How can I persuade the movers to bring my delayed stuff?!
August 2, 2016 7:23 PM   Subscribe

I just moved cross-country to start a new job as assistant professor, and the movers (United Van Lines) I hired (one of three the university allowed me to choose from) are running more than three weeks later than expected. They picked up on July 15th and were supposed to to deliver between July 18th and August 2nd. First the stuff was going to arrive on July 25th, then August 7th. But truckers keep on not bringing it. They now want to containerize my household belongings and deliver them on August 13th, and they said "it could be a long time" before my piano arrives. How can I make them bring it to me faster?

It's all still sitting in a warehouse in Massachusetts. In the meantime I'm alone with a toddler camping out on an uncomfortable air mattress. They will pay a delay fee of $100/day until the household belongings arrive. It seems to me that there should be a delay fee until ALL of the belongings arrive, and more than that -- that they get here as soon as possible! I am particularly worried about my antique piano -- I know it's okay for a week or so in high temperatures, but I'm concerned about it being in non climate controlled environment for a month or more. I'm particularly concerned about "being quite a while" being their stated timeline for it! It's not that big! And it's a family heirloom that is both deeply sentimental and highly useful to me (I'm a composer).

Do I have any recourse? The move coordinator has been really defensive about this. And seemed put out when I was annoyed that they hadn't picked it up after all the first time! Other helpful facts: they bill the university directly, it's United Van Lines, and it's about 2BR worth of stuff (3700 lbs including a 1200 lb piano).

tldr; how can I convince them to deliver my stuff asap??? Starting a tenure track job is stressful enough without having to wait till I'm well into teaching to have a sofa, bed, etc. Especially alone with a toddler!
posted by betsbillabong to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry this is happening to you! I don't have any experience with this, but you might also try posting in the forums, because others might dealt with the exact same thing and might have strategies for dealing with it. Good luck.
posted by bluecore at 7:29 PM on August 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hired by your employer? You're not the client, your employer is. Email HR and CC your mover. Describe what you need them to do to make this good (deliver the piano and all household goods by $date) and state that if they are not able to manage, you will recommend that the university discontinue their services.
posted by samthemander at 7:30 PM on August 2, 2016 [34 favorites]

If this were my department, and a new faculty member were having a shitty experience like this, and the new faculty member came unto the department office and laid it all out to me, I would be on the fucking phone to that company so fast - the university probably deals with these people regularly for moves and has some leverage in terms of taking away all their business. Seriously, what a disgrace. The moving company needs to have a business plan for dealing with clients when something in their moving schedule goes pear-shaped - they should not fall back on "oh, your stuff will be a month late, sorry".
posted by Frowner at 7:44 PM on August 2, 2016 [38 favorites]

Do you know any lawyers? Would you be willing to pay one $100 for a stern letter, if you can't get one from the legal department of your school? That'll probably get things moving.

This is a really common scam to get more cash out of you.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:46 PM on August 2, 2016

Antique piano? I would not wait if it was Mr. Arnicae's antique and moderately fancy-pants piano. I would be their new best friend calling and emailing them DAILY. Write down names. Make it clear you're documenting "Ok thanks Carla. So what was your last name again? Ok, just give me a second - I'm trying to write all this down as fast as I can."

Do you have a guesstimate on how much this will cost? Tell them how much fixing your irreplaceable piano will cost them. Repairing the sound board (which is a totally feasible image) could range from $200 to totaling your piano. The pins may loosen in the pin-block (meaning they would have to refix the pins, very expensive) the felt hammers might get moldy and have to be resurfaced ($600) or replaced ($6000). Depending on the kind of keys, if plastic what year the plastic were laminated, the plastic may pop off the top of the keys. And any other part of the piano might warp.

I would also be calling the university, HR, your move benefit coordinator, etc. on a daily basis. Phrase it as a "Hi, just wanted to give you the update today - Carla from Bozos Incorporated says that she can't tell me the status of the piano. It is 95 degrees in Boston today and 68 percent humidity - my piano tuner says he thinks that another couple of days of these conditions could fracture the sound board of my piano at a potential cost of $X."

Treat everyone as co-conspirators in getting you your stuff asap. Act like they are all your collaborators and all of you are on the same team - but be relentless in documenting, contacting them, etc. They're used to people yelling at them - don't yell, develop a relationship and exploit it to get your piano.
posted by arnicae at 7:51 PM on August 2, 2016 [19 favorites]

I just went through this with United too (as did another guy in my office who had to use them because they contract with HR). The advice above is what worked for us. Have HR get on it. The company may not have much to lose in terms of your business, but if they make a university that contracts with them angry, they've got quite a bit to lose. Also, you can negotiate for additional compensation. Demand they pay for the things you're having to purchase just to get through the day now. Toiletries, clothes, temporary furniture, meals out, etc. They need to compensate for all of that (they did for my colleague). I'm so sorry. This really stinks.
posted by goggie at 8:10 PM on August 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

*which is totally feasible damage
posted by arnicae at 8:11 PM on August 2, 2016

Please interpret this not as being totally negative, but rather trying to be helpful.

How can you get them to deliver the items sooner? I don't think you can. I don't think your University cares and though I appreciate that Frowner would care if you were her employee, I've yet to meet a department chair anywhere who would care - so Frowner, you are a nice person, but I would argue, uniquely so.

