A Business Fails In Dickinson, North Dakota

In the blog post below I write about a business in Dickinson that I worked for.  The owners were not particularly evil or malevolent, but they were kind of mixed-up in their thinking.  It was frustrating to see them do things that most business owners elsewhere in the United States would not do, avoiding these mistakes by using normal business sense.  I also explain that it was difficult for this business to work in Dickinson, due to Dickinson being so hostile to out-of-state workers.

In 2013, when I returned to Dickinson, after having been gone for a year, I got a job at a construction company, as a foreman.  I was glad that I got the foreman position because I would have a better chance of protecting my safety and well-being, than if I were a crew worker.  The pay was not high, though it was O.K. with me.  On my first day of work, I came to find out that the foreman I was replacing had given his two-weeks notice of quitting, during his first week.  On this first day of work, both of the company owners came to the work sites, they were very hyped-up, and I could see why the foreman that I was replacing, was quitting.

Both of the construction company owners had a degree in engineering, both of them were in their late forties, early fifties.  This was a specialty type of construction company.  The workers and technicians had come from Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, Idaho, Florida, and Missouri.  Two workers had a degree in engineering, a third worker was about two years away from his degree in engineering.  Some of the workers had received technical training in the military regarding this type of work, other workers had gained knowledge and experience regarding this type of work in other states.  The construction company had accumulated these workers over three years of being in business.

In the beginning, when I first met everyone, all the employees seemed to have above average intelligence, everyone was upbeat, and positive, about forty percent of the workers were very sharp and quick-witted.  One of the very first problems that I became aware of at this construction company, was that all of the out-of-state employees were having housing problems.  My housing situation was very, very bad, and I didn’t want anyone to find out where I was living, I was embarrassed about it.  Two of the workers had paid a lot of money for a basement apartment, they had moved everything they owned from Oregon and Washington, to Dickinson, the basement apartment flooded in May and ruined all of their belongings.  They complained about this to the company owners, explaining their expenses in relocating to Dickinson, having to pay extremely high rent just to share a basement apartment, then having all of their belongings destroyed in a flooded basement.  These two employees explained to the company owners that they needed to be paid enough money to afford a decent place to live in Dickinson, or that the company needed to subsidize their housing, otherwise it would not be worth it to them to remain in North Dakota.  When I first came to work at this company, these two workers were intelligent, funny, energetic, and good at their jobs.  Due to their housing problems, they soon became sarcastic, bitter, and complaining, they hurt company morale, especially when they decided to quit the company and leave North Dakota in June, then they really ranted  about how much North Dakota sucks.

Of the remaining workers, one, then another, and then another had housing problems in Dickinson or other problems in Dickinson.  Due to the cost of housing in Dickinson, one of the married out-of-state workers, never brought his wife to live with him in North Dakota during the two years that he was here.  He had a single bedroom in a house that was shared with some of the other workers. He went straight home, never went out to eat, never went out to bars, never went to Patterson Lake.  I felt sorry for him.  He didn’t have much of a life, all he did was work and go home. He didn’t have any friends.  He was invited to go out by two of his out-of-state co-workers who had lived in the rental house with him, but he declined.  Unlike him, these two out-of-state co-workers tried to make the best of living in Dickinson, they went out to restaurants and bars every night in Dickinson.  In early June, these two out-of-state workers both got a DUI in Dickinson.  I liked these two guys, the corporation that we did work for liked these two guys, they were fun, positive, intelligent, and good at their jobs.  After they got their DUIs, they were not happy about being in Dickinson anymore, their attitudes were not good, they didn’t seem to care about their work very much.  The company had to let them go by the end of August, but they had been two of the best employees before they got their DUIs.

Due to the construction company getting into a position where all of their work was coming from one client corporation, and due to pressure from that client, the two owners of the company that I worked for under-bid the remainder of the work for the year.  Some of the work that I did with my two crews, was taking three times as long as what had been budgeted.  Rather than the jobs being straight forward, most of the jobs had several special conditions that had not been accounted for, which would require additional time and work.  I was frustrated with not being able to make money on jobs, but losing money on jobs.  In discussions with the company owners regarding the amount of time each job was taking, and the additional work required due to complicating conditions, the two company owners acknowledged that they had been led to believe that the work they were to provide fixed pricing on was nothing out of the ordinary, but the work that the company was given, was problem work.  The two company owners did not want to protest that the work they were given was problem work with special conditions, not ordinary work, and that additional work requires additional charges.  Instead, they thought that they would be “rewarded” at a later date for their perseverance by the corporation we were working for.

I was frustrated additionally, by a couple of hires that the two owners had made to do someone a favor.  One hire was made to give their niece a job.  A second hire was made to give the daughter of a friend a job.  At this point, two months in, we had lost four key employees, who were intelligent, funny, upbeat, who had knowledge and years of work experience in this specialized area.  They were replaced with two young ladies, who had no construction experience or skills, who were hired as a favor to someone.

To try to make a long story short, one of the young ladies who was hired as a favor to her father, was a problem.  She was not accustomed to doing physical labor, she was not good at performing physical labor, she did not want to perform physical labor, she did not want to follow instructions, instead she would question me when I would ask her to do something.  The other laborers would do their work, and then go and help her do her work, instead of getting a break from their work, the other laborers would complete their work, and go and do her work.  After a couple of weeks on the job, she wore a pair of jeans with the entire crotch missing.  Neither me, nor any crew member said a word.  At the end of the day I went to the company owners to speak about the problems I was having with this young lady, the company owners said that they had already received a complaint from the corporation we were working for, either through a site supervisor or through a member of the public reporting it.  The company owners asked this young lady why she was wearing pants with the entire crotch missing, and why she was questioning me when I asked her to do something.  She just acted innocent, and like she wanted to work just like everybody else.

In late August, I was tired of how things were going at work.  I felt pressured to try to complete jobs more quickly, though there was not much I could do to speed things up, there were no short cuts to be taken, the jobs had been under-bid, it had not been known that each of the jobs we were given would be unusually difficult due to special conditions.  I was additionally frustrated that keeping in mind that we needed to complete jobs more quickly, instead of getting a strong and experienced construction worker, I got a young lady crew worker who did not want to perform physical labor, would question what I asked her to do, and it looked like she tried to set us up for a claim of sexual harassment.  I quit in late August, and went to work for another company that did similar work.

An out-of-state worker from a southern state was made foreman for my two work crews at the company that I left.  He had arrived in Dickinson in July.  He had a wife and a couple of children back home in the state he had come from.  In August he had been able to lease a house about twenty-five miles south of Dickinson, and he brought his wife and children to North Dakota.  He was a little unhappy about the drive to and from work each day, but he could only afford a house that was outside of Dickinson.  I saw him a few times around town, and I saw him a couple of times on the job.  In about October, he and his family went back home to the state he had come from.  I guess that he was frustrated like I was about having to do nothing but problem jobs that had been under-bid.  He had seen enough of Dickinson to come to the conclusion that even though you can get a job here, the way Dickinson is and the cost of housing makes it not worth it to be here.

In 2014, the out-of-state co-worker who always went straight home after work, who never went out to eat or out to bars, whose wife lived in a different state, he finally went home.  The out-of-state construction manager who had brought his wife to North Dakota about six months previously and had leased a house about thirty miles to the east of Dickinson, he quit and went back to the state he had come from.  The local women who worked in the construction company office quit.  Then the young lady that had been hired as a favor to her father, she quit. Then the client corporation no longer wanted or needed this construction company, and there was no reward for the company’s “perseverance” through difficult work that had been underbid.  And the two owners, and their niece, were the last ones, and they went home.

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