Guitar Center workers vote to unionize
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 6/6/2013, 2:35 p.m.
Last Friday's developments were a long time coming for Guitar Center employees at the flagship store on 14th Street in Manhattan.
The 57 retail workers voted to form a union right before the Memorial Day weekend began. Orchestrated by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), this is only the first vote in a series of votes around Guitar Centers all over the city to organize.
A significant number of Guitar Center employees are artists or musicians as well, but they feel that the franchise's current owner, Bain Capital, is forcing them to work harder for less, and they can barely make ends meet.
"Guitar Center doesn't offer part-time workers health benefits, and we almost never receive paid sick days or vacation time," read the petition. "The sales workers amongst us used to have decent commissions and benefits, but now our commissions have been cut. We also don't get paid sick days, and we can make as little as $7.25 an hour.
"We have ever-increasing mandatory sales requirements, but we are being forced to do more and more non-sales work that makes it harder to reach those requirements. If we don't sell enough Pro Coverage [aka extended warranties], our commissions take a hit," continued the petition.
But Dennis Hafferman, Executive Vice President for Human Resources at Guitar Center said that the majority of the statements made in the petition are untrue.
"Bain Capital is not involved in the day-to-day management and operation of the stores," Hafferman told the AmNews. "'Working harder for less' is an ambiguous phrase. What does that mean? How is this union actually measuring how 'hard' our associates work? There's no evidence of this, and yet it's been widely reported."
"It's a great product to help our customers protect their purchase (investment)," continued Hafferman about pro coverage. "In truth, we can't force anyone to sell these - it's up to the customer and we absolutely respect that. Reports to the contrary are untrue and don't paint a fair and honest picture of what's really going on. If a customer wants to protect their purchase with extended coverage - they decide, it's that simple."
The support for worker organization at Guitar Center has also picked up steam with artists. Former Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello and former Bikini Kill and Le Tigre singer Kathleen Hanna have signed the online petition.
Hafferman was quick to question the celebrity co-signs.
"We question how much they really know about this petition," said Hafferman. "Have you been able to reach them to confirm their involvement and understanding?" Hafferman also said that whatever knowledge these famous musicians have might be superficial at best.
Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, bought the Guitar Center company in 2007. Hafferman told the AmNews that Bain is a business partner, but they don't run the Guitar Center operations.
One worker, Anim Arnold, told Rolling Stone magazine that after the union filed for a vote in April, management began having daily meetings to warn workers about the pitfalls that come with joining a union like dues, initiation and, according to Haffeman, a "loss of individuality."
"It felt like a re-education," Arnold told Rolling Stone.
The company has now focused its efforts with workers at Guitar Center locations in Brooklyn and Queens, with RWDSU looking to beat them to the punch. But Hafferman wanted to let the AmNews know that they're not against unions.
"We're not anti-union," said Hafferman. "It's about what the associate wants to be and why they will vote they will vote. We believe the costs and compromises that come with joining a union speak for themselves. What we are trying to do is ensure that every associate has the all the facts. After that, you should speak with any associate who voted against having a union, and ask them why they're 'anti-union.'"
"Their reasons are just as valid as anyone who voted the opposite," Hafferman concluded.