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You Covered It, You Bought It!

Part 1

The stuff that goes on in the construction world is enough to make a horse laugh, grow feathers and leave the planet. It’s as ridiculous as a pair of chicken lips! Taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your organization from the variety of threats you can and will encounter requires an extremely thorough approach. At times, I think it might be easier to put socks on an octopus. This may sound laughable, but the truth is, it’s more likely to make you cry.

The stuff that goes on in the construction world is enough to make a horse laugh, grow feathers and leave the planet. It’s as ridiculous as a pair of chicken lips! Taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your organization from the variety of threats you can and will encounter requires an extremely thorough approach. At times, I think it might be easier to put socks on an octopus. This may sound laughable, but the truth is, it’s more likely to make you cry.


General contractors, builders (whatever you want to call them) can be ruthless. Their contracts are typically and completely one-sided. They arm themselves with the best of verbal weapons and protection attorneys can provide. It’s as though they wear bulletproof vests designed to protect themselves and simply ricochet all incoming fire right back into your bloody lap, leaving you and your organization wounded, defenseless and maybe even dead.


Yes, that’s right and there’s not a hint of hyperbole, here. If you’re willing and dumb enough to let it happen and too negligent to protect yourselves, some GCs will bring down your entire organization. These one sided, self-centered, SOBs will take the shirt right of your back and move on to their next victim. They will eat you for breakfast, take a dump, flush you down the toilet and have another sub-contractor for lunch and dinner. Be careful who you get in bed with, they might have VD.


Strong words? Controversial? Bothersome to some? Yes. Yes. Yes. But all too true. If you don’t believe it, ask me or anyone else who’s been around for the last half century of construction. Ask anyone who has seen what once could be done with a handshake, a nod and a few page agreement, turn into a 50-page maze of legalese and a cold stare. Their contracts are just about as unreasonable, unattainable and unfair as being asked to walk to the moon without a spacesuit, meanwhile sucking the air right out of your missing helmet, rendering the empty-minded construction astronaut (AKA subcontractor) as vulnerable as a turtle without a shell.

Quick Disclaimer (Kinda, Sorta)

Allow me to insert a quick disclaimer, lest I appear to throw that wet, moldy blanket over all GCs everywhere. The last thing I want to do is incriminate the remaining remnant of reputable general contractors by giving quality-consciousness builders a bad rap. There are still some really good GCs that produce exceptional product and are both fair-minded and reasonable. We work with some, but they are far and away the overwhelming minority.


Many builders, especially national builders and those that are publicly held, are some of the worst when it comes to “partnering” with their so called “trade partners.” “Trade partner” and “partnering” are terms/phrases many GCs use to describe the relationship they claim to have with their subcontractors, when, and all too often if, it’s advantageous to them. This is especially true during busy times when we subcontractors are a much needed commodity.


Such endearing titles and the loyalty that supposedly supports them is quickly forgotten when hard times hit and crazy, bumfuzzled and about-to-go-broke competitors are a dime a dozen. Do I sound jaded? Probably, and with good reason. To some extent, I am. Quite simply, it’s the result of collateral damage coupled with construction carnage. Over time, especially over several decades, even the most idealistic subcontractor can fall victim to such cynicism after he’s suffered enough abuse. But that’s another subject. Or maybe that is the subject?

Moving Right Along … Are You Coming with Me?

Take my word for it or talk to a veteran before you enlist and find yourself in this never-ending war waged with the iron fist of hardnosed, strong armed GCs, GCs with little or no integrity, compassion or genuine concern about anything other than the almighty dollar. Be very, very (did I say very?) careful as you embark upon this treacherous journey into the construction world. You will inevitably be tried, time and time again, in the courtroom of construction justice. Hauled before the ruthless bench where the builder, their management and sometimes their legal team is all too often judge and jury.


In an environment like this you can and will oftentimes be quickly convicted based on nothing more than circumstantial evidence, strict interpretation of contract language and their version of fairness, which will most likely be anything but fair.


These paragraphs scream out a warning, echoing down the hallways of nearly five decades of experience spent in the school of hard knocks, reminding myself and anyone who will listen, of legions of lessons, painfully and expensively learned. Having done our best in the construction classroom we have all too often been innocently disciplined. Paddled and spanked, bruised, beaten and bloody.


I’ve had countless meaningless meetings where I tactfully reasoned my way into unavoidable arguments with unreasonable GCs, presidents, project managers and superintendents. I’ve written numerous letters appealing to professional imbeciles, repeatedly battling time and time again but fighting losing battles of wit with unarmed individuals—witless but nonetheless dangerous GCs armed with unreasonable contracts and positions taken based on them.


