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  1. #1
    Atomic Punk
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    Default Guitar Center Workers Launch Union Effort Under Bain Ownership

    Ernest Hampson has been working at Guitar Center for six years, not a brief span in the world of retail. During that time, the 26-year-old Brooklyn resident said he's seen a pattern emerge for many workers at the nation's largest music equipment retailer.

    "Guitar Center workers are doing more work, and they're getting paid less for it," said Hampson, an assistant manager at the retailer's Brooklyn location.

    Citing what they describe as deteriorating working conditions, Hampson and other dissatisfied Guitar Center workers in New York City are in the midst of a unionization effort. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), a powerful labor union in the metro area, recently filed an election petition involving the retailer's flagship store in Manhattan.

    Although Guitar Center has fended off unionization efforts in the past, the latest campaign appears formidable. The union has acquired election authorization signatures from roughly 80 percent of workers in the expected bargaining unit in New York. According to RWDSU, Guitar Center has hired the well-known and pricey union-avoidance firm Jackson Lewis.

    A Guitar Center spokesman said the company wouldn't comment on the union campaign or publicly discuss employee pay policies out of legal concerns.

    The primary worker grievance is fairly standard for the modern retail industry: Employees like Hampson say they don't earn enough money to get by. What makes the Guitar Center case more novel -- and what union organizers are happy to point out -- is the fact that a controlling stake of the private company is now owned by Bain Capital, former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's old firm, which found itself at the center of a national discussion last year on how much private equity helps or hurts working-class people.

    "The campaign is important because it typifies what has happened in our economy, where it's workers bearing the brunt of Bain's acquisition desires," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU. "I think that what happens to workers at Guitar Center is symbolic of what's happening to retail workers across the country ... Every retail worker should be concerned about this fight."

    A spokesperson for Bain did not return a call seeking comment.

    According to Appelbaum, a handful of dissatisfied Guitar Center employees first approached the union about representation in 2012. Although Appelbaum declined to discuss union strategy, it appears that if RWDSU can manage to unionize much of the New York workforce, it will take its efforts to other Guitar Center locations.

    Even though he's an assistant manager, Hampson makes the legal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour plus commission. But he doesn't actually see that commission until he's sold a certain amount of product against his base pay -- a process known internally as "fading" against the minimum wage.

    Hampson said commission rates have fallen for new hires since the Bain takeover. Hampson's own rate has not dropped, since he was grandfathered in as a veteran, but he said his money isn't going as far as it used to. His gross earnings were roughly $25,000 last year, he said.

    "It's very stressful," Hampson said. "I've been doing it long enough to know how much I'm making on each sale."

    According to employees, managers in New York have also been pressuring workers to sell more extended warranties, the add-on plans that give customers peace of mind beyond the manufacturer's guarantee. Retailers love these extra plans -- a trade journal once pegged it as a $16 billion sub-industry -- as they come with huge profit margins. According to an article in The Economist, if the product breaks within the warranty period, repairs tend to be cheaper than the warranty itself. And in most cases, they don't break.

    Anim Arnold, a pro-union employee at Guitar Center in Manhattan, told HuffPost that when he was hired recently he was told his commission could be docked if he didn't hit certain goals on selling extended warranties. That hasn't happened yet, but he said the warranties aren't easy to sell. Many customers seem to understand the economics at play.

    "It's something not everyone wants to buy," said Arnold, who also must fade against his base pay of minimum wage. "I try my best."

    Started in 1959 in Southern California, Guitar Center now has 244 stores in 44 states and racked up net sales of $2.1 billion last year, according to SEC filings. Carrying guitars, amplifiers, drums, keyboards and audio equipment, the company's stores have long been a staple for musicians throughout the country, with band members found on both sides of the sales counter. Launching an online petition to support the union effort, RWDSU has enlisted progressive, labor-friendly artists to lend their names to the cause.

    Indeed, the workforce tends to draw musicians and music lovers, some of whom are just looking for part-time cash, but many of whom, like Hampson and Arnold, are trying to make a living at it. Typical of the sales staff, Hampson's Guitar Center bio page notes an expertise in Gibson guitars, as well as his leanings toward The Mars Volta, Queens of the Stone Age and Deftones. Outside of work, he's one half of a 2-piece stoner rock band called "Natural Strangers." ("Born in the heart of a dying star, deep in the cosmos," reads the band's Facebook bio.)