I would take that $100/day and go to IKEA and buy yourself a temporary bed to use for the next two-four weeks while waiting for your items to arrive. I would also document, document, document and call EVERY DAY about the piano. Because you will probably have to sue them for the damage to the piano that will develop from the delay. Sorry :(
posted by Toddles at 8:11 PM on August 2, 2016

My department cared when I was moving and my movers tried to do something similar. I would contact your department point person, whoever helped you set up the move. They do not want their new assistant professor to start their life like this. They're still trying to make a good impression on you at this point.
posted by sockermom at 8:19 PM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Point of clarification - you don't go to the chair, you go to the department secretary or program administrator. That person is more likely, tempermentally-speaking, to care and they should also know what levers of power exist in the university - do they need to call central purchasing and have central purchasing complain? Should they kick this up to an activist CFO who likes yelling? Etc. To my mind, a good department chair wants new faculty to have a good experience and to succeed and therefore does not want you to have a lousy experience with a university-provided service, but regardless of the quality of your chair, the person who will be dealing with this stuff on the ground is a secretary, program assistant or similar. Who did you meet briefly in the dept office when you did your interview? That person.
posted by Frowner at 8:19 PM on August 2, 2016 [33 favorites]

Just chipping in that the admins in my department would be willing to raise a stink over this to the moving company, especially the HR person who handles the money. For a brand new faculty member, our department cares a lot about getting them set up correctly. In most departments there will be a specific staff member who can help you with this, it will likely be the same person that is helping you with other moving issues, reimbursements for travel, etc.
posted by bove at 8:35 PM on August 2, 2016

A similar thing happened to me. What worked in the end was shamelessly posting the whole story - you promised x date, it's now y, I'm sitting on the floor as I type this and it's cold and I have no blankets - on their company Facebook page. Not angry, just sad. With a plea for "is there anyone who could help me?" at the end. I had a FB message the next morning, a phone call that afternoon, and my stuff was on the next truck to me, 8 days later I watched a mover unload it.

I would think mentioning your toddler would help immensely in your case.
posted by donnagirl at 8:38 PM on August 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Yes, bring it up with HR and possibly your department/division's administrative assistant. Also, let your new colleagues know if you haven't told them already. Atlas, which also sucks, was 3 weeks late delivering my stuff and some wonderful colleagues offered me lamps, chairs, linens, and kitchen goods to tide me over...
posted by TwoStride at 9:02 PM on August 2, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you all. These are all really great suggestions.

One quick question: should I go along with their plan to containerize everything and send the piano later, or demand that it all come together on a truck ASAP? I'm thinking now the latter, since although it's inconvenient not to have my sofa etc, it's the piano that I'm really worried about. (It's a 1908 full size upright).
posted by betsbillabong at 1:13 AM on August 3, 2016

Generally spoken, musical instruments fare better in uncontrolled situations during the summer than when its freezing, so that might be good; your instrument may be fine. Provided, however, the instrument doesn't catch any direct sunlight, or the interior of the warehouse gets super-hot, or super humid.
Unless you know someone who could walk over and look at where your stuff is stored, I would still try to get the piano out of there as soon as possible, so I would go with your latter solution.

Let it sit in your new home for at least a week before paying someone to tune and regulate it.
posted by Namlit at 1:25 AM on August 3, 2016

In response to your follow-up: Three weeks? Demand that they bring it all ASAP. There is no compromising here. I would be apoplectic. If you can't trust them to just deliver goods on time as promised, I wouldn't trust them with an antique piano.

I hope you have success by working with your admin and the HR department.
posted by purple_bird at 9:16 AM on August 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am a department chair. I am not your department chair.

If one of my new tenure-track faculty members was having this kind of trouble, I would want to know.
posted by BrashTech at 5:18 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Politely explain to the department that since they hired and dispatched the movers, and they are the ones with a contract with the movers, you're going to hold them responsible for any damage to the piano.

Then go outside and watch for the truck.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:23 PM on August 3, 2016

Politely explain to the department that since they hired and dispatched the movers, and they are the ones with a contract with the movers, you're going to hold them responsible for any damage to the piano.

This is a bad idea. "The department" did no such thing. This was likley handled by the university;'s central admin. You will need to be colleagues with these people (the department) for 1-40 years, and want to get tenure from them! Frowner's 1st suggestion is correct - find an ally in business affairs/purchasing etc, and ask them to give them hell.
posted by lalochezia at 7:33 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

'They' being the university, then. The department hired OP, and the school is handling aspects of the move. I'm not suggesting being an ass about it -- I meant actually politely, not fake politely -- but it does sound to me like the contract may be between the school and the movers.

Idea being then the department would be able to use the problem of a potentially expensive situation with the piano to convince business affairs that this is about more than being nice to a new hire and needs to be handled real soon now to avoid a potential risk that would be bad for all involved.

But I'll readily admit that I've never worked in academia and don't know what the norms are.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:52 PM on August 3, 2016

In addition to finding someone at the university to talk to about this, I would also consider raising hell with the movers and calling the attorney general's office for your state -- actually, with a little further research, I think since this was interstate, you'll want this federal agency: Of course, I haven't seen your contract, but I would advise you to look it over and see if they are violating any of it and report them if they are.

Movers are full of scams -- it's hard to tell if this is one, or more like very bad service. I may be jaded, but I would not be surprised if their next step is that they won't let your stuff off the truck without an additional $x in cash only.
posted by freezer cake at 11:05 AM on August 4, 2016

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