These types of GCs live by a very un-golden rule. They have the gold—too often your gold, and they rule. Volumes could be written, on reams of paper, hard drives filled with gigabytes of warnings including subject after subject that subcontractors need to be aware of and avoid when executing both contracts and projects.


We’re about to get into one such subject. Six words that will break your heart, your budget and maybe even your bank account, if you’re not very careful: “You covered it, you bought it!,” hereafter referred to as YCI/YBI. I’m a California boy, actually a California “old man,” and that’s the way it’s put around here. If you’ve never heard it put that way, I’m sure you probably have heard some version of it, though it may not be YCI/YBI. More on that later.

Let Me Throw You a Bone—with Some Meat on It

Before we venture any deeper into the foray, let me throw you a bone. I promise to leave some meat on it. It’s not quite as hopeless as it sounds if (which, incidentally, is the biggest little word in the world) you learn how to play the so-called game and do what you can and should in order to level the playing field as much as possible. In such cases, there is a pathway to success and survival—if you are careful to take it. You can do this. You can not only survive it, you can prosper in the process. Many have done so. I did, but most don’t! Will you be among the many or the few? That is up to you.


It all starts with the contract. Before you scribble your John Hancock on what I have so aptly called “the dangerous dotted line,” read that contract! You would suppose my advice, which is more of a warning (to put it mildly), would fall into the category of common sense, wouldn’t you? I certainly hope so. However, as has been said before, common sense isn’t all that common. Let me bluntly, repeat myself for the sake of emphasis. Read what you sign! At the very least, have a competent person do so, review it with them and don’t agree to the ridiculous.


You’d be surprised how many subcontractors sign contracts without ever reading them or understanding what they read, if they read them in the first place. There is an absurd willingness to sign anything just to get the job. It’s something they ignorantly feel obligated to do, if they want the job. Meanwhile, they sabotage themselves, their organization and their management. All of which is dead in their tracks once they’re asked these four words: Did you sign this?


Take this and put it under your hard-hat. When things are slow, sometimes you have very little alternative/leverage when it comes to negotiating contract terms. Now that things have picked back up, negotiate! Why? You are in a much stronger position to do so. Always do your best to negotiate, during both busy and slow periods, but know this: When things are busy, you can strike and add text to contracts that can make a huge difference in the near term as you execute the project and in the long term with regard to future liability.


Let me give you a few examples. This is actual contract language. The builder’s name has been changed to protect the guilty.


“It is the responsibility of the subcontractor to inspect all framing (in some cases, this section reads “all prior trades’ work”) and notify ABC Builders of any areas deemed unacceptable for drywall installation. Should subcontractor fail to notify ABC Builders of necessary repairs that result in unsatisfactory installation, it will be subcontractor’s responsibility to remove, repair and replace said drywall at no additional cost to ABC Builders.”


Or how about this? Same contract, different section:


“Subcontractor shall perform all drywall pickup; pickup shall be deemed to mean all drywall repairs without exception, at no charge to ABC Builders. After finish carpenter, installation of cabinets, doors and trim, Subcontractor shall perform all pickup work prior to paint. Upon completion of all finish trades and prior to final subcontractor shall perform all pickup work. Pickup shall be deemed to mean repair work to drywall without exception. Said pickup work shall be deemed to mean all drywall work without exception, at no additional cost to ABC Builders.”

Some March to the Beat of a Different Drum

You have to understand that a GC’s superintendent’s marching orders regarding scope are spelled out in the contract language. If you don’t do your own due diligence, weeding out unfair language, standards and schedules, you’re begging for trouble and defenseless when it comes to protecting yourself and your organization.


You also disable your field management by making such agreements. How are they supposed to argue and defend an unfair requirement when you’ve signed an agreement obligating them to comply with it? What about the struggles you’re inadvertently imposing on those who manage your field operations when you unknowingly, even accidently, agree to do tasks you don’t have the intention or money to do?


I have to imagine this topic applies to all of us drywall subcontractors, residentially and commercially to a greater or lesser extent. Though uncertain, I can’t help but believe that some version of this language has creeped into most every contract and been abused on far too many projects, nationwide. Let me spell it out as I endeavor to define YCI/YBI in simple terms. Let’s see how many of you can relate to it, in one way or another. But, that will have to wait until part 2.

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 [email protected].

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