August 11, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Guitar Center likes to tout the expertise of the working musicians staffing their nationwide stores – but for over a year, worker advocates say the big chain has been doing its damnedest trying to undermine those who have already banded together for better working conditions.
On Saturday, August 9, members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU], the union representing Guitar Center workers in New York City, Las Vegas and Chicago, rallied outside the company’s newest outlet in Times Square, where they blasted management for dragging its feet in contract negotiations and actively trying to decertify the union.
Employees at Guitar Center’s flagship store at 25 West 14th Street voted to join the RWDSU in May, 2013, despite tremendous pushback from the multimillion dollar corporation. Over a year later, a contract has yet to be signed, and working conditions continue to deteriorate for those already struggling to make ends meet.
“The company has hired [law firm] Jackson Lewis to run their typical anti-union strategy,” said Eric Dryburgh, organizer, RWDSU. “Now, they’re trying to bust the union in our smaller stores. But we’re fighting back. If they continue to go down this road instead of negotiating in good faith and preventing workers from getting a fair contract, we’re going to stop them."
Patrons lined up outside the new Times Square store over the weekend eager to take advantage of several promotions and a live in-store concert. But according to the union, Guitar Center had to handpick a group of anti-union managers, as well as compliant workers, to staff the grand opening event.
Worker advocates charge that management has been attempting to sour employees to the union in several key ways – including skewing the commission system in favor of non-union workers, and giving them hourly and commission raises, as well as better benefits and more vacation time.
“That’s their form of retaliation,” Dryburgh said.
A vote to actually decertify the union could only happen if a majority – or at least 30 percent of workers – decided that an election should be held.
“Guitar Center has not allowed workers in the [Union Square] store to have that election,” Dryburgh said. “They refuse to allow them to have that election process. Instead, they are illegally withdrawing from negotiations, and saying that they no longer want to negotiate with the union.”
Guitar Center did not respond to requests for comment.
The union has since filed two unfair labor practice complaints against Guitar Center charging the company with bad faith bargaining and illegally withdrawing from negotiations.
“We’re not concerned with the anti-union tactics,” Dryburgh said. “We want a fair contract, and we want it now. The public should know Guitar Center has hired an expensive law firm – paying a lawyer $800 an hour – when they should just be paying their workers a living wage.”