12.16.20 | STORIES

Holding Vendors Accountable


The Challenge

The largely anonymous, almost secret, society that keeps New York City buildings operating has a terse generic name - - vendor - - that encompasses countless manifestations. An elevator malfunction and a short time later a panel truck pulls up in front of the building and two uniformed mechanics - - nameless and probably faceless but to the superintendent - - step out and within hours, sometimes minutes, people need no longer hike up the stairs. No baths for a time in a building as a boiler mechanic and their assistant, positioned deep in a dank sub-cellar, and who would be unrecognizable in any other civilian context or in the natural light of day, install a new gas train on a gas-fired hot-water heater. Soon after the winter thaw the frozen basement sprinkler line located next to the air shaft cracks and erupts in a geyser of water that floods the corridor and drowns the laundry room, requiring the invasion of the building by persons unknown carrying tools, piping, wet vacs and electric blowers. Like the tide, these unknown persons come and then recede, and after a while their rhythmic presence renders them anonymous and largely invisible, always behind the scenes but with unimaginable power over the urban life experience… installing back-flow preventers on boilers to maintain drinking water potability, leveling elevator cabs to prevent injury, replacing leaking check valves on sprinkler systems to ensure life safety. Over the years The Andrews Organization has worked with countless such “vendors” and has marveled at their willingness to engage with building habitability problems, some monumental and insurmountable, day and night. However, sometimes they commit errors, and when they do they cannot be considered immune from accountability, as this would render them ungovernable and all-powerful. A while ago a large oil delivery company with whom The Andrews Organization works pulled its truck in front of a coop building in the Upper West Side and unloaded 3000 gallons of #4-grade oil into the sidewalk fill line. As the driver pulled the hose out of the line fill box, a mist of oil sprayed onto the adjacent 4’x4’ sidewalk slab leaving a shade in the concrete. The driver did not notice and drove away, but the superintendent did and called us.

The Solution
In response to our call, the oil company immediately dispatched a clean-up crew with sand to soak up the residue. The Andrews Organization manager on site was pleased but not satisfied. The shade was less pronounced but still visible. This time the oil company returned with a high-power pressure - washer and pounded the shade, grinding it down even more…but not entirely. The company believed its job was done but it wasn’t. The stain was still faintly visible, now just an outline with a clear center, but an outline, nonetheless. We ordered the company to chop out and replace the concrete slab and match the existing one. At first, it refused but our policy is firm. Vendors we work with must correct errors. It is the basis of trust. Within several days a masonry sub-contractor was on site with a jackhammer, gravel, and portable mixer. And that was when the superintendent reminded us all that that portion of the sidewalk was situated over a 20’ deep sidewalk hollow vault. Any slab replacement would require structural underpinning, engineering, and a City filing.

The Result
That was when the oil company’s owner, normally a refined and reasonable man, called us and launched into a tirade. But to no avail. The size of our account and our long association could not be ignored. The owner agreed that we could inform the Board that his company would (a) engage a structural engineer, (b) file with the Buildings Department, and (c) undertake the reconstruction of a quadrant of the sidewalk vault. When we did so the Board was thankful but wished to think it over. It caucused with management on the sidewalk and reluctantly decided to accept the now faintly shaded slab in lieu of a full-blown construction project. By our persistence and the oil company’s willingness to acknowledge its responsibility – no matter what -- all obligations of trust were honored, and a long-standing, and greatly-appreciated vendor relationship remained intact.


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