November 2, 2010

NLRB: Regis Committed Unfair Labor Practices

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The National Labor Relations Board ruled this week that Regis Corporation, the owner of the local barbershop Cost Cutters, engaged in unfair labor practices. The Tompkins County Workers’ Center –– assisted by several Cornell-affiliated faculty, students and alumni –– brought one of several complaints against Regis to the NLRB.

Regis “threatened employees that it would close salons if employees selected a union to represent them,” according to the NLRB decision. Regis, the largest barbershop chain in the world, operates more than 10,000 stores, including Cost Cutters.

Amber Little, 29, a former employee of the Ithaca Cost Cutters, whose termination prompted TCWC’s complaint, said that Cost Cutters engaged in unlawful labor practices, forcing workers to sign yellow-dog contracts — agreements that the employees would not join a union.

“We signed papers saying that we wouldn’t join a union and that they would fire us if we broke this,” Little said.

TCWC was instrumental in the process that led to the nationwide NLRB decision, said Peter Meyers, TCWC’s coordinator.

“[TCWC] filed on the behalf of two workers who had yellow-dog contracts,” Meyers said. “I’m glad that we decided to file this complaint because Regis was so outlandish, and it demonstrates how corporations sometimes act.”

The TCWC filed a complaint with the NLRB in February after Cost Cutters fired Little.

According to TJ Goehner, Little’s boyfriend, Little was fired because she had to “sell 15 percent of her service sales” in salon and lotion products. The company mandated that aside from offering haircuts, employees were required to sell hair merchandise. Little already worked “20 to 25 haircuts a day, and the sales requirement was just too much” he said.

The NLRB agreed with the TCWC that Regis violated labor law, and the national board came up with an unconventional solution.

The NLRB ordered that Regis “produce, at its own expense, a DVD” in which Regis clarifies its new unionization and worker rights policies.

“We believe that this entity has violated the law … We needed a special remedy, such as calls for the employer to appear in a DVD,” said NLRB Albany Resident Officer Barney Horowitz ’72.

Little, whose termination prompted TCWC’s complaint, said she hopes the NLRB’s decision will allow her back to her former job. “It would be nice to be rehired by Cost Cutters,” she said.

Goehner, who also owns a barbershop in Collegetown, agreed. “Any time a little guy wins, it’s a win for every little guy. Corporate America has been screwing us over for years now,” he said.

At Cornell, professors and students said they agree with the NLRB decision.

“The evidence in this case … is a smoking cannon,” wrote Prof. Lance Compa, industrial and labor relations, via e-mail.

“The NLRB has taken strong action by consolidating this case at a national level…what the company did here is a throwback to the 1920s era of ‘yellow dog contracts,’” he said.

Members of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action said they were pleased with the NLRB’s decision. “Some members went to rallies supporting the Cost Cutters workers this past spring, a form of solidarity. We also supported the workers via a petition,” said Casey Sweeney ’11, president of Cornell Organization for Labor Action.

“COLA has a really good relationship with the TCWC” she added.

One member of COLA, Debby Cho ’12, interned at the TCWC last semester.

“When I started, [Little] just came to us,” Cho said. “I watched it unfold and I saw the TCWC bring a complaint to the NLRB. Much of the time we were waiting around for the NLRB to make a decision.”

Regis Corporation declined repeated requests for comment on Tuesday.

Original Author: Max Schindler