Comunidades

Two-Gun Tony: Portuguese-American Teamster by GEORGE MONTEIRO

Two-Gun Tony: Portuguese-American Teamster by GEORGE MONTEIRO
Two-Gun Tony: Portuguese-American Teamster

 
When I was seventeen and clerking simultaneously for two trucking companies, the Business Agent for Local 57 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was known as Two-Gun Tony. True to the origins of the union itself in the days when drivers guided horse-drawn wagons and teams, he referred to trucking companies as "barns."  Large, medium or small trucking terminals, they were all "barns" to the union.  Company owners, on the other hand, seldom called their companies or their terminal buildings "barns." The owners were in the right, of course, but the teamsters held fast to "barns."  Thus, according to the teamsters, it could be said that this teen-aged clerk was said to work for a "barn."  That it was a "barn" to the union was complemented by the fact, as luck would have it, that the building still looked like the barn put up originally to house horses and cows, to store feed and supplies, and to keep tools dry.  The building had an asphalt roof and asphalt siding and few windows.  Yet decades later, when the barn had been repurposed to serve as a garage for trucks and a shop to work on them, it still looked like a barn.  Even the addition of a sliding door opening and a dock for loading and unloading freight built way down the right side at the end of the building did little to suggest that the barn was now a trucker's terminal.  The finishing touch-the construction of a small office to house the boss and the clerk who typed bills of lading, load manifests, and (rarely) letters-was hidden away inside the structure.  In short, jerrybuilt into a trucking terminal, the building never stopped looking like the barn it was. In that barn the clerk-typist did his work for two companies-Ancelmo Trucking and Boston-New York Transportation.  That fact may have confused others, though not him.  He simply thought of himself as an employee of two companies in the same industry that shared a building. Back to Two-Gun Tony.  He showed little interest in this double-duty "barn" serving two companies run by the same Portagees.  On rare occasions he disdainfully toyed with them.  It was no contest.  He had additional advantages.  He spoke the owners' language, and they knew, along with everyone else in trucking, that Two-Gun Tony had gone to prison for the union. With impunity, then, he knew he could win favors or poach money at this "barn."  One Saturday morning, for example, Two-Gun Tony showed up at the barn, along with two of his union pals. They entered the office and Tony sat himself at the only desk in the place. It belonged to the boss (who never sat there) and the clerk-typist. Tony, the first official of the teamsters union the clerk ever met, was short, fat, fiftyish, always scowling, even when he laughed, a cigar tilted out of the side of his mouth.  Of "his" two guys, one of them drove the Cadillac and the other kept accounts.  The latter was also a Portagee, as Tony told the Portagees who owned the trucks in this barn.  The three of them meant business.  They looked tough. "O.K., I'm gonna shape this barn up.  Everybody's gonna belong to the union.  Get those guys in here.  Get 'em off the platform.  Bring in the garage help.  I wanna check some books. If there's anybody here that doesn't belong to the union, then he's gonna pony up today.  Sixty bucks for initiation, and two bucks for the first month's dues."  That was Two-Gun Tony's opening speech. "O.K., Al, I'm tired of this under-the-hat stuff.  This barn's making enough these days-you're tied in with Boston-New York, and that means that a gypsy outfit like yours has it good.  No more sweating around for a shitty at the last minute.  Well, look, that's your business.  All I know is you're big enough to pay union rates.  Live up to the contract.  Time-and-a-half and everything else.  And no more half-way turnarounds in Madison.  I know what you've been doing.  From now on, turn the trucks around in Guilford, that's the breaking point and pay them that way, pay them union, a little less for the guy coming out of Brooklyn, a little more for the Providence driver. "O.K., who's first?  You son-of-a-bitch, are you driving in this barn?  I pulled your book two-three years ago.  You say you're a mechanic now?  Al, you got this guy working on motors and brakes?  You're worse off than I thought.  O.K. I'll write you up, but stay off the road.  I catch you there, and the book goes.  And it never comes back.  See? In that way he went through everybody who happened to be in the terminal that Saturday morning.  Much to his disappointment almost everyone on hand was a dues-paying member of Local 251, and, moreover, their dues were paid up-to-date. When everybody had been looked into, the Business Agent asked his money-man: "How much is that?"  "A hundred eighty six," was the answer.  Tony scowled, and then looked around the small office with the oil stove prominently between the two doors, one to the outside, the other into the garage.  "Anybody else here?  How about you, Al?  You paid up?  Wait a minute, how about the kid?  Is he in the union?" "For Chris' sake, Tony," answered the truck-owner, "he's a clerk.  He types the fucking bills of lading and the manifest.  He's fifteen, sixteen." "Well, if he wants to work in this barn, he's got to sign up too.  Give him a form.  Al, you put up the dough.  He can pay you later.  Here, kid, here's a button.  Get yourself a cap.  Put the button on it.  And keep up-to-date on the dues.  The union hall is in India Point, in Providence.  And make sure these other guys keep up-to-date.  I always have to pull a lot of books.  I don't like to do it, but I do it when I have to." The three of them walked out of the office, got into the black Cadillac and drove out of the yard.  Al spoke first, "I guess he needed a couple hundred bucks.  Good thing he spotted you.  He almost had to go out of here short, and mad at us.  We won't see him for a while.  You, kid, don't bother with the dues.  To me, you're a clerk.  Stay in the office.  Keep your nose clean.  And don't fuck the dog." Tony was not re-elected.  When the elections for officers were held a few months after the clerk had first met him, he finished way out of the money.  No one knew better than Tony that this was the end.  He was through  as an official of the Union.  He bargained with the re-elected officials.  He should get something for a lifetime of dedication, he argued, for his years of sweat and good service, for his time in jail.  They let him make a deal for the old black Cadillac he used to ride about in when he was somebody and took it with him it when he left.  After that he tried working on platform for an interstate trucker, but that didn't work out.  He decided to retire.  He had a heart condition. The last time the "kid" saw him he was at home with his wife ("this babe stood beside me# all the time, prison and all," he felt impelled to say) and two teen-age daughters.  The house was in South Providence.  They had gone to see him because the kid needed union permission to work for a summer, pushing a greyhound at the A & P warehouse, that is, helping load and unload freight.  He was in college and needed a summer job.  Of course he hadn't even tried to keep up his membership in the Teamsters union, but all he wanted now was a temporary permit to work on the loading docks.  Tony said he could help, that he would help.  He then took them out into the backyard and into a narrow, flat-roofed, elongated building.  Inside it was all knotty pine, linoleum squares, and white ceiling tile.  There was a bar, dim lighting, a couple of tables, and scattered chairs.  They drank beer and talked.  He promised to confirm the deal in a day or two.  He never called back. Two-Gun Tony Morris died.  But he was heard from one more time-well, sort of.  With one of his daughters about decided to marry, his widow called my boss.  "Al, you and him always worked together," she said, "and now he's dead, I hope you won't forget me and his kids.  My daughter's getting married.  Can't you send us something?"  The boss, who also owned a liquor store, sent two cases of Narragansett beer in twelve-ounce, non-returnable bottles.