The best sales calls I’ve had are when I’ve told the truth. Yesterday, I talked to the vice president of a large construction company. I told him about the Star Gospel Mission, and about working day labor, and about the kid working for me, who’s 19, has a baby already, and another on the way. I told him about working day labor, what it was like, and how IES wants to be different. At the end of it, he looked at the paper I’d given him, looked at me, and said: “Okay. We’ll use you.”
The best sales calls I’ve had have come when I’ve just told the truth.
It seems though, that over the past few months, the truth is the one thing that’s faded to the background.
We’ve opened an office, put up signs, and started sending people out—a few people out. I’ve called every landscaping company in the phone book, made it to the L’s under hotels, and spent a lot of down time praying that we’ll become self-sustaining. Our guys still work for other labor agencies because we don’t have enough work for them. They say everyone at those agencies talk about us, but when they do the owners just laugh. “We aren’t worried about them,” they say.
I’ve had sales calls with businesses insisting their day laborers are paid $9 an hour, only to get off the phone and ask those laborers, and they say “no, when we work there, we get paid $7.25.” When I tell the business, “I know they get paid $7.25,” they get defensive, and I’ve probably hurt our chances of them doing business with us. What day labor agencies do is legal, and, after all, they’re giving people what they need most, a job. It reminds me more of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, people who, in hope, stretch themselves looking for work, get work, and then realize they can’t make enough money working to cover the expenses of living.
The truth is complicated on the laborer’s side, too. I am naïve, but I ultimately see people who want good things and have lost hope that they can ever have it. One of them works for another labor agency, lost his place and is storing his clothes in our office. He was drunk. I asked him a couple of times if he had been drinking, and finally he said, “yes.”
“ Yes, Derek.”
“I’ve been drinking.”
“I make $50 a day. I don’t have enough money to get my own place, and living on the streets isn’t fun. So I drink.”
Look at it like this: Either I work hard and still don’t have enough money for my own place, or I work hard and can at least afford what makes me feel better.
In our classes, one of the things I’m passionate about is showing people that look, if you manage your money well, you can make it even on this wage.
I estimate that they would make $928 a month working at another temp agency, $1088 working at IES (both are hopeful estimations). I tell them budgeting is all about trade-offs, deciding what is most important to you. If a pack of cigarettes is most important to you—$5x5 days a week=$1,200 a year, roughly—that’s fine, but you’ll need to sacrifice 2 months of rent. It’s about tradeoffs, and what’s most important to you. Nobody can tell you how to spend your money.
Another laborer sat in that class drunk. He explicitly stated that his goals were to support his family, and pay for his kid’s college education so he could die in peace (I’ve been astounded by the things people say they want). All these thoughts while he’s drunk. I think people ultimately want good things, but settle when they lose hope they can have them. That sounds like something I do, if you want to know the truth.
At IES we essentially try to say, “look, it won’t be easy, but it is possible!” and a few people are listening. I look at the extra minimum $1 we’re paying and wonder if it really makes a difference? No, sometimes I don’t think it does. I amp it up when I tell people about it, but why? The people who lose hope don’t come to work every day, or do a good job, or stay sober, and that dollar makes no difference for them because they never get it (It’s part of the Hope Fund contract to come to work, do a good job, and be drug free, and I try not to put anybody out who doesn’t meet that criteria). But for other people, it has. One of the guys has been using his $1.85 an hour in the Hope Fund to pay for most of his $90 weekly rent at the Star Gospel; that 19 year old kid just called to ask if he could put his 1$ an hour towards vitamins for his baby. The difference is hope. It’s intangible. And it’s more important than the things we hope for.
At IES, if we convey it, the people who are willing to WILL latch on. It’s the same for us: If we believe we can make a difference for these people and day labor, we probably will end up doing just that.
“When you’re in doubt, tell the truth” that construction vice-president told me, shaking my hand. “And if you’re still in doubt,” he paused, “just tell the truth some more.”