February 16, 2010

National Labor Relations Board Investigates Ithaca Cost Cutters for Anti-Union Tactics

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Under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board, the Ithaca branch of Cost Cutters is facing scrutiny for potentially anti-union tactics and the alleged termination of a popular hair stylist.

Amber Little, a former hairstylist at the Ithaca branch of Cost Cutters — a division of Regis Corporation, a company that owns 34 chains of hair salons nationally — said she was terminated from her position after Cost Cutters implemented a new corporate policy that required hair stylists to match 15 percent of their total hair cutting revenue in sales of hair products.

According to Susan Evans, communications spokesperson for Regis, “Cost Cutters does not have a corporate policy [on this matter]. There never was one to change,” she said.

Evans said Little quit and was not fired.

In response to her termination, the Tompkins County Workers Center began investigating her claims and discovered that Cost Cutters had potentially engaged in illegal anti-union tactics. Stylists at the Ithaca and Cortland Cost Cutters were asked to sign a document entitled “Protection of Secret Vote Agreement” that negated their right to show support for a union, a right defined in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. The document said, “In order to preserve my right to a secret ballot election, and for my own protection, I knowingly and without restraint and free from coercion sign this Agreement revoking and nullifying any union authorization card I may execute in the future.”

Regis CEO Paul Finkelstein told The New York Times that “many employees signed such pro-union cards without understanding that it could commit them to joining a union … The document was intended to ensure that the employees’ cards were never counted to show majority support for a union — in case Congress someday enacted the union-card legislation.”

Prof. Lance Compa, ILR, said the document was a variation of the yellow dog contract, “a classic promise to never join a union as a condition of employment.”

“It’s terribly drafted and so clearly illegal,” Compa said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a tactic like this. It’s something a splinter group of virulent anti-union people cooked up.”

Although Finkelstein told The Times that workers were under no obligation to sign the document, Compa said that workers usually feel inherent pressure to sign such a document.

According to the TCWC website, the center implemented an “Action Alert” campaign in response to the anti-union tactics. As a result of the campaign, more than 400 faxes have been sent to Regis Corporation and Cost Cutters management asking that they reinstate Amber Little to her position at the Ithaca Cost Cutters, inform customers of its sales quotas and stop the extreme anti-union corporate strategy.

As the National Labor Relations Board investigation continues, Compa speculated that the company could be punished in two ways if it is found guilty of unfair labor practices. It is possible that the NLRB could make a quiet settlement with the company and void the documents or, depending on what kind of signal the NLRB wants to send, it could insist that management admit they violated the law and their employees’ rights to organize, Compa said.

Meyers told the Ithaca Journal it was not clear whether the workers at the Ithaca Cost Cutters were currently considering adopting a union. When the hairstylists were presented with the waiver in August, there was no indication that they even wanted to start a union.

Goehner said, “I’m not a pro or against unions, but is should be up to the individual worker to decide whether they want one when they are making eight dollars per hour for a skilled trade.”

At a rally on Saturday on South Meadow Street, where the Ithaca Cost Cutters is located, about 100 members of the TCWC and the Ithaca community sported signs such as “Have a <3 Regis” and "We want good haircuts not $ shampoo. Give job back."

According to Little, who was a stylist at the salon for three and a half years, the 15 percent policy was only recently implemented. In November, she said, stylists were required to sell 10 percent of their total hair cutting revenue in products and by January it was up to 15 percent. She said many stylists were struggling to meet this quota when she was fired on Jan. 6 for not meeting her quota.

Ivy League Barbershop owner T.J. Goehner recently quit Ithaca Cost Cutters, fearing his job was in jeopardy because of the new product rule.

"It's not our position as barbers and hairstylists to be salesmen," he said. "We put out good haircuts and that's a value to the company.”

Because the economy is down, Little suggested that people are not willing to spend a lot of money on product, especially when they “are coming in on a Wednesday for a $9.95 hair cut."

Original Author: Elizabeth Manapsal