US: A Dispute Over Unionizing at Montana Hair Salons

Publisher Name: 
New York Times

Keri Gorder, until recently the manager of a hair salon in Great
Falls, Mont., said she was surprised last month by a document that her
company wanted stylists to sign.

Ms. Gorder said the salon's parent company, the Regis Corporation,
had urged the four stylists at her salon, Cost Cutters, to sign a
document that would seemingly nullify any future support they showed
for unionization.

Labor leaders in Montana accuse the company of
seeking to take away the stylists' right to form a union. But Regis
says the document merely seeks to ensure that workers choose unions
through a secret-ballot election - at a time when unions are pushing
legislation in Congress that would make it easy to bypass secret
ballots.

The document the stylists at several Montana salons were
urged to sign said they were agreeing to revoke any future signature
they put on a pro-union card that could be counted as showing support
for unionizing.

"I thought it was taking our right away before we ever exercised that right," Ms. Gorder said.

She
said her area supervisor had pressured the stylists to sign the cards.
"The area supervisor said, 'I would do what the company wants you to
do,' " Ms. Gorder said, adding that she quit her job this month because
of her dismay over the situation.

Soon she informed labor leaders
about the document, and now they are threatening to picket the salon
and hand out pro-union fliers.

"It's the craziest thing I've ever
seen," said Ole Stimac, president of the Central Montana Central Labor
Council. "I've never seen anything where you sign away your rights for
eternity to unionize."

Regis executives said they had distributed
the document out of concern that Congress would enact legislation
backed by labor that would require employers to recognize a union as
soon as a majority of workers signed pro-union cards, without holding a
secret-ballot election.

Paul Finkelstein, chief executive at
Regis, the nation's largest hair salon company, said many employees
signed such pro-union cards without understanding that it could commit
them to joining a union. Mr. Finkelstein said the company's focus
groups showed that employees overwhelmingly favored using secret
ballots to decide whether to join a union.

The document the hair
stylists were asked to sign, titled Protection of Secret Vote
Agreement, 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."

Mr.
Finkelstein said 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.

"The
sole issue is that our people want to use a secret ballot," he said,
asserting that union organizers often manipulate workers into signing
pro-union cards, known as authorization cards.

Mr. Finkelstein added: "We're not threatening people, 'You'd better sign.' It's totally voluntary."

William B. Gould IV, a Stanford law professor and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board,
said, "It seems like a modernized version of the old yellow dog
contract," a provision, now illegal, that many employers used to push
workers to sign, pledging not to join a union as a condition of
employment.

Assessing the salon document, Mr. Gould said, "I
think it's illegal because an authorization card is the principal
vehicle unions use to organize the unorganized."

Under current
law, at least 30 percent of a workplace's employees must sign cards to
lead to a secret-ballot election. Mr. Gould said that under the Regis
document, cards signed to seek a secret ballot would automatically be
revoked.

Mr. Stimac said: "The crazy thing is, this is going on
when there has never been a unionization attempt there. Union people
haven't been there except to get their hair cut."

AMP Section Name:Labor