Tompkins Workers’ Center Labor Complaint Contributes to Federal Action Against Regis Corporation (Cost Cutters) [VIDEO]

(Ithaca, NY) The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a complaint late Friday against the Minneapolis-based Regis Corporation, which operates some 10,000 hair salons nationally under 34 different brand-names, ordering Regis to cease and desist in its illegal actions. In the complaint, the NLRB investigated and then determined that the Regis Corporation had illegally solicited employees to promise in writing that they would not sign union authorization cards in the future. The investigation commenced as a result of an Unfair Labor Practice complaint filed by the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) on behalf of two workers in Ithaca, NY, as well as workers in Minneapolis and Indianapolis, with the NLRB.

The NLRB complaint says that, in a DVD played to employees across the country (including to workers at the Ithaca, NY Cost Cutters, as detailed by Amber Little and TJ Goehner, now members of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center), the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Paul Finkelstein, warned that hair stylists would be blacklisted from the industry if they supported a union (something that Amber Little herself experienced after being terminated after 4 years at Cost Cutters). In the recording, he exhorted employees to sign a “Protection of Secret Vote Agreement’, which would prospectively revoke any union authorization cards in the future.

The complaint states the remedies being sought, including:

* an order requiring the Regis Corporation to produce a new DVD in which CEO Finkelstein will read an NLRB notice about the illegal acts, to be played to all employees throughout the 10,000 stores;

* an order to post a standard Notice to Employees at all of its stores describing the remedy and how it broke the law by inhibiting the organizing of workers.

Lance Compa, labor law professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) in Ithaca, New York, said, “The evidence in this case is not a smoking gun. It is a smoking cannon. The NLRB has taken strong action by consolidating this case at a national level and seeking extraordinary remedies to address management’s truly shocking behavior. The workers, too, deserve credit for standing up for their rights.What the company did here is a throwback to the 1920s era of “yellow dog contracts” [requiring workers to sign promises never to join a union or not get hired] which were made illegal by the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932, combined with modern union-busting tactics like captive-audience meetings and DVDs filled with threats. Similarly, ordering employees to report each other’s union activities to management is a flat-out violation of the National Labor Relations Act and of workers’ freedom of association.”

Amber Little, a single working mother of two young children, had been fired from her position in January 2010 at Cost Cutters in Ithaca due to protesting a Regis policy that required hair stylists to sell hair care products equaling 15% of their hair cutting revenue. Meanwhile, Amber, like most other Cost Cutters workers, was paid $8.oo/hour.

As a result of Little’s termination, and with her help, the TCWC then got in touch with a number of other workers at the Ithaca Cost Cutters who took ‘concerted action’ (a ‘protected activity’ as defined by the National Labor Relations Act definition of two or more workers addressing their employer about improving their working conditions and pay, and a natural precursor to unionizing) by expressing to Cost Cutters what they believed to be an unfair policy (and thereby protecting their jobs).

“Had I known that I could have helped to organize a union to protest what I thought were unfair working conditions at Cost Cutters”, said Little, “I would have done that in a heartbeat! This whole thing with being forced to sign this anti-union agreement has helped to educate me a great deal about what it actually means to be in and actually organize a union.” (Little now has her own ‘chair’ in A Personal Touch Hair Salon at Bishop’s Small Mall, behind Triphammer Mall in Ithaca)

Another worker, TJ Goehner, who worked with Little at Cost Cutters and who resigned in protest over Little’s unfair termination, says, “People have to join together to get stuff moving to challenge the corporations. If it’s just one person, it’s never going to happen. You get a whole group of people saying something is unfair, you’ll get a lot more action, than by just sitting there and taking it. No one should be threatened to lose their job in a down economy”.

Perhaps the deepest irony about the egregious actions of the Regis Corporation is the fact that Amber Little had very little knowledge of what it meant to organize with other workers. As a result of the Regis Corporation ‘yellow dog contract’, Little, and many other workers for Regis Corporation will now know that organizing with other workers is a legitimate way to change their working conditions for the better.