sign the deal, are we bargaining with both unions or who's going first?" asked another of the whippersnappers.
"Let's get one thing straight here. I'm not signing anything. Our union friends are going to do the signing. I'm simply going to send them a separate communication indicating that I'm in agreement. Nothing happens until I do that. Now, we're sure as shit not doing any joint bargaining with these guys. Right now I'm keeping my options open as to that goes first. Our objective is a wage rollback as you all know and I'll get whichever way I think is going to fly. My thinking all along has been that SHU will go first. They're the biggest group and Stinky gave me his word back when all this shit first started that he'd play ball with me at the table. The little bastard may be fixing to renege on his promise though. Oh yeah," the Boss continued, in response to the looks of alarm around the table, "he's started making noises already. Last week he said he couldn't remember our discussion of a few months ago where he promised me. Said he must have been drunk at the time or something".
The whole group laughed. "When is Stinky not drunk?" The apprentice asked.
"Well that's my point," the Boss said, "I told him, 'hey Stinky maybe I got you drunk so I could fuck you'. He didn't find that as funny as he usually does, so I'm not sure if he isn't getting cold feet".
"It may be politically difficult for him right now, don't you think Boss?" asked one of the young managers. "After months of this raid, to get the members to take a rollback?"
"My young and educated friend," the Boss leaned across his ashtray, "It's not what the members want, it's what they're going to get that concerns us. What the members want is what started this whole mess."
"If Stinky won't play ball, I'll go to the International Pres", the Boss went on. "He'll play ball and if he won't than I'll go to Pidgin. He'll have no choice but to play ball. I'll shove the bat up his ass if he doesn't. I expect that Piggy would be happy to play let's make a deal. What the hell, he can tell the members 'Hey ladies, I got you a 10% reduction in pay. It could have been a lot worse. The company wanted 20%. Be happy you money-grubby broads'. We can bargain with URAC first - nothing says we can't. Once they take a rollback, that's the pattern. SHU won't have a choice. Presto! Minimum wage at 200 stores, a few mil in savings each and every year and I'm a big gawddamned corporate hero! Even those goofs in the Marketing department will be lining up to kiss my ass."
"Who are we going to be bargaining with from URAC, Piggy or Beaton? I'm not clear on that." Asked the apprentice.
"I don't really know", the Boss replied. "At this point, it's unclear to me what the future holds for the renegade connection. I'd like to think that they'll throw the whole lot of them out on their asses on some trumped up charge and turn the 20 stores over a local under Piggy's care and control but if they don't, that's OK. If we have to bargain with Beaton, that's fine. It will just take us a little longer to get to our goal. We'll put them out on strike in a few places, lock them out in a few more places and then when everything is ready to go down the toilet, Piggy will fly in and save the day and bargain up to a 10% rollback. We can't lose. And then, comes the really enjoyable part: The decertification".
"Decert?" asked one of the young managers. "You mean we're going to decert URAC?"
"Well, yes, that's been our goal all along and it's not changing now that I've got Piggy taking his clothes off from me," the Boss replied. "If it goes good at their stores, we might just go for broke and take on SHU. Why not? There's be bonuses for the whole damned lot of you. Now, off to work you all go", he said with a wave of his hand, "except you", he said to the apprentice.
"I want to talk to you about something", he to her in a hushed voice after the last of the boys filed out. "Our proposal, the one we sent to the two union bosses last week, you prepared that, right?"
"Yeah", she replied evenly.
"Did anyone else see it or get a copy from you?" he asked.
"No. No way", she responded.
"Not even one of the secretaries?" the Boss persisted.
"No. I typed it, copied it and faxed it myself. It was too sensitive to be left with anyone else", she said.
"Well, get a load of this", the Boss said, as he picked up the phone and dialed.
"Hi Stinky, it's me. OK, we're both here now. Tell me again what you told me earlier this morning", the Boss said somewhat nervously.
"Well, what I told you earlier today was that Beaton knew about that proposal of yours last week." Stinky said somewhat agitated.
"What do you mean Stinky, he knew about it?" the apprentice asked, quite concerned.
"After you and your boss's abrupt departure last night, Pidgin, Pigman and I retired back to the bar and got to talking a bit. Pidgin asked me if I knew how Beaton could possibly have got his hands on the company's proposal last week. I said I didn't have a fuckin' clue. Pidgin told me that after he'd got the proposal from your office last week he phoned Beaton and told him that he was coming up to meet with him because he had a proposal for Beaton to consider. That's when Beaton told him that he already knew about the damned proposal."
"Well that's very disturbing", the apprentice said, "We were very careful about the proposal. No one here knew about it except the Boss and me. Did Pidgin ask him how he knew about it?"
"I'm not sure, he was pretty cagey about that", Stinky replied. "I think he didn't want to disclose too much".
"How do you think he could have found out about it? " the apprentice asked.
"I don't know. I got my copy last week from you but only talked to Ferret about it, when we were getting ready to meet with you guys", Stinky responded.
"Did you talk to him on the phone?" asked the apprentice.
"Yeah, I called him from my hotel room", Stinky said.
"Maybe your phone was tapped", the apprentice suggested...
