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Piercers Poke Their Way Into Union ‘One-Sided’ Contract Prompts Four Workers To Join Local 101

Sun., Feb. 1, 1998

Four piercers, who make a living punching tiny metal studs into noses, tongues and other places, have made history by forming the first union shop for their profession in the nation.

Frustrated by what they deemed a “heavy-handed employment contract,” employees at a Castro piercing salon voted 3-1 in mid-January to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 101, whose diverse membership includes dental office employees, taxidermists, grocery store clerks and rendering plant employees.

“It’s just another aspect of retail,” said Bill Fiore, director of organizing for Local 101. “They (piercers) are selling a service and selling jewelry. … It’s just that a lot of jewelry stores don’t pierce where they do.”

At issue for the piercers was a new contract with a five-year, non-competition clause that said employees could not use their experience to open another shop or get a piercing job elsewhere in a county where the shop owner, Gauntlet Inc., operates. Other parts of the contract they found objectionable dealt with changes in disability requirements and quotas of 16 piercings per day.

“The idea of a contract was not what we felt offended by,” senior piercer Taj Waggaman said. “It was that it was so one-sided, not mutual.”

Russell Kassman of San Francisco, the majority stockholder in Gauntlet Inc., said he had no idea what the problems were with the contract and denies that quotas are used.

“We never had quotas, nor will we,” he said.

He also disputes the union’s contention that former employee Paul King was fired for his part in organizing the collective bargaining unit. Local 101 has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board on King’s behalf. Firing someone for union organizing is illegal.

Kassman maintains that King was fired for “just cause.”

Gauntlet Inc. has four stores - two in Los Angeles and one each in New York and San Francisco - plus a mail order business and jewelry manufacturing division.

The San Francisco workers were the only ones who voted to unionize.

“Companywide, the employment agreement was embraced,” Kassman said, adding that he will gladly sit down with Local 101 to negotiate a contract. A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

“He’s eager to negotiate,” Fiore said of Kassman. “It’s somewhat refreshing.”

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