    Bain Capital bought Guitar Center in October 2007 for $2.1 billion, including debt, with Goldman Sachs serving as an adviser on the purchase. The retailer's parent company, Guitar Center Holdings, is now carrying a heavy debt load of $1.6 billion, according to filings. "We are highly leveraged," the company noted in its most recent annual report. Moody's downgraded the company's credit in 2010. Like all brick-and-mortar retailers, Guitar Center is facing more and more competition from online sellers like Amazon, not to mention big-box stores that now carry music equipment.

    Those challenges notwithstanding, Appelbaum argued that the company can afford to pay its employees more. "If retailers can only operate by keeping their workers in poverty, then there is something drastically wrong," he said.

    Retail sales is now one of the most common jobs in the U.S., as well as one of the lowest-paying. There are roughly 4.4 million retail salespeople throughout the country, but the median pay for such positions in 2010 was $20,990, or $10.09 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many retail workers who are stuck part-time go without health coverage or sick leave. Turnover tends to be very high, with many workers disappearing after months or even weeks.

    Dissatisfied with stagnant wages, hundreds of retail workers in Chicago went on a one-day strike on Wednesday, calling for a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to unionize without interference.

    According to Hampson, he and most of his Guitar Center colleagues appreciate their jobs, relishing the opportunity to be around other musicians and cool gear all day, "like a kid in a candy store." But at the end of the month, none of that helps him cover his rent in New York City.

    "We're in this job because we love it," Hampson said. "We just wish it loved us back a little more."

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/0...n_3154828.html
    "Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.” -- Gen. George S. Patton

  2. #2
    Atomic Punk bsbll4's Avatar
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    These guys sound like the average tax-payer: "yeah, we understand our company (country) is underwater and in massive debt, but we still want ours."

    I understand their frustration, but if the company isn't making any money, it's hard to justify a massive increase in expenditures on wages. If they are really that dissatisfied and there is that much turnover, don't work there. You can probably get another job in retail sales making more, and when the company realizes they can't get qualified candidates at that rate, they will pay more. It's simple supply and demand.
    CNN may think my opinion matters, but you shouldn't.

  3. #3
    Good Enough JakeK21's Avatar
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    I'm still pissed that the district manager guaranteed me a job if I applied and e-mailed him afterwards, but he never got back in contact with me.

  4. #4
    Atomic Punk lovemachine97(Version 2)'s Avatar
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    Sorry. I worked in a music store for a while, albeit mom and pop. I made $12/hr plus commission and for what I actually had to do I was overpaid. I had to do more than what a GC employee does. I didn't get a section. As a guitarist, I still had to cover everything else we sold--drums, pianos, keyboards, accessories, etc.

    At Christmas and some days we were busy and with only 2-3 on the floor at any given time, it could get crazy. But a lot of the time we were tinkering and playing with stuff.

    True, I was not easily replaceable, but there were other musicians around who knew ore than I did when I started. There's o entitlement to both loving your job and getting paid well. Sometimes you have to make a decision.

    Eventually, I finished my BA while working and moved on to a better job. Not as fun, but oh well.

  5. #5
    Atomic Punk Little Dreamer's Avatar
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    12.15.17 @ 12:49 PM
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    Default

    GC is a big company so unionizing makes sense. Good luck to them.

    "Guitar Center has hired the well-known and pricey union-avoidance firm Jackson Lewis."

    Some law firms specialize in "union-avoidance"?? Wtf?
    Little Dreamer

  6. #6
    Atomic Punk Dave's Dreidel's Avatar
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    12.15.17 @ 12:16 PM
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    Default

    How much are they expecting to get paid for saying "what gauge string do you want, 9's or 10's?"

    If you aren't making enough money, usually the best place to lay blame is in the mirror.

    Not always, but most of the time the ability to make more money is available, most people just don't want to make the extra effort involved. You cannot expect anything to be given to you, you have to go out there and take it, and if that means giving up your weekends or some sleep, so be it, that's the price you have to fucking pay.

