Guitar Center Strikes Sour Note With ALJ

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By Rhonda Smith

Nov. 8 — Guitar Center Stores Inc. violated federal labor law by refusing for almost two years to bargain in good faith on first contract proposals for workers in Chicago, Las Vegas and New York City, an administrative law judge decided ( Guitar Center Stores Inc., 2016 BL 370953, NLRB ALJ, No. CA-130446, 11/7/16).

Company officials “engaged in numerous tactics designed to delay negotiations,” ALJ Charles J. Muhl ruled. The retailer, which sells musical instruments at 260 stores in the U.S., violated Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act by engaging in “surface bargaining,” he said in reference to a strategy that impedes parties from reaching agreement.

Guitar Center tactics included not providing union officials with comprehensive wage counterproposals for months and “never making a counterproposal with respect to health insurance during the entirety of bargaining,” Muhl wrote in a Nov. 7 decision.

‘Glad to Have Been Vindicated.’

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and its members “are glad to have been vindicated by the judge’s finding that Guitar Center failed to negotiate in good faith, and illegally withdrew recognition of the union,” Phil Andrews, director of the RWDSU’s retail organizing project, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 8.

In July 2015, Peter Sung Ohr, regional director for NLRB Region 13 in Chicago, issued a consolidated unfair labor practice complaint against Guitar Center, based in Westlake Village, Calif. The complaint alleged that the employer unlawfully threatened workers with reduced benefits because of their union membership, refused to discuss certain wage plans and discouraged workers from engaging in union activities ( Guitar Center Stores Inc., NLRB Reg’l Dir., No. 13-CA-130446, complaint issued 7/24/15).

The RWDSU alleged in various ULP charges that Guitar Center unlawfully withdrew union recognition at affected stores in New York City in June 2014 and in Las Vegas in November 2014.

“This decision will only make the union campaign at Guitar Center stronger,” Andrews said, noting that workers at a store in Pittsburgh voted for RWDSU representation in March. The RWDSU is an affiliate of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Guitar Center representatives didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment. The company “denies the allegations and asserts it was engaged in hard, but lawful, bargaining,” the ALJ decision noted.

ALJ’s Recommendations

Muhl recommended that the NLRB order Guitar Center to meet, upon request, with the union and “bargain in good faith concerning the terms and conditions of employment” in each of the three bargaining units.

The NLRB certified the election results in June 2013 for the Guitar Center store in New York City, in October 2013 for its counterpart in Chicago and in November 2014 for the store in Las Vegas.

Muhl also recommended that, because the RWDSU was not afforded a full opportunity to bargain during the certification years, “a 12-month extension to the certification year in each bargaining unit is appropriate.”

Muhl also ordered the company to rescind a change to its sales discount policy, which had financial benefits for employees, at the stores in the three cities. Guitar Center must “make whole any bargaining unit employees who suffered losses as a result of this unilateral change,” he said.

Affected stores in Chicago, Las Vegas and Manhattan also must post, within 14 days, notices outlining employee rights under the NLRA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rhonda Smith in Washington, D.C. at rsmith@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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