The new face of labor? Dosha Salon votes whether to unionize

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

Dosha Salon and Spa could become the first salon in Portland to go union in recent times. Its 155 union-eligible employees will vote March 29 and 30 whether they want to join Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901.

Dosha does hair, nails, makeup, and massage. It’s a successful business, with four Portland-area locations and plans to add a fifth later this year. But a group of employees have decided they want more say over their working conditions — and maybe a greater share of the profit, too.

Dosha charges $70 for an hour-long massage, and pays a licensed massage therapist $13 to $17 an hour to perform it. It pays hair stylists as little as Oregon’s $8.50-an-hour minimum wage, while customers pay $35 for a 45-minute haircut. Higher-in-demand stylists can make $20 an hour, with customers paying $70 to $120.

Dosha co-owner Ray Motameni also owns Aveda Institute Portland, and Dosha hires many of its graduates. Students can take out $10,000 in student loans to pay for the training at Motameni’s school, then work at his salon for $11 an hour while they pay off the loans.

Yet money isn’t the top motivation for unionizing, pro-union Dosha workers say. And while they suffer an accumulation of low-level indignities, they have no personal difficulty with owners Ray and Melissa Motameni. More than anything, they see a union as a way to turn a job they love into a career that can sustain them.

The union campaign has been bubbling below the surface for a year and a half, several workers told the Labor Press. It began when a Dosha esthetician talked about work with her friend Cameron Taylor, a business agent for Bakers Local 364. Joe Crane, then the local’s volunteer organizer, met with Taylor and several co-workers, helped them get a committee started, and called around for a union willing to help. Eventually, CWA Local 7901 agreed to sponsor a union organizing drive.

Dosha employees have many motives for unionizing.

  • There are no sick days, so when workers get sick, they must get co-workers to cover them, or work sick and expose their customers, or go to a doctor for a note.
  • Dosha will pay half the health insurance premium for full-time workers, but workers remain uninsured if they can’t afford the other half on their earnings.
  • Employees who work full-time hours get a week’s paid vacation after a year, but if they want to use it, they’re responsible for getting co-workers to cover their shifts.
  • There’s no pension or 401(k).
  • Workers are made to sign broad “non-compete” agreements which forbid them from working their trade within three miles of any Dosha location, during and up to 18 months after employment at Dosha.
  • There’s constant pressure to sell product to their customers. An esthetician, for example, is expected to sell $15 of product per customer — whether they’re paying $16 for a 15-minute brow wax or $65 for an hour-long facial. Stylists sell shampoos. Massage therapists sell oils. They get no commission for the sales, but are written up if they fail to sell enough.
  • Managers set employees’ sales goals each month. Employees are disciplined if they don’t meet them, but have no control over how many clients they’re given, except that they’re expected to re-book.
  • Workers are sometimes talked down to or yelled at by managers for minor infractions or missing sales goals.
  • Employees often start at an hourly wage and later have a chance to be paid on commission, but how the commission is computed is very poorly understood, and they may be automatically docked nearly one-fourth of their commission for product, regardless of how much they actually use.
  • Rules can change at any time.

Union supporters want more affordable health benefits. They’d like to be paid extra if they have to work on Christmas eve. They’d like greater assurance that they’ll get tips their customers give them. [Cash tips don’t always make it to their intended recipients, workers say.]

“I joined the union to make things better,” says esthetician Rachel Voorhies, 26.

Voorhies is part of the third committee of Dosha workers to work on the union campaign at Dosha in the last 18 months. Two previous efforts fizzled when committee members quit or were fired. In late January, Voorhies and co-workers began gathering signatures on official union authorization cards. They kept going until they reached a supermajority of Dosha workers.

On Feb. 22, Voorhies and eight co-workers entered company offices armed with a petition requesting that the company voluntarily recognize their union.

“[Going into the office] they were terrified,” Crane recalls. “But after that, they were jumping up and down. They had conquered their fear.”

Human resources manager Trisha McMakin didn’t agree to union recognition. So the group asked the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a union election, which it set for March 29 and 30.

Owners and managers — with support from some workers — have been campaigning vigorously against unionizing: holding meetings at each location, talking about all the things Dosha does for employees, giving out Blazer tickets and spa packages. Right-wing talk radio host Lars Larson gave an anti-union Dosha worker five minutes on his March 8 show.

But pro-union workers say management’s campaign has sometimes backfired. Crowing that stylists make $23.71 an hour plus tips isn’t persuasive to a room full of stylists making $11. Loving testimonials by favored employees who have risen rapidly in the company only further the sense that the rest of them need a fairer, more transparent system of pay and promotion to replace the current system based on arbitrary management decisions.

Since Feb. 22, the two camps have set up dueling Facebook pages, but the pro-union page is trouncing its counterpart. At last count, 431 Facebook users are signed onto the Dosha Workers Unite group, compared to 231 for Dosha As Is. The pages make for entertaining and revealing reading. Dosha Workers Unite has a consistently positive and enthusiastic tone. Workers comment that they love the job, and want it to be a career. Dosha As Is, by contrast, is broadly anti-union, with hyperventilating posts like this one from stylist Shaddie Yazd: “It angers me to no end that these moronic, inexperienced, selfish people think they have any right to change or take away something that Ray and Melissa have worked so hard for.”

If it succeeds, Dosha would be the only large union-represented salon in Portland. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 represents 11 barber shops and salons [See below], but they’re small shops, brought into the union in 1980 when it absorbed the tiny Barbers, Beauticians and Allied Industries International Association. A union at Dosha would be an altogether new creature in an overwhelmingly non-union industry. It would be whatever Dosha workers make of it.

Union cut

At 11 barber shops and beauty salons in Oregon and Southwest Washington, a shave and a haircut costs more than six bits, but your patronage supports wages and benefits of those rendering the service — members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555.

Carman and Co Salon, 1133 SW Market St., Suite 200, Portland. 503-224-3171
Donovan’s Barber Shop, 12344 SE Division St, Portland. 503-761-977
Marshall Union Manor Salon of Beauty, 2020 NW Northrup St., Portland. 503-248-9917
Sam’s Barber Shop, 2430 SE 182nd Ave., Portland. 503-661-7989
Mirror Image Hair & Nail Salon, Albany. 541-791-3910
Frank’s Barber Shop, Astoria. 503-338-4700
First Edition Hair Designs, Eugene. 541-689-7004
Split Ends Salon, Eugene. 541-683-1317
Dick Rowe’s Clip Snip & Style, Creswell. 541 895-4500
Jesse’s Barber Shop, Grants Pass. 541-474-1004
Sportsmen’s Barber Shop, White Salmon, Washington. 509-493-2120

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