    I am starting to get a little sick of the fucking whining going on in this country. Get to fucking work and quit expecting everyone to give you what you deserve. You don't deserve shit, you deserve a chance, and that is what you have in this country. In many parts of the world you don't get that, so be fucking thankful for it and get your ass off the couch.

    There are 168 hours in a week, if you decide to only work for forty of them, that is your decision, not mine. There have been weeks in my life in which I have worked for over 100 hours, my highest being 114, to hear this kind of shit just pisses me off.
    Taylor Swift is nice to look at. Adele can sing.

    Emperor Brett - "I can't believe you guys are analyzing song-by-song Van Halen III? What next, analyzing the script of Stroker Ace looking for some shred of Citizen Kane?"

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  7. #7
    Forum Frontman It's Mike's Avatar
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    I think that over the past 10 or 15 years we've seen an intensification in the greed of people at all levels. This is seen in corporations where the pay taken by executives and upper management is growing to an obscene level and that money needs to come from somewhere and typically it's by lowering the amount of pay given to those lower in the firm. Some of these is done via outsourcing.

    This is also seen by regular people who seem to complain about being hard done by even when they are not. People who make good incomes but choose to live at a level above that and then seem to think their income (and not their expenses) is the problem. I see this almost daily.

    Not sure how either of these issues get solved.

    There isn't enough information in this article for me to give an opinion of which of these situations is happening here. Is this a profitable company that is paying their employees the absolutely bare minimum needed to staff the place? Or is this a company that is just getting by and has to deal with staff that just like to hear themselves compain?

  8. #8
    carpe damn diem billy007's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave's Dreidel View Post
    How much are they expecting to get paid for saying "what gauge string do you want, 9's or 10's?"

    If you aren't making enough money, usually the best place to lay blame is in the mirror.

    Not always, but most of the time the ability to make more money is available, most people just don't want to make the extra effort involved. You cannot expect anything to be given to you, you have to go out there and take it, and if that means giving up your weekends or some sleep, so be it, that's the price you have to fucking pay.

    I am starting to get a little sick of the fucking whining going on in this country. Get to fucking work and quit expecting everyone to give you what you deserve. You don't deserve shit, you deserve a chance, and that is what you have in this country. In many parts of the world you don't get that, so be fucking thankful for it and get your ass off the couch.

    There are 168 hours in a week, if you decide to only work for forty of them, that is your decision, not mine. There have been weeks in my life in which I have worked for over 100 hours, my highest being 114, to hear this kind of shit just pisses me off.
    I get where you're coming from, but I disagree. If all we were put on this earth to do was work, then what is the point? There needs to be some balance. How much is enough? 40? 50? more? I don't know, but to spend 67% of your week working is way too much. There needs to be time for rest and repair - we're not machines, we're human. If you have a family, they deserve some of your time. You need to have time to do what keeps you sane. Does that mean I think Guitar Centre should start paying these people $15. an hour? No, unless it's what Guitar Centre can afford to pay their associates and still run a business and make enough of a profit for themselves. If what Guitar Centre can afford to pay you is not enough, then seek employment elsewhere. But a man (or woman) shouldn't have to work themselves into the grave, either.

  9. #9
    Atomic Punk Dave's Dreidel's Avatar
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    I work on average I would say sixty hours a week.

    That leaves me 108 hours to do what I want. How much time do you need?

    Maybe because I grew up on a farm, in which you are working from before sunrise to after sunset EVERY day, Monday through Sunday, that I find these kind of arguments frustrating.

    Working sixty hours a week is not working into the grave, to me that is an easy week. In my humble opinion, most people have horrific time management, and then wonder why at the end of the week why they got nothing accomplished.
    Taylor Swift is nice to look at. Adele can sing.

    Emperor Brett - "I can't believe you guys are analyzing song-by-song Van Halen III? What next, analyzing the script of Stroker Ace looking for some shred of Citizen Kane?"

    David Lee Roth did the impossible. He made Van Halen better. Deal with it!

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  10. #10
    Forum Frontman It's Mike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave's Dreidel View Post
    I work on average I would say sixty hours a week.

    That leaves me 108 hours to do what I want. How much time do you need?