"Could be. That's what your boss thinks. I wouldn't put it past those bastards. But you know I've heard that they have somebody inside your office. Somebody highly placed. That rumour's been floating around for a while now".
"So who is it, Stinky?" The apprentice said to him sounding more high-handed now. "If there's somebody in this office communicating with those guys, I sure want to know about it. But let's get something straight, I'm not about to go on any witch-hunts and start accusing people. We've got a lot of good staff working here. Who's saying these things? I think we need to think about their motives."
"I don't know", Stinky responded, "I've never heard any names mentioned. I just heard it was somebody high up the ladder. I guess we all need to be careful."
"I got a pretty good idea who it might be," the Boss interjected. "I'll deal with the lousy bastard in my own good time".
"What do you think about all this stuff about the mysterious spy thing Boss?" The apprentice asked him after he put down the phone.
"It's bullshit", the Boss replied. "Stinky's playing games".
"You know, Piggy made the same comment to me last night", she continued.
"Oh, what did he say?" the Boss asked.
"He said that they believe that there is someone inside the corporate office who is feeding information to Beaton and the renegades".
"I don't remember that", the Boss said, "Was I that pissed?"
"You were taking a leak", she replied.
"What did you say to Piggy?" the Boss asked.
"I asked him who it was. He said he didn't know. I left it at that. What's the game?"
"Oh, I think they're trying to distract us", the Boss said. "Stinky's going to try to renege on his promise. I don't trust either of those two assholes - him or Piggy. It wouldn't put it past them to do an end run on us. You know, get together and decide they're going to join forces. It worries me, Pidgin's suggestion last night about joint bargaining. Gimme a break. That guy is more out to lunch than I figured. Tell me if you hear anything more about this though. Maybe ask the girls in the office if anyone's been around asking unusual questions or looking for files from us".
Within a few days, the deal was done, on the Boss's terms and to his great satisfaction. Pidgin and Piggy would get 20 stores. The Boss even threw in a company store as gesture of his appreciation for their acceptance of his other demands: The withdrawal of all pending litigation and a promise that their union would refrain from any further organizing of the company's workers - ever.
Fred Beaton, the leader of the renegade's campaign, flatly refused to sign it. Fortunately for everyone who was anyone, Beaton was scheduled to represent URAC at an international labour convention far, far away. Once he was safely onboard his aircraft, the International instructed Mack Unocogleone to sign the deal on Beaton's behalf. The obliging Unocogleone did as he was told. To do otherwise would have meant a return to the low wage warehouse job he thought he'd left behind for good. A guy had his priorities and Unocogleone was keenly aware of his.
In the days that followed, Unocogleone and his organizers broke the news to the members. Among the hundreds who had backed his union for well over a year now, there was shock and incredulity. The vast majority would be returned, without a fight, without a vote, to the union they had struggled so hard to leave. If the news itself wasn't bad enough, the bland, dispassionate way in which it was delivered was worse. "It was for the best", Unocogleone and his organizers told them. The International had decided it was better this way and the International knew what was best. It was hard to understand these things, but sometimes it just had to be this way. There was no point in the two unions fighting when they should be supporting each other in their fight against the company. Those who were being handed back to the union they'd tried to escape were told, sanctimoniously, that it was their duty now to support their union and to work patiently with its leaders for the greater good of all. End of story.
Preparations were in full swing for the paperwork that the LRB would require in order to put its seal of approval on the deal-hatched-in-a-bar. Many documents would have to be signed withdrawing applications for certification and a mountain of unfair labour practices. The Boss lined up an LRB officer in whom he had much confidence to preside over the sign-off later in the month. It would all be a formality but the Boss didn't want any hassles. Pidgin's union would get automatic certification at those of their 20 stores where they had majority support. Votes would be ordered at those where they didn't. If they lost the votes, Ferret and Stinky would get the stores. The Boss was pleased with the bargain that he'd driven.
Things were rolling along well, when Piggy asked for an urgent meeting with the Boss. At a dark steakhouse on the outskirts of the city, he introduced the Boss and the apprentice to a pale quiet older man. The pale quiet man, Piggy said, was the President of an important local over which Piggy had dominion. URAC's 20 stores would be folded into the pale quiet man's local and he would see to it that there wouldn't be any trouble. The pale quiet man nodded in agreement. "Well, that's good", the Boss said, "because I'm a guy you'll need to get along with".
As they tucked into their steaks, Piggy got to the other item on his agenda. There was a problem, Piggy explained. Since the deal was announced to the members at the 200 stores that the renegades had originally organized, support for URAC had dropped right off. It was unfortunate but that's how it went. Support had never been all that strong at the 20 stores his union would be getting and Piggy expected that votes would be ordered in most of them. The Boss smirked.
"We may not have enough support to carry a vote", Piggy said. "I'm wondering about voluntary rec. Could we do voluntary recs for all of these stores? We do voluntary recs all the time with other companies and you won't be disappointed."
"Voluntary rec?!" the Boss exclaimed angrily. "Why the fuck should I give you voluntary rec? After all the shit your guys have caused me, you're lucky to get what I've given you."
"Come on big guy", Piggy chided, "You know me".
"We can talk", the Boss replied sitting back leisurely, "but it's going to cost you".
"Let's talk," Piggy replied.