When I started my job at Guitar Center on 14th Street in Manhattan three years ago, some of my coworkers said that it used to be decent place to work. Many of us were working musicians, spending all our free time rehearsing and playing with our bands. I loved the opportunity to learn about the latest gear and meet other musicians through the store. Unfortunately, a few years before I started, the company was bought by the infamous private equity firm Bain Capital (later, another firm called Ares Management would get involved.). After Bain took over, working conditions and pay began to decline.
So after years of broken promises and ever-worsening conditions, we organized with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU/UFCW) in 2013, with our colleagues in Chicago and Las Vegas following soon after. (Allegro covered the story in its June 2013 issue; search the archives at www.Local802afm.org.)
Guitar Center launched an aggressive union busting campaign, hiring anti-union firms to prevent more of our co-workers from organizing and making our lives difficult in the store. As a member of the bargaining committee, I witnessed firsthand how the company dragged out negotiations for years. They refused to seriously consider our proposals, and instead took our ideas and instituted them in non-union stores. The company was trying to make an example out of us. But we fought back by holding rallies, leafletting at stores around the country, recruiting artists to join our Musician’s Alliance, starting online petitions and eventually filing charges against the company.
Thankfully, the National Labor Relations Board agreed with us, charging Guitar Center in 2015 with a huge national complaint alleging bad faith bargaining, illegal withdrawal of union recognition, and discrimination against union employees. We are anxiously awaiting a verdict from the trial that resulted from the complaint.
Meanwhile, workers around the country continue to join the campaign, most recently in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, where sales associates won their union election a few months ago. Won’t you stand with us at this critical moment in the campaign? You can drop us a line at ChangeGuitarCenter@gmail.com and we’ll add your name to our Musician’s Alliance and keep you posted on developments in the campaign.
Anim Arnold is a sales associate with Guitar Center.