August 15, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Winning union representation in the workplace is tough enough – but the road to actually securing a fair and equitable contract can be cratered when companies do everything they can from foot-dragging to beguiling workers in an effort to rollback union gains.
That’s the kind of scenario now playing out at Guitar Center flagship stores in New York City, Las Vegas and Chicago, where workers – fed up with increasing company demands and paltry pay – voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] over a year ago.
The Bain Capital-owned Guitar Center is the largest retailer of musical instruments in the world, and has about 220 outlets across the U.S.
Despite labor’s unprecedented success cracking the huge conglomerate’s anti-union armor, however, a fairly bargained contract remains elusive – as the company has instead pressed hard to undermine the union’s support through a variety of crafty, but effective, means.
“One of the things they’ve done is change the pay structure for every other store that wasn’t unionized,” said Dave D'Amico, a drum department sales associate at Guitar Center’s flagship store in Union Square. “I believe that was done to try and persuade workers in the union stores to vote out the union.”
At an earlier bargaining session that D'Amico attended, he says it was apparent that Guitar Center and its high-priced legal representatives had no intention to make any monetary concessions – and were, in fact, purposely dragging out the process as long as possible to frustrate union supporters and break their resolve.
And, at least on West 14th Street, the tactic may be working.
“It’s textbook what they're doing,” D'Amico says. “Nothing really has changed much [since voting for union representation], and people just don’t understand why.”
Guitar Center’s strategy during the negotiation process has triggered two unfair labor practices complaints against them, alleging both bad faith bargaining and illegally withdrawing from negotiations.
But charges of stalling and pitting workers against each other, are just two of the practices in an anti-union company’s toolbox – encouraging high employee turnover is another – and by no means exclusive to Guitar Center.
Union organizers must routinely contend with companies who seek to quell union support in a myriad of ways including, firing key supporters, isolating others through job reassignments and shift changes, and dangling promises of better pay, more time off and other perks just before an election.
And companies don’t necessarily have to be huge conglomerates or industry leaders like Guitar Center to try and coordinate such union-busting tactics.
After more than a year, UFCW Local 342, the union representing longtime workers in contract negations with Trade Fair Supermarkets in Queens County, is still fighting to fully restore employees who have been locked out, terminated and reassigned during a particularlly contentious bargaining process.
Union supporters say that the National Labor Relations Board’s rules regulating collective bargaining are just too weak.
“All of these pieces are important says,” Stephanie Basile, organizer, RWDSU. “If you only rely on the law, it makes it very easy for these companies to drag things out forever.”
That’s why organized labor has increasingly sought partnerships with the community on behalf of workers’ rights. The online petition on behalf of Guitar Center workers has garnered the support of many high-profile recording artists, and continues to be vital.
This week, determined Guitar Center workers in Chicago banded together and presented management with a petition demanding an end to the stalling tactics – and calling on the company to negotiate a fair contract now.