Of punchlisting and project management

"You really don't want me to come up there, now do you?"

"Uh, no … and I've tried to tell you boss, you don't have to."

"But every single inspection has failed for the past week, all nine of them, and I've told you that is unacceptable."

"And I've explained to you why, that your guys from Charlotte aren't paying me a bit of mind when I tell them how the inspectors want things done here in Raleigh and Durham. They've told me flat out that I'm not their boss, you are, and they'll do things the way they've always done them in Charlotte until you tell them otherwise."

"When they make the three hour drive each way and are on your turf, you — you — are the project manager, you're in charge, not them. You have to make them do things the ways they should be done there, not how they're done down here in Charlotte."

"Boss, have you told them, no fibs now, that when they're up here that I am in charge of the projects and they are to do things my way, not your way?"

"Look, we've gone from less than one penny to five million gross projected this year in less than four years by doing things efficiently, shaving every penny we can every where we can and that's how I trained our guys to do things on the job, with maximum efficiency."

"You didn't answer my question, boss."

"Like I said, you seriously don’t want me to come up there tomorrow, do you?"

"No, I don't."

"Then I suggest you get off your prima donna project manager's butt and get to work and you do whatever you have to do to make sure those four jobs, which are to be inspected tomorrow, pass at any and all costs, got that? I got two calls on hold, call me in the morning after the jobs are inspected."

HHhhhhhmmm … let's see … when you haven't picked up tools in more than twenty years, not even to do your own work at home in your own house for your own self, you can never find what old tools you need when you need them, can you?

The old plumbing shop was dark and smelly, the roof had been leaking worse than cheesecloth for years, and almost everything inside it was old and moldy or old and useless. Ahhh … there they are, stuffed inside my old workbench's front cubbyholes. Nope, not too bad, just a little rust here and there.

I found my old Ridgid flaring tool to do the copper gas line that my boss's No. 1 crew had refused to my face to do, telling me that they weren't getting paid enough on flat-rate piecework to make it worth their while. Duct pliers, tin snips, my old folding rule, my trusty ladder never used until now, nut drivers, my Milwaukee right-angle drill and Sawzall respectively. The tools I grew up with and thought I outgrew as my career evolved from field jockey to project manager were once again employed, especially if I wanted to at least try to keep my job.

I went to the jobsite at 4:30 a.m. I've spent a lifetime in construction, but I'm still not used to getting up that early. The GC's superintendent was surprised if not downright shocked to see me when he began his jobcrawl at 5:30 that morning.

"You must be in a bind, old buddy, if you are here this early and working with tools."

"Yeah … I guess so … It was explained to me that all these inspections must pass today or else."

The first sunrays of dawn, along with the sound of metal screeching against metal, cut through the darkness of the night as I shoved my ladder along the runs of metal duct and flex runs, looking for every single tear in the duct wrap or flex, every hanger missed, every crosspiece not there, every panduit strap inexplicably just forgotten by the boss's so-called "world-class crews."

"That sucks. Good luck! Is there anything I can do?"

"Yeah, you could help me with the roof rafters at 38 Maple Drive around the corner. Because of my bad ankle and all, I can't hop atop the roof rafters to get to the condensate line to put a hanging strap on it, that's why it failed inspection yesterday, so if you could do that for me I'd really appreciate it."

"Not a problem, little buddy, not a problem at all."

He trotted off to help me.

How could I have hope, knowing the inspectors were determined to break my company, a company new to the area and being hazed, to say the least, by the local inspectors since they took lots of work away from lots of their buddies, and having to deal with the arrogance of my boss's attitude: "This is the way we do it in Charlotte, so we'll do it this way in Raleigh, or we'll sue the inspections department!" I felt my fate was sealed.

A project manager is a project manager, not a miracle worker, political power broker, bully, saint or punchlist guy, though in the past couple of months, let alone couple of days, I had become all those things and more.

The inspector showed up that morning and tore down sections of work to find so-called mistakes.

"Look at this hole."

The inspector pointed to a microscopic pinhole in the covering of a piece of 12-in. flexduct that he literally had to yank from the above-ceiling space. A pinhole, so tiny I couldn't see it with my near-sighted eyes, which had been hidden atop the flex between the duct and the bottom of the second-story floor just inches above until he had pulled down the entire 20-ft. run to make a point.

"This job is has officially failed and will have to be reinspected."

The inspector left the jobsite to go to his next scheduled inspection where in a comedy of absurdities he systematically tore out entire sections of installed work looking and finding insignificant mistakes.

Once he left the jobsite, I walked to my truck, sat in the driver's seat, and to my surprise the keys were gone. I usually keep the keys in the truck when I'm on the jobsite, but they were no where to be seen. Apparently, this was the way my boss, who ignored the fact, which I stressed to him before I was hired, that because of my physical limitations I was and only could be an office-based project manager, not a field superintendent let alone a punchlisting-job foreman, was telling me I was being fired.

He didn't have the nerve to tell me that he was firing me because he, not I, had oversold certain things, like the exact nature of this "project management" position and the job description, which changed daily to suit whatever he and his partners needed me to be at the moment. Instead of telling me I was fired, he gave me a heads-up to my firing by taking the keys from the truck.

"Sam here will drive you home in the truck."

"No thanks, I'll call my wife."

"Not on the company cell phone you were given, which you can now hand over too."

"I will get paid for the five hundred in gas receipts I put on my personal credit cards for the company trucks, correct?"

He shrugged his shoulders without saying a word and walked away.

I climbed into what used to be my company truck and was chauffeured home.

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via e-mail at [email protected].