You Covered It, You Bought It! Part 2
Doug Bellamy / December 2015
Don’t bother reading half of this. It’s like doing half of a very profitable job—unprofitable! It won’t get you paid. No payoff. Either do it, do it right, complete the project, or don’t do it at all. You can certainly read part two of this article first, but read the entire article.
It is written for the sincere, competent, diligent and intelligent subcontractor. Just look for part 1 on AWCI’s site. I’m not going to waste anyone’s time telling you what’s already been said. If you haven’t got what it takes to do your homework, you don’t have any business reading this in the first place. Maybe you don’t have any business being in business at all.
Sound arrogant or demeaning? No, not at all. I’m just trying to get your attention. How else would I get you to spend your valuable time reading what I’ve spent my valuable time writing?
Still reading? Good! Apparently you understand the point or, at a minimum, you’re a bit curious and looking for some value. That, I can provide. Stick with it and you’ll see.
Recognizing the value of understanding, defending and ultimately protecting yourselves when it comes to “You covered it, you bought it!” (YCI/YBI) from a drywall contractor’s perspective, should be easy. No genius needed. It does not require a Mars mission for the highly skilled rocket scientist. Just keep both feet on earth. That will be panoramic enough to take in the view and avoid the swamp.
Simply put, there is a flawed concept, rule or code of the road that is rife within the construction world. It has slowly but surely evolved into what has become an ignorant, unproductive, unfair, as well as a completely self-centered practice. Excuse me, I forgot to include counterproductive. That is to say, when it comes to producing a consistent quality product, it’s third rate—and I’m being generous. Here it is again, “You covered it, you bought it.” That is our subject, and this is part two.
Who’s to Blame?
Perhaps YCI/YBI didn’t start out flawed. I suppose it was well intentioned, by some well-meaning soul and then corrupted, like most things. It may have once served to maintain an environment of accountability in order to avoid obvious (did I say obvious?) problems caused by prior trades. Poor workmanship, which subsequent trades may have dismissed and just covered up, was simply ignored.
However, later it was clearly corrupted by unfair, self-serving general contraptors. Spellcheck won’t accept general “contraptors” because I made up the term. But isn’t that the essence of vocabulary? Somebody made everything up. Even if it never makes a dictionary, if it communicates the point, I’ve invented a new word: contraptors!
Though conscientious trades would typically report obvious issues, doing so in the spirit of cooperation, other subs with less character (though somewhat justifiably so) had the mentality that it simply wasn’t their problem or their job to maintain the quality of anyone else’s work. We have all heard the saying, “It’s not my job!” Well, is it or isn’t it? Let’s agree to call it a “shared responsibility.”
However, builders (with little character) oftentimes didn’t want the responsibility either. So slowly but surely, they developed bulletproof protection, ultimately becoming ridiculously strict as they deliberately passed on the responsibility—contractually—to everyone else. All too often, “everyone else” is we undeserving souls—innocent subcontractors just like you and me. Sad but true.
Worse yet, it became an unreasonable method of holding undeserving trades responsible for what other trades, who were at fault, were not being held responsible for. Problems they created were dumped on us. The result? They inadvertently undermined the personal responsibility of those personally responsible, and penalized the innocent, all in the name of YCI/YBI. Not good! Not intelligent! What ever happened to holding the responsible party, responsible?
As a business, when it comes to problem solving, any fair-minded business practice should include five critical components. It must serve to eliminate the root problem, foster continual improvement, hold those responsible, responsible, protect the innocent, and set a standard that is consistently applied. I’ll be telling you why, quite convincingly,YCI/YBI fails to provide all five components.
Let me give you a few examples of some ridiculous accusations, a particular customer’s management. Moreover, I’ll illustrate how to deal with YCI/YBI and help you get as well protected as you possibly can. The examples are excerpts laced within the text of a letter I had to write years ago. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, and it certainly wasn’t us. What you are going to see is that the various charges are unfair, the rules of the game change and are inconsistent, the responsible trade isn’t held responsible, nor does it stand up to simple logic or fair-minded thinking. Consequently, it should be easily refuted and corrected. Right? Read on.
There are several issues with ABC contractor’s recent back charges that I’d like to appeal. They are listed below, one by one, along with the reasons why we should not be back-charged.
In our DOQS (Definition of Quality Service) booklet, which has been provided to ABC and mutually agreed upon, we clearly state the following:
“Back chargeable items should be verifiable, timely, legitimate, fair, costs incurred by the builder, customer or trade partner for issues arising from defective workmanship or damage to the property of others. However, advance notice of the back charge to upper management with ample time to investigate, determine the legitimacy of and if possible, remedy the problem, is required. Back charges that do not meet the aforementioned criteria are illegitimate and therefore unacceptable.”
