- August 31, 2021
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FORT LEE – You may have seen the giant inflatable rat outside of the Sisisky Gate on Oaklawn Boulevard. The people standing around it are picketing Fort Lee’s three barber shops, alleging that the contractor in charge of operations is underpaying them.
The barbers say that when Sheffield Barbers took over the shops at Fort Lee and one at Fort Pickett, their pay was immediately reduced. Sheffield took over shortly before the pandemic.
The barbers’ pay was reduced from 55% of each $12.15 haircut, to 55% of $11.25 – the price per haircut from 2017. All the while, they say the price of a haircut was increased to $13, but their pay rate has not moved.
Sheffield Barbers issued a statement Tuesday morning in which it says the striking stylists are engaging in misinformation.
“These allegations are simply not true,” said Christina Deardeuff, a co-owner for Sheffield Barbers. “Sheffield Barbers is paying and has always paid the barbers consistent with the plain language of the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between LIUNA and the company that ran the barber shops before Sheffield took over.”
By its estimate, Sheffield’s barbers at Fort Lee averaged $22.48 per hour before tips in the six-week period before the strike. They estimate that with tips, the average barber was making about $35.32 per hour, with the highest earner making $59.56 per hour.
“Despite these very fair wages, at the time LIUNA went on strike, Sheffield had proposed a wage increase for the barbers,” Dearduff said in the statement. “However, LIUNA demanded more even after it was shown that its wage demands would put Sheffield in the red for its Ft. Lee and Ft. Pickett operations.”
Sheffield claims that LIUNA has yet to appeal the National Labor Relations Board or pursue grievance under the collective bargaining agreement.
The contractor also said that it has shown “time and time again that it cares for workers,” having paid its employees full salaries for eight weeks while shut down by COVID-19. The Missouri-based company did receive over $1 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, nearly all of which was forgiven by the government.
Also said it has now filed an unfair labor practices charge against LiUNA for “making unlawful threats and unlawfully intimidating the employees who are coming to work.”
Related:‘I don’t want to have to leave’: Fort Lee barbers strike over alleged unfair wage structure
Related:‘I gave these people 110%:’ Fort Lee barber strike continues, no word from contractor
Candise Nicholas owns ALBC School of Barbering and Cosmetology in Petersburg with her husband. The school teaches barbering and cosmetology techniques, as well as Business, Project Management and Cost Studies skills to its students.
Nichols says that the average men’s haircut in the Tri-Cities can cost anywhere between $25 to $35. Unlike barbers at Fort Lee, most private barbers will make 100% of that amount, rather than 55% of a fee. However, private barbers have larger overhead costs. They typically have to rent their spaces and pay for all of their tools themselves.
Nichols says that a typical private barber can finish about one head every 30-40 minutes, eventually coming out to somewhere around $40 per hour. That includes when times are slower, and busier based on the day.
Despite the price of a haircut being lower at Fort Lee, barbers on base are known for their speed, being able to push out 40 to 50 heads per day.
Union representative, KC Doggette, says that no matter what rate Sheffield is offering, it still decreased workers pay from where it was under the previous contractor when it took over.
He says it has everything to do with the contractor’s “interpretation” of the contract for the business. Wording for the document carries over when a new
“It’s not consistent, they’re just trying to interpret the language to say they will give 55% of the posted price starting [at the 2017] date, and it will remain like that throughout the contract. That’s just the start date,” Doggette said.
LiUNA says it is false that they haven’t attempted to go to the National Labor Relations Board. Doggette says he petitioned the governing body under the previous presidential regime. He said the NLRB wouldn’t hear the barbers’ case, saying the language in the contract was correct. That case has since been refiled with the NLRB, adding that the contractor made a “unilateral change” in the workers pay.
The affidavit for that case was just submitted Tuesday, Aug. 3. The union should hear whether the Board will hear its case within the coming month.
LiUNA said it has yet to receive any charges filed against it by Sheffield Barbers as of Tuesday.
You can reach Sean Jones at email@example.com. Follow him at @SeanJones_PI. Follow The Progress-Index on Twitter at @ProgressIndex.