If your 9-to-5 job revolves around your life’s passion, the satisfaction of being surrounded by what you love can offset the daily grind. But such passion is often in short supply in retail work, which is generally defined by the quintessential boring sales job. At Guitar Center, however, one of the country’s largest instrument chains, workers’ love for music, combined with their disdain for The Man, is driving a valiant campaign for a union.
In several cities, Guitar Center employees have been organizing since late 2012 with the support of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). In May, they scored their first victory at the flagship store in the West Village, with 57 employees voting to unionize. Then another Guitar Center, in Chicago, unionized in August. As labor organizers reach out to other cities, though, the management, controlled by private equity giant Bain Capital, is reportedly hoping to undercut the union before it recruits more workers at the other more than 200 stores nationwide.
Since Bain took over in 2007, workers say, labor conditions on the sales floor have eroded under a pay structure based on commissions. According to employees, because base pay has started as low as $7.25 an hour, often without paid vacation or sick days, these commissions constitute a major portion of workers’ income. But this commission on sales kicks in only after reaching a certain minimum threshold—a system known as “fading.” Another major frustration for workers has been a lack of autonomy; they say non-sales duties that the Bain management has heaped on them detract from cultivating sales clients. Moreover, a relatively flat wage structure means workers who work their way up the management chain do not receive comparable pay increases.
The workplace atmosphere has allegedly grown more tense since workers started organizing. In May, Manhattan Guitar Center employee Anim Arnold told Labor Press that management was targeting individual workers as they were gearing up for the groundbreaking union vote.
“They’ve definitely pulled people aside and said they don’t think unions are a good idea,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, unions don’t have anything to offer. It’s not the 1920s. We’re not children in coal mines. We’re fine.’” Read the rest of this entry →