A few weeks ago while I was driving back to Dublin on a Friday I missed about five or six calls from my boss. I was driving so I couldn’t take the calls. Eventually, he switched and rang my understudy Chris who took the call and got the bollicking. I called and left a message on my bosses answer machine returning the call but he never called me back about it. I had to find out from Chris that he was upset because we had finished early on the Friday. He was out of order for many reasons. The first is that we had told his wife, Boss #2, that we were finished and leaving early and she didn’t object at the time. We can only assume they speak with one voice or else having two bosses is impossible. But secondly, he was out of order because we had in fact done all the work there was there to do. Boss #1 had said in the past that he didn’t want to be involved in the day to day running of the floor, because he works most of the week in Dublin, for starters. He has given that responsibility to me. And there was no more work to do. I don’t believe in engaging in pointless make-work projects just to make up the hours. Finally, no way should he be taking the matter up with Chris who was the person with the least input into the decision to finish early.
Anyway, there is a deeper reason why we were finished early and I wanted to address it so I called a meeting for the next available time (the following Wednesday) when all interested parties were available. At root the problem is that we are making more beer than we are selling. Sales and production need to be coordinated or else you get steadily increasing stockpile of beer that is slowly going off (You can’t keep beer from ageing and staling no matter how carefully you prepare it). The blame for the overproduction falls squarely with the bosses because they have been riding me and Chris hard all year to get us to produce more beer more efficiently. They also are the only ones with access to data on sales. So they should know how much they are selling. In recent weeks over production has meant that we have been relying on other breweries kegs to package our product which is akin to squatting in someone’s property rent free. We deprive them of the use of their kegs for weeks and weeks while our beer sits unsold in it. To top it all off, the sales/production thing could have been managed perfectly if they had been willing to brew on contract for other microbreweries (most Irish microbreweries don’t actually have breweries as such but exist as brands only, produced and packaged by someone else). We could have had a piece of that action, it would have allowed us to run the brewery at full capacity and most efficiently and selling the beer would have been someone else’s problem.
It was because we had been over-producing that there was nothing more to be done on Friday afternoon. I called the meeting because I wanted to put on record and let the bosses know that sales was the problem for the brewery at the moment. You can tell boss #1 and boss #2 these things but the is no evidence that they listen. I wanted to make a more formal representation and also to clear the air after the nasty business that had been the Friday afternoon telephone call.
Despite the fact that I’d requested a meeting on Monday morning, no body mentioned the Friday call or the meeting all morning and so after lunch I went to the office to ask for the meeting to take place. Boss #2 said boss #1 had gone off making deliveries so we couldn’t have the meeting. I wasn’t happy with that so I asked her to deputise for her husband. She said she would but must have called boss #1 because when we arrived in the meeting room fifteen minutes later she said boss #1 would be back at 4:30pm and had insisted that we wait until then. While she was saying this, boss #1 called me and launched in to a tirade. He was incensed that I had called a meeting and had insisted it take place. He was the boss. It was his company and we would be doing things his way. As it happened, a 4:30 meeting would mean that I would miss an appointment later that day, but apparently that was not important. In fact it didn’t matter because while he was on the phone, boss #1 became so overcome with anger that he had to turn the car around and return to the brewery to have the meeting.
Now there has been a general souring of relations between the bosses and the workers over the last few months (probably because they’re worried about sales and revenue). But I didn’t want to get into that in the meeting. I really just wanted to clear the air and make as plain and clear as possible that production cannot outstrip sales (it’s hard because you have to anticipate sales so you can have beer available for them. They have never managed to give me any sales forecasts and yet I am supposed to provide them with packaged sellable beer of every kind when they need it). Anyway Boss #1 opened the meeting by reading me sections of my contract where is says no premium will be paid for anti-social hours or weekend work. Why? because he wanted us to brew late one night the next week so that we would still be brewing in the evening when he invited some local area publicans and tradesmen to the brewery. As it happened, only one publican showed up, and none from the little village where the brewery is located (Irish publicans are a truly inspiring and imaginative group). I said my reading of that passage was that it meant I would not get paid extra for working any antisocial hours, not that I had to work them. The contract states I will work a 40 hour week as well, but it doesn’t say I have to work any period of hours that the boss decides. As far as I am concerned that is all subject to negotiation and I told him that calmly and slowly. Boss #1 ranted and raved and tried his best to derail the meeting and talk about everything except the production issues that we had put on the agenda. Throughout he was talking about it being his business and him being the boss throughout, which although true, doesn’t give him licence to play the tyrant.
I never raised my voice and I steered the meeting back to the agenda and I didn’t permit myself to saying that I would regret. I am not happy in the job, but I recognise that it has given me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have, and it also pays my bills. I didn’t just want to chuck that away because boss #1 is a prize twit. During the meeting, it felt great being angry. But not angry in a hot, can’t think or see the wood for the trees way, but in a cold way. I knew why I was there and what I wanted from the meeting, and what my goals and vulnerabilities were. Above all it felt like I was in control and I liked that. I’ve got to go back to work on the 5th. There will be new meetings in the new year. and although it is tiring and effortful to have to do so, I will be going in to bat for me and for the production crew on the floor and I will do it in the cold cold way I handled myself in that last meeting.