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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

February 12, 2008

Schenectady barbers want Mondays off

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 8:08 pm

CautionBadHairN As Carolyn Elefant has been saying for years (and argues in her acclaimed new book Solo by Choice), one of the great advantages of owning your own small business as a sole proprietor is having greater control over “quality of life” issues, such as which days and hours you will work. Of course, most solo lawyers don’t have perfect control of their time — court schedules, client emergencies and deadlines, and tasks that take much longer than expected to handle diligently, can at times make it quite difficult for a solo lawyer to keep to a rigid schedule.

[image from]

The same cannot be said, however, for barbers. If you own a barbershop, you can pretty much call the shots when it comes to when you’re open for business. A customer’s bad hair day or important social engagement poses no big social expectation or ethical obligation to provide your services during designated off-hours. You post a sign and expect your patrons to abide by it. If you want to make an exception for a loyal client, you do. Sure, there will be marketplace forces that tempt you to increase your hours to attract or keep some customers, but each barbershop owner has to decide for himself or herself which values are most important, and whether work-life balance wins out over financial needs or desires.

With those assumptions in mind, along with my usual pro-consumer and pro-competition biases as a former antitrust lawyer, I was rather bemused seeing the lead business-section article in the Schenectady Sunday Gazette, with the headline “Clash of barbers: Should shops be closed on Mondays?: Unionized barber waging battle to keep traditional day off” (February 10, 2008). As reporter James Schlett explains, Richard DiCristofaro, owner of Wedgeway Barber Shop in Schenectady, considers it a “cardinal sin” that a barber in neighboring Rotterdam was open on the Monday before Christmas, and decries the “greed” of those who violate the 60-year agreement of local barbers not to work on Mondays, which allows them to all have a five-day workweek. The article explains:

“At least in Schenectady, Mondays are turning into the latest front in unions’ battle against the global and corporate forces that are trimming away the benefits organized workers fought for during much of the 20th century. At his 96-year-old shop on Erie Boulevard, [Richard] DiCristofaro is mounting a spring campaign designed to turn union supporters against barbers who offer haircuts on Mondays.

“For the past few weeks, DiCristofaro — the former president of the Schenectady Barbers’ Union Local 176 — has become more vocal about the Monday issue. He has run advertisements criticizing the practice in The Daily Gazette and sought support from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1.

“ ‘They’ve always done as they please, which is fine. What we want to do is make people aware that they’re not union,’ DiCristofaro said.”

BadHairDayG Perhaps the legal experts at Antitrust Review or the Employment Blawg will let me know if my analysis is off, but here’s my reaction to Mr. DiCristofaro (which I also made in a comment to the online Gazette article):

  • No matter what they call themselves, this group of barbershop owners is not a union — they’re small businessmen and, most important, competing sellers of a service, acting together in a trade association.

By agreeing not to open on Mondays, and by trying to force other shops to close on Mondays, the “union” of barbers is really a cartel engaging in collective action that appears to violate the antitrust law.

  • Antitrust law considers joint action by competing sellers — aimed at either other sellers or their customers — to dictate the terms of service (such as hours of business) to be unlawful boycotts. It doesn’t matter if the competitors are “little guys” or even “goodfellas.”
  • Thus, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Federal Trade Commission in 1990 that a group of solo practice lawyers, who served as assigned counsel for indigent defendants, were competitors and could not engage in a boycott to get better terms of service, even if they were acting to protect constitutional rights. [see FTC v. Sup. Ct. Trial Lawyers Ass’n, 493 U.S. 411 (1990); and our posting about the Mass. Bar Advocates].
  • More important, in the late 1980’s, the Supreme Court confirmed the FTC’s conclusion that Detroit Area Auto Dealers could not agree to be closed on Saturdays, even if they did so to keep their employees happy, or to achieve other social benefits. [see “Car Dealers Lose Ruling” (AP/New York Times, March 3, 1989); “More dealers open Saturdays” (Detroit News, March 9, 2005); and continuing FTC action in Detroit Auto Dealers Association, Inc, Docket No. 9189]
  • Barbers are independent business owners, who have every right to close on whatever day they want to close or to allow employees to have two days off a week, in order to seek life balance goals. But, they cannot act together to deprive consumers of the choice of getting a haircut on a Monday, or to coerce competitors to limit operations to five days a week. Loyal clients will fit their haircut requirements into their barber’s schedule — or, as they have every right to do (and if that loyalty has not been earned), find a shop that accommodates their needs or convenience.

For me, calling themselves a union does a disservice to real unions (composed solely of employees) and the “unionized” barbers should not be pressuring members of genuine employee unions to help coerce competing barbers to close on Mondays. Over the decades (like auto dealers in Detroit), barbers have put bricks through the windows of many shops that stayed open on the “wrong” days. (I remember hearing about such efforts in my hometown, Rochester, NY, in the 1960’s, where barbers tried to enforce competitors to close on Wednesdays.) Let’s hope Schenectady’s disgruntled barbers have the courage to act individually on their convictions (even if it loses them customers), rather than behaving in ways that might get them convicted.

again, the bald barber
cuts my hair
too short

as the professor speaks
only his bald spot
is illuminated

BadHairDayG ……… by George Swede from Almost Unseen

holiday rush
the barber speaks wistfully
of the sixties

late day showers…
my hair gel

…………………. by ed markowski

disinfectant jar –
there must be 14 or 15
barber’s combs

……………………… by Michael Dylan Welch
Shiki Haikusphere 10th Anniversary Anthology (2007)

barber’s sweepings
a touch of grey splits
man and boy

letting go…
cherry blossom drifts
into cut hair

. . . ………………… by matt morden at Morden Haiku

my childhood barber shop–
only the mirror
has changed

………………… by dagosan

p.s. The Wedgeway Barber Shop is located in the same building as The Grog Shoppe, the last place where “Ed,” the infamously anonymous Editor of Blawg Review, was sighted in Schenectady last week. (read Ed’s account here)

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