A Modest Labor Demand of a Free Agent?

· Labor relations
Authors

The following is based on a true story, as true as the ones found in a 1980s Comic Book, probably Ripley’s Believe it or Not True Ghost Stories, which had on its first page the disclaimer that any resemblance to any living or dead person, and any event, and so on, was pure coincidence.  How true they were!  Or take the movies based on something which supposedly happened.  Have you ever wondered how much was really factual?

This story is principally about those who give jobs, whether directly or through contracting (outsourcing); to those who do such work; and perhaps to the legal profession’s labor lawyers. The question we put to the reader is: was what the hypothetical worker wanted such an unreasonable demand?

Prologue: The Present Author’s Position

There are some words that I really hate, like “labor”.  The British refer to a strike by doctors or nurses as “industrial action”.  I had always that that industrial workers and professionals were something quite different.

It may gain me some enemies to say that I hate unions.  I do not say that they haven’t had their legitimate function, but I wonder how much they really serve their members, instead of their leaders.  During my university years, for some extra money, I once worked in a small, non-unionized factory.  Some immigrants of communist persuasion managed to get a trade union in.  I read what was offered: the minimum wage.  So as of that moment, I was getting paid as much as before, but had to pay union dues on it!  Clearly, someone’s idea of a bad joke.  Any problems I had, I let the employer know directly.  I never needed the line from some movies, “You can’t fire me, I quit”, because I would move on if there was a need to, and complied with the standard rules in the meantime.

We can compare the thinking of many labor groups to that of  the acerbic pro-life versus pro-abortion arguments in the United States.  Pro-life does not mean guaranteeing a minimum number of years of life.  It simply means that nothing actively be done by one person to decrease the life-span of another.  In that sense, safe working conditions are more important than a so-called living wage, because it is foolish to believe that either a company or the government will have the permanent financial health to provide it.  In this sense, the life of a corporation is like that of a person – impermanent.  Neither does it require that a worker sustain his employer, as did the slaves.

On the other hand, if we accept the pro-abortion position in our personal lives, then we must accept that the fictitious person known as a company can decide to “abort” an unwanted worker.  The same is true of one partner with another, or, in a democracy – a worker must be able to say good-bye to an unsatisfactory employer.  Usually, when a pension is involved, such a decision is not made.

These remarks have been given so as to avoid any accusation that I am strictly anti-labor – my words were about the word “labor”, and about unions – and not the principle as such; no should it be understood that I am taking any political position other than one which implies the responsible independence of anyone doing a task for another, in an environment which is neither encumbered by abuses permitted to private employers in a free market system, or to the mischief caused by communistic practices, whose equality usually means spreading misery over a wider base.

Our Tale: Len Scapolo the Landscaper vs. his “Industry”

Let us imagine a landscaping firm.  We will call it Urbanscaping TierraFormosa, which we’ll call Urbanscaping for short.  Then there is an individual who does landscaping independently.  Let us call him Len Scapolo, which no one should take as any type of stereotyping – at worst, it is only a bad pun.  We are open to suggestions, but “scapolo” means single (as opposed to married), or (confirmed) bachelor.  For the sake of our story, the pun seems to be quite good as applied to an independent person, though the reader may have a different opinion.

Urbanscaping needed an extra landscaper, and spoke with Len, whom we’ll call Lenny, asking if he could do some work for them.  Lenny decided to think about it.  He was in no hurry.  Urbanscaping insisted several times, making reference to how they had seen the quality of work Lenny did – something which he doubted from the start, but finally, he gave in.  The terms were that Lenny would do his work in the same way that he did for his other customers, and that he need not give proof of having carried out that work to Urbanscaping, as both the customers and Lenny were considered trustworthy.

A few months into this arrangement, Urbanscaping’s director went to Europe, and gave some extra lawn work to Lenny.  These other customers did have to sign for work done, as some of them, Lenny was told, would try to insist on nonfulfillment as a reason for not paying.  There was  no problem, until the number of hours on one of the work sheets was disputed, upon the return of the director, who claimed that the accounting department did not understand the sheet.  Strangely, the accountants that Lenny knew had no trouble in understanding, nor did the other, less specialized persons have any difficulty.

The same problem occurred again, – and would occur once or twice more, when finally, together with another factor, all hell would break loose.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves in this story.

Now, Urbanscaping’s main customer is on the edge of the city, if not outside of it, so this particular customer’s property is vast.  The location was perfect for a meeting of an important international group, which we will say was the G-7.  The area would be under lock-down, and only authorized people would be able to enter.  You know the drill!  Lenny saw all kinds of security in the area, and asked what it was all about.  He did not see this meeting as a reason to stop his landscaping work, and he registered with the national authorities for permission to enter the zone.  The process went without a hitch.

