Love it or hate it, if your interests or hobbies are even the slightest bit music-adjacent, the hulking specter of Guitar Center is omnipresent. The big box chain is the world’s largest retailer of guitars, amplifiers, drums, keyboards, recording, live sound, DJ and lighting equipment, and its more than 280 stores dot the strip malls and suburban shopping centers of the United States. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) has been working to organize Guitar Centers hundred of employees since 2013, and, as of today, have notched a major victory: over 100 workers in four stores—in New York (NY), Chicago (IL), Danvers (MA), and Las Vegas (NV)—have unanimously ratified their first union contract. According to a statement from the RWDSU, under the new contract, workers will receive guaranteed base wage increases over the three-year term of the contract and access to union-provided healthcare insurance.
Whilethe future of Guitar Center itself remains uncertain and the current administration continues to erode workers’ rights, its heartening to see that at least a number of its employees have won additional rights and protections for themselves—whether their bosses like it or not. The road to unionization has been a long, often exhausting struggle, exacerbated by Guitar Center management’s union-busting efforts. In addition to the logistical issues and resources needed to launch campaigns at over 280 individual stores, workers and organizers also had to contend with illegal surveillance, discrimination, and threats from their bosses. As we reported last year, on November 7, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board ruled the musical instrument retailer was guilty of breaking multiple labor laws, with offenses pertaining to surveillance, discrimination, bad faith bargaining, illegal withdrawal of union recognition, and threatening their workers with reduced benefits for their union support and/or affiliation.
A MoveOn.org petition signed by a long list of prominent musicians (including Kathleen Hanna, Tom Morello, Ian MacKaye, Laura Jane Grace, Roger Waters, Ted Leo, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, and dozens more) and a national Day of Action drew more attention to the debacle, and now, after the continuing efforts of Guitar Center’s workers and RWDSU organizers, their hours and hours of work and dedication have borne fruit.
“The contract that was ratified tonight wrote the song book for workers in the retail music industry,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Workers from all four stores fought to ensure the voices of their over 100 co-workers were heard – and the company listened. I am extremely proud of the negotiations team involved in this first contract and the provisions they reached in unison.”
“We are excited to finally have an amazing union contract,” said Allison Sorrell, a sales associate at the Chicago, IL store. “This process has restored faith in our company. Without the hours of work our coworkers put into building this contract over the years this would not have been possible.”
Four down, 276 to go!
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey and proud member of WGAE; she’s giving three cheers for organized labor on Twitter.