    Maybe because I grew up on a farm, in which you are working from before sunrise to after sunset EVERY day, Monday through Sunday, that I find these kind of arguments frustrating.

    Working sixty hours a week is not working into the grave, to me that is an easy week. In my humble opinion, most people have horrific time management, and then wonder why at the end of the week why they got nothing accomplished.
    incredibly few people work that many hours a week. If I worked 60 hours a week I'd never see my kids. Unless one has the ability to make their own schedule (most don't) they working that many hours is a nice way to have one shitty ass life.

  11. #11
    Atomic Punk Dave's Dreidel's Avatar
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    What world do you guys live in?

    I get up at five, am at my desk by six, work until five, home by six, spend three hours with the family, and then do my hobbies or work a little bit after they go to bed.

    That is how you do sixty hours, and still spend three hours a day with your family during the work week and have all weekend free.

    Sixty hours is easy.
    Taylor Swift is nice to look at. Adele can sing.

    Emperor Brett - "I can't believe you guys are analyzing song-by-song Van Halen III? What next, analyzing the script of Stroker Ace looking for some shred of Citizen Kane?"

    David Lee Roth did the impossible. He made Van Halen better. Deal with it!

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  12. #12
    Hang 'Em High sickman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by It's Mike View Post
    incredibly few people work that many hours a week. If I worked 60 hours a week I'd never see my kids. Unless one has the ability to make their own schedule (most don't) they working that many hours is a nice way to have one shitty ass life.
    I don't know. I work 60 hours Monday through Friday and have Sat and Sun to spend with my kids and family all day if I want. Not to mention 3-4 hours in the afternoon and evening. I don't think I have a shitty ass life.

  13. #13
    Atomic Punk Dave's Dreidel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sickman View Post
    I don't know. I work 60 hours Monday through Friday and have Sat and Sun to spend with my kids and family all day if I want. Not to mention 3-4 hours in the afternoon and evening. I don't think I have a shitty ass life.
    Exactly, man, I was beginning to think I was the only one.
    Taylor Swift is nice to look at. Adele can sing.

    Emperor Brett - "I can't believe you guys are analyzing song-by-song Van Halen III? What next, analyzing the script of Stroker Ace looking for some shred of Citizen Kane?"

    David Lee Roth did the impossible. He made Van Halen better. Deal with it!

    Preferred pronouns: he/him/his

    Hurricane Halen - Let's all gingery touch our sword tips!!!

    DONATE TO THE LINKS YA CHEAP BASTARDS!!!!

  14. #14
    Forum Frontman It's Mike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave's Dreidel View Post
    What world do you guys live in?

    I get up at five, am at my desk by six, work until five, home by six, spend three hours with the family, and then do my hobbies or work a little bit after they go to bed.

    That is how you do sixty hours, and still spend three hours a day with your family during the work week and have all weekend free.

    Sixty hours is easy.
    for you it might be. For most it's a ridiculous thing to think.

    does your wife work? If she doesn't then it changes things completley, most of us have wives who work which makes scheduling a 60 hour work week impossible.

    For me to spend on average 60 hours a week in the office I'd either not see my kids at all M-F or barely see them Mon-Sat.

  15. #15
    Atomic Punk ziggysmalls's Avatar
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    Unless something has changed over the last time I stopped into GC, one doesn't really require a special skill to be employed there. Training is minimal and while have some musical knowledge is helpful, its certainly not required. I mean they really are no different than a sales person at Best Buy. You shouldn't be looking at that as a career type job unless you happen to work at their corporate office as a purchaser, accountant, network admin, etc.

    I don't see why they need to be unionized. Then again I don't see the need for some UAW needing to help a guy get 35 dollars an hour here at the Chevy plant so he can move a piece of sheet metal onto a machine. Press a button to have it stamped and then move the sheet to another pile. Repeat for 8 hours. My friend does that.

    Anyway I am sure that DD might be compensated for his extra hours. If not, he has to realize the graveyard is full of irreplaceable men and women.

    My wife works 6 days a week so I know how people get caught up in that. However we have our own store so additional hours are needed.

    Anyway GC can fire every one of their employees and be back up and running in a month without any major hiccup. Sure they may lose some customers who have zero idea of musical equipment but most people who go in there, know exactly what they are looking for

 

 

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