Our Mr. Scapolo wondered if Urbanscaping’s director knew about this already.  When Lenny informed the director, believing himself to have done his pro-active duty, the latter blew his top.  Lenny, he claimed, had no right to talk to security people or other employees in the area.  He was part of Urbanscaping’s team!  But the fact was, he knew none of the team, and it was stipulated at the beginning that he would be contacted separately from its members.

Lenny wondered if Urbanscaping had something to hide.  After an angry exchange, things continued as before, until around the end of the year of the famous meeting.

At some later point, Lenny again had some extra customers through Urbanscaping.  The forms for these to sign had not been distributed, so Lenny printed his own, giving them a more professional appearance.  On them, he included some background information, such as in the manner a British whiskey manufacturer might include a royal seal, and the words, “By appointment to Her Royal Majesty or His Royal Highness, the Queen, or the Prince of This, or the Duke of That.  Granted, Lenny had not climbed that high, but he had obtained some awards for his achievements in landscaping.  He was the landscaper to the local police chief, for example.

Suddenly, about 3 problems came up in succession.  Urbanscaping disputed the 4 jobs done with a client, even though the latter had signed. Urbanscaping objected to the use of the more professional forms, even when an offer was made to change the size or location (or both) of the Urbanscaping name (something not on Urbanscaping’s own forms).  As punishment about the dispute over the 4 jobs, the customer was taken away, as was another, under dubious circumstances.  We will not bother the reader with the details, because then this might sound too much like actual events.  What did happen though, was that Urbanscaping left Lenny with only one of his original two landscaping jobs, and the customer was now required to sign the forms.

Here we approach the final paragraphs of this story.  Imagine Lenny doing work for Urbanscaping.  His own customers had offered him twice as much as a percentage increase for his most recent year of work, as Urbanscaping did, but he did not make an issue of this.  He did not show Urbanscaping’s director the document he had received from the customer involving the four-hour dispute, which, in effect, accused that director of lying.  After that customer was lost, there was no more need for the personalized job sheets, and the concession was offered that these would be used only if Urbanscaping’s were not issued punctually.  This was ignored, and a review over the contentious issue of the over-all working relationship found proof that Urbanscaping had violated the terms under which Lenny was working for it, who insisted on his right to continue operating as with his permanent customers, and the word-of-honor relationship between the three parties.  Urbanscaping refused to read, understand, or dignify the message with this proof.  Lenny decided the relationship must end.

At the time of this writing, Air France employees are on strike for something which may or may not be an exorbitant wage increase.  News stories say that this may spell the end of the company.

Lenny, who had accepted to do some jobs for Urbanscaping according to his accustomed practices,  did not demand any wage increase from Urbanscaping, even when his own customers voluntarily felt he was worth more.  When he was left with only one of the two original customers, he would have no need even for his own job sheets, as they were supposedly required only for the part-time customers he would have when the director was abroad.  All that was wanted was the correct adding up of the hours – a difficulty always attributed to the accounting department, even though a child could do it – and compliance with the terms of the relationship.

Here we ask businessmen, contractors, and lawyers – was Lenny Scapolo asking for too much, if he had never made any demands regarding payment, other than that the amount paid would correspond to the number of job hours, and that the simple terms of the relationship as it was established not be violated?  What would Urbanscaping have been afraid of during the G-7 meeting?

Are there workers who think Lenny was asking for too much?

The preceding situation may be applied to partnerships, relations in which one is the given work by a contractor, or working in a subcontracted relationship, or  where the labor laws do not have binding force.

Lenny considered himself at all times to be a free agent.  If Wikipedia’s article on Independent Contractors is correct, one reason for being independent is to be one’s own boss.  Another is to retain rights to one’s artistic work, whether Lenny could call his molding of bushes into protected artistic designs is a question apart.

Epilogue

Scapolo is not worried.  Urbanscaping has more to lose than he does, especially if the tax authorities investigate its operation.

 

May 10, 2018

 

Copyright, 2018, Paul Karl Moeller

Notes:

An Internet search has been made for the names Len Scapolo, Urbanscaping, and TierraFormosa.  On the date of this writing, no such names were found. If you are in landscaping, and like the name Urbanscaping, please consider crediting the author of the present work for the creation of the name.  If you are a firm that has used the name before the date of creation of this article, and if you object, please present proof by initiating contact through a comment to this article.

Some sources consulted:

https://www.abellawfirm.com/attorney-articles/when-independent-contractors-are-seen-as-agents/

http://www.ewpa.org.nz/Resources/Documents/16%20%20%20Health%20and%20Safety%20in%20Contracting%20Situations.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_contractor

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