Robin talks about some of the attitudes in the plastering industry.

Yes, it’s hard to believe that three years have gone by. It’s gone fast and it seems that there are more and more things to discuss and talk about.

I have always enjoyed the plastering trade. Ever since I was introduced to it back in 1982, I have been interested in learning as much about it as I can. My view and outlook on the trade however was rather green in the early days. I was happy to be learning and I thought the best thing I could do was to help others learn this great trade. I soon realized that not everyone in the trade shared my enthusiasm for sharing the knowledge. Here’s an experience I had some years ago.

Plaster me this

I was invited out west to do some restoration work on a home. Since I would be there for about a week, I thought it might be nice to do a seminar to help the people in the area learn about plaster repair and to encourage them to consider this type of work as an add on to what they were doing. The other nice thought I had, while looking through my rose colored glasses, was to help them learn how to make some good money at it as well. The supply house I was getting materials from thought my idea was great. They agreed to invite their clients in for the seminar. They thought it was a win-win situation: They would offer a nice seminar to their clients, and their clients would walk away with knowledge that would impact them financially in a good way for years to come. Everything was set and I was looking forward to it.

About a week before the event, I was called by the supply house. There was no way they could have me come in and speak. I asked if there was a problem. Yes. A big one. The supply house had put together a nice flyer announcing the event. It hadn’t been on the street for 24 hours when they started getting calls complaining that certain parties did not appreciate my intentions. If the supply house let me speak at their facility, they would be “shut down.” It sounded pretty ominous to me.

I asked for more explanation. In a nutshell, the unions in this city were not happy to think that I would be coming in and teaching guys the trade. They were afraid that some of the “cubs” would get the idea of jumping ship and start repair businesses of their own. The explanation went on to include something about “maintaining control” of the work and after that I just didn’t pay much attention.

I was stunned. And yet I must say I was also a little flattered that I was considered such a “threat” that they felt I could stir things up on such a large scale in a city of 750,000 people! But that’s only half the story.

While I was visiting this city in the northwest, I was staying at a bed and breakfast. It didn’t take long for the host to find out I was in town to do some plastering. “Would you come and look at a project?” was the next question. Sure. Up we go to the biggest room in the place. I was shown the fireplace, which had suffered some water damage. Nothing huge and major. I’d say it was about 2-foot-by-5-foot, a section that was pretty much disintegrated and in need of some wood lath and three-coat plaster. The host explained that this room had been shut down for about three months time. Since the water leak, he had been searching for a plasterer who could do the work.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” was my reply. “You couldn’t find anyone to do the work?” Nope. They had found a few drywallers, but they were intent on having the original plaster put back as it had been done.

Remember that the cancelled speaking engagement was still fresh in my mind at this point! “So you called around and made the effort to find a competent plasterer?” “Oh yes, we found several,” was the reply. “They said that they were union plasterers and they had enough work going to work six, even seven days a week on commercial jobs. They didn’t have time to come and do a repair on a house. And if they did, they would do it when THEY felt like it.”

I then started to try and calculate how much money this poor host had already lost out on. I was staying in a smaller room next to this one and it was about $195 per night. This room was let out at $250. The restoration project I came there to work on lasted from Monday through Friday. I was leaving Sunday. Instead of sightseeing Saturday morning, I did the repairs to this fireplace. It took about three hours. I cannot tell you how happy the host was.

Enough work for all

I want to make a few things perfectly clear so there are no misunderstandings. First, I am not against unions. I personally have seen many individuals receive regular work, great wages, excellent insurance coverage and many other benefits. I also understand that there are some good, solid training centers that are turning out some talented, skilled plasterers. But there is something wrong with this picture. Somehow, for some reason, there are not enough workers to go around.

I wish the story I just related was an isolated case. However, it is not. I get letters every month bemoaning the fact that there are individuals searching—many times in vain—someone to do repair or restoration work. In the area I do repair work, there is one major city I concentrate on near where I live. There are about 100,000 people, and about 10 or 12 plastering contractors, not including plasterers from the union hall. The jobs I bid are rarely bid against. I stay busy all the time doing repairs in just this one city.

And the frustrating part is I get calls from small towns all around. They’re about 10 to 20 miles out from the main city. I just don’t have time to travel and even look at the jobs, let alone do them.

How to solve the problem? I believe education, instruction, and a free flow of information on this trade are an absolute must. At the same time, suspicion, mistrust, jealousy and contentions are things that must be pitched out the window immediately if it is to survive at all. The idea that educating people on the art of plastering and plaster repair will take jobs away or cause cubs to jump ship is a very narrow minded and short term way of thinking.

My father-in-law has trained many, many individuals who have eventually gone on to start up businesses of their own. Is he jealous or unhappy? Far from it. He says that his business has not been hurt in the least and it has done much to perpetuate the demand for plaster in our part of the country. If people can’t get it done, they will eventually stop asking for it.

One thing is clear: The educating and sharing of knowledge, the effort that has been put forth to perpetuate the trade up to this point in time, no matter how noble, has come up short. W&C