A Piece of the Action

LarkinThis is not something I’ve ever done before, doc. I feel a little strange talking to someone on the outside about family business. But the stress … They got me in a box out there. Maybe this’ll help, you know? Just one thing, though. No names. And nothing incriminating.

I tell ya’, business on the street was good. We were getting to a point were we could work together — the suppliers, the people inside, the independents … there’s enough action for everybody, you know? Sure, we mix it up occasionally, but nobody’s gettin’ whacked. We cooperate. A guy inside does a little contract for the supplier, so the supplier shaves a few points off the insider’s nut and everyone looks good in front of Joe Customer. Sharin’ the wealth without getting greedy, we all make enough to pay for a nice house at the shore.

And we have names for it: “first responder” or “tiered response.” You know, something with a legitimate sound. Only it is legit, and the customers do good by all of us. There’s respect. The customer has someone he can count on for service, and we have a customer that we can count on for business year after year.

Then the young punks moved in, doc. Information technology upstarts. Outta’ town software companies that blow their money on Super Bowl ads. They show no respect for the organization and no respect for the customers. “Tax ’em all ’till they’re broke.” That’s the motto of these wise guys.

I’ll tell you what they do. Say you got an agreement with a customer. No strong-arm, they could go somewhere else, but you’re family, so they give you the action, maybe three, four large to cover a system. And when they reach out late some night, you’re there. No questions asked, you take care of business.

Not these computer punks. They’re hooking citizens like some dope-pushing clocker. They give the customer a few hits of the product, like network or record-keeping software, you know. They get ’em to the point where they can’t survive without the computer. By that time, the customer is into the punk for 75, 100 large. So what happens when the customer reaches out for a little service?

Nuthin’! That’s what. The customer’s told that terms changed since the original agreement. They’re told they ain’t covered and that nuthin’s getting fixed unless they pony up more dough.

The system doesn’t work, the customer’s out of business and the computer company’s whacking ’im with points to talk on the telephone, more points for mandatory “upgrades” and they’re making customers perform their own contract work … and if they don’t pay, the punk’s goons will swing by and bust up the software.

Oh, they’ve got a fancy name for it, a “service level agreement.” Back in New Jersey, we call it a “protection racket.”

The punks even got state politicians to make this legit. The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) is the law in Maryland, and they’re working over other states right now.

With that kind of juice, it wasn’t long before they started leaning on my people. You make a scanner, you gotta’ kick back to the operating system mob, and so on down the line. Soon, you start leaning on your foot soldiers, who lean on their customers. Taxing ’em for calls, for upgrades, for ordering parts. Infringing on their right to earn.

It’s trouble. People are getting greedy and it’s gonna lead to a war, doc. How long we gonna’ kick upstairs without seeing nothin’ for it? How long before the healthcare technology families are forced to go to the mattresses, and I’m stuck in some apartment in Newark, watchin’ “The Sopranos” on bootlegged cable?

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