Watch What You Say

Some jobs are large enough that the union will send in guys from all over to fill a need.  The Union called them Travelers.  In the Union we called each Local by its number.  The Union Local in New Orleans was 1.  Local 2 was in New York.  Spokane, Washington was 73.  Great Falls, Montana was 122.  Havre, Montana was 393.  The local number designation progresses from smaller to greater in direct relation to when the local was formed.  The newer the local, the larger is its number designation.

There came a time in Havre where we had a job large enough that travelers from other locals came in to fill out the electrician needs.  While working that job, one of the local electricians came up and asked me if I wanted to join the FLEs.  (The acronym was pronounced like you were saying “fleas.”)  I wasn’t sure what they were, but I remembered the Business Agent for the Local saying that we should watch out for the FLEs and not to get involved.  He was pretty vocal about it.

I asked the Local guy that was suggesting I join the FLEs; “What are the FLEs?”

It seemed the “F” stood for faith, the “L” stood for love, and the “E” stood for excellence.  Well the guy that I was talking to didn’t seem to do any more of an excellent job than anyone else.  It felt like a “Union within the Union”, all very secretive and exclusive.  Besides that, I was already reporting to the business owner, a superintendent, a foreman and the business agent for the union, and I thought that was enough, so I declined.

During the course of the job the Business Agent said he wanted all the men on that job to meet at the union hall.  I suspected that he might have something of a pejorative nature to say about FLEs.  I also knew that there would be some in attendance that were FLEs.  I wanted to warn him to use caution when speaking, but I wasn’t sure how I could get it done discreetly.

I owed a month’s worth of dues, so I wrote a check and put it in an envelope.  In small letters on the flap I wrote; “The woods is full of fleas, and some are Three-Nine-Threes.”

I handed the envelope to him as I entered the Union Hall.  I sat down and watched him to see what he would do.  He opened the envelope and took out the check.  Then I could see him notice the writing on the envelope flap.  He didn’t change his expression or change anything.  He didn’t look up and out at the audience.  He just put the check back in the envelope and put the envelope in his inside pocket.

That night he said nothing about the FLEs, but the rest of the time I was in that local he would remind me that he was happy I had warned him in such an interesting way.

I don’t know what became of the FLEs.  I don’t know if they were a local phenomenon or if they were regional, country or international.  I never heard of them again, and I never heard an electrician mention the FLEs again.