Back charge: Tile man had to come back and replace tile where it had to be removed because of a bow in the wall.
Dispute: We did not create the bow. We were involved in the repair of the bow but did not cause it. We actually repaired the drywall portion of the bow at no charge. The tile man also covered the bowed area and should be held responsible for proceeding and covering it. He should be held responsible for his own work just as we were. As we are so often reminded, “He covered it, he bought it.” If anyone should be charged, it should not be us. The framer, who is the responsible party, should be charged, if anyone, but certainly not us.
Back charge: Scratched glass
Dispute: We protect all glass and do not allow or have any contact with the glass. Circumstantial evidence won’t hold up in court. Do you really think it does in construction justice? Everyone agrees that they have no proof that we did any damage whatsoever. The charge is a few hundred dollars and isn’t the issue I’m most concerned with. The precedent it sets is my biggest concern. If we accept the notion that we can be held responsible for damage simply because we were involved in the project, we open the door to unfair and what could be very expensive back charges in the future.
Other bogus, and retaliatory back charges, well worth your consideration:
Back charge: Approximately $4,000 for covered electrical boxes and/or mud in boxes for four phases over a period spanning six to 10 months and after the units in question are closed and occupied.
Dispute: This is by far the most disturbing. The builder’s rep should not allow another sub to retro-actively produce charges against another sub, especially not for four past phases. These charges were merely an attempt to recover losses due to electrical problems, which were repaired for ABC by Alta Drywall. I do not dispute the fact that there were covered boxes. The truth is, there are always covered boxes. Some covered boxes fall in the category of TTD—typical trade damage. See the following excerpt for Alta’s DOQS booklet:
“Covered Electrical Boxes. It should be understood that a few electrical boxes per unit will be covered. This problem is not unique to us as a drywall company, but rather it is true industry-wide, irrespective of which drywall company you deal with. We work hard to keep this problem at a minimum, and are sensitive to our trade partner’s needs, which is evidenced in this case by marking electrical outlets on the floor, stressing the importance to our crews and keeping our management sensitive to this ongoing problem. Nevertheless a certain amount of it continues to elude us.”
Human error like this, which is typical and consistent, is to be expected. Electrical contractors, like we ourselves, budget for it just as we factor in multiple types of TTD into our estimate. In the spirit of cooperation, it should be understood that there is a certain amount of TTD we all absorb for each other. The electricians damage our work as well. Nicks and dings, a ladder scrape against a wall, damage to bull-nose corners, areas around light switches, etc., can be expected. Experience has taught us not only to do, but to plan and budget for this type of trade damage. A very lengthy and complete list of TTD we do at no charge for builders and trades is defined in our DOQS booklet. Times like these provide an excellent opportunity to review that list, develop a perspective and realize the unfairness of charges like these.
On the other hand, when damage is excessive, we do intend to charge extra. Cases where fixtures are repeatedly moved and especially damage to ceiling areas may require extensive repairs that are not typical, but excessive cannot be absorbed. However, when these repairs occur, oftentimes the electrical contractor will generate a comparable charge that is purely retaliatory. We have been given lists of covered items on numerous occasions, which investigation has proven to be bogus. In which cases, electricians have lost all credibility by simply removing the switch plates in the areas supposedly covered and seeing drywall overspray/paint or other evidence that the boxes were not covered. We have been charged as much as one hour per box at an hourly rate of $85. Oftentimes the fix, if it’s actually even needed, can be achieved in mere moments. The exaggerated time and inflated hourly rate translates into more than $300 per hour, if you consider the actual time needed.
These unfair practices are the unfortunate risk associated with merely providing a service to the builder and the related trade. The service is provided with legitimate documentation and at a fair rate. However, in our example, the electrical contractor elects to retaliate in order to recover a loss that is due to their negligence and was not typical trade damage. We cannot afford exposure like this when we have no recourse and the builder will not intervene. In the construction world, where the builder is both judge and jury, it is wrong for costs that are literally trumped up and retaliatory to be passed on without consideration of the facts and the necessary arbitration on the part of the builder. Such back charges are illegitimate and therefore unacceptable.
Finally, I want to thank ABC for their past generosity as I am aware of occasions when our appeals have been heard and back charges have been waived. Thank you in advance on the behalf of BestWall Inc. for your careful consideration, as we work together in the spirit of cooperation and fairness.
What I Wanted to Say—but Didn’t
How in the world could any fair-minded person, with a straight face, look us in the eye and give us a bill for such nonsense? The responsible trade should be held responsible. We are not the framer, nor are we the tile man, the window man or that wingnut of an electrician. Forgive my candor, but in situations like these, count on me to tell it like it is!
On another note, I failed to mention that there would be a part three. My apologies (or congratulations?). You be the judge or better yet, let’s just wait and see!
Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.