Dosha salon employees vote to join CWA 7901

Outside the National Labor Relations Board office March 30, Dosha employees celebrate the news that their union is supported by a majority of their co-workers. In the center is CWA organizer Joe Crane.

Dosha Salon and Spa has become the first local business of its kind to unionize. In ballots counted March 30, hair stylists, massage therapists, nail and makeup specialists and other workers at the company’s four locations voted 79 to 66 to be represented by Portland-based Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901.

Later that night, union supporters celebrated at a downtown Portland restaurant. Winning the union election is the first hurdle. Now employees prepare to bargain a first-ever contract with their employer.

At their first official union meeting that Sunday, about a quarter of Dosha’s union-eligible workforce turned out, several with small children. Some in attendance had voted against unionizing. But union supporters have been reaching out, hoping the 66 co-workers who voted “no” will participate in the contract bargaining process. Meetings like this may dispel some of their fears about unionizing —  like the idea that a union would be an outside party imposing terms on workers. The lively discussion by Dosha employees of what bargaining proposals to consider made it clear the campaign didn’t belong to Local 7901 President Madelyn Elder or organizer Joe Crane, but to the Dosha workers themselves.

Judging by the issues they raised, they won’t be asking for the moon. Guaranteed pension? Fully-paid full-family health care? No, Dosha workers expressed more modest aims, like direct deposit of their paycheck and an end to having to pay $150 for their own training on Aveda products. [Dosha co-owner Ray Motameni is also co-owner of the Aveda Institute Portland where the training takes place. He did not respond to an interview request.]

For some, just having a contract, period, would be grounds for enthusiasm: A union contract, someone said, would be like an employee handbook, but without the clause that management can change the rules at any time.

Other goals include clearer, more accountable pay decisions; more affordable health insurance; more attainable product sales targets; and an easier time taking vacation.

Current conditions have produced relatively high turnover at Dosha, workers say; ex-employees are proliferating at salons around town. As a result, Dosha has gotten a reputation as an undesirable employer, Dosha and other industry workers told the Labor Press.

In the salon industry, image is everything. CWA supporters hope Dosha owners can be persuaded that there’s a business case for increasing the kinds of investments that entice employees to stick around. If so, employees would achieve their goal of turning a starter job into a sustainable career. And the business could recast its image — in a progressive-leaning city — as a business that makes customers beautiful and treats workers with respect.

After the Dosha union vote, the Oregon AFL-CIO issued a call on its web site (oraflcio.org) for people to support the “brothers and sisters” at Dosha by patronizing the salon. The business currently has four locations: 3490 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 2281 NW Glisan St., and 500 SW Washington St., Portland, and Bridgeport Village in Tigard. Appointments for hair, nails, makeup and massage can be made at 503-228-8280.

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