FORT LEE – Fifteen barbers gathered to picket outside the Sisisky Gate on Friday. It had been twelve days since they began an unfair labor practices strike against Sheffield Barbers, and they had yet to hear from the contractor about meeting their demands.
They were standing outside the doorway to Oaklawn Boulevard with signs reading “ULP Striking,” “File ICE Complaint Ft Lee Barbers” and urging people to honk their horns in support.
Apparently every minute a large truck passing in front of them accepted the offer and honked for several seconds as it drove past.
About 20 barbers organized under LiUNA Local Union 572 strike against Sheffield Barbers for underpaying them. Barbers have historically made 55% of the sticker price for a haircut at the base’s three barber shops – plus one in Fort Pickett.
Barbers say that once Sheffield secured the contract for these facilities, it began giving barbers 55% of $ 11.25, the price of 2017, while increasing the actual cost of a haircut to $ 13.
Picketer Matt Macklin retired from the base barber shop after working there for 48 years. He said he heard about the salary fiasco while attending a funeral. One of the other attendees said they would picket and asked if he wanted to join us.
“I said, ‘This is it, I’ll be there,’ Macklin said.
During his decades of haircuts, Macklin got to know his fellow barbers as a family. Often times, you stood next to the same barber for 16 years. It is a hair salon that is known for its longevity. Once a barber is there, they usually work there for life. He wanted to show his support for the institution he came to love.
“I don’t like the way they treat these guys,” Macklin said.
Many of the base store barbers have been civilians their entire lives, but Eugene Harris served for 21 years before becoming a barber. He is a retired automotive sergeant and was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait before ending his military career.
“I understand the importance of appearance,” said Harris. “When soldiers arrive, they want to look presentable because their job depends on it. I know what a soldier is supposed to look like, I know what a soldier is not supposed to look like.
Army Regulation 670-1 sets the standard for army uniform and appearance, including grooming policies.
Ar670-1 says soldiers should be proud of their appearance. Although many hairstyles are allowed, they must be “neat and conservative” according to the regulations. Male haircuts cannot fall below the eyebrows or touch the collar. Longer feminine hairstyles should be set above the lower edge of the collar and also avoid falling below the eyebrows.
A specific line is aimed at hair that does not separate naturally. The regulation says that the soldier with this type of hair can style his hair with only one part and that it must be a completely straight line.
These are standards Harris says he’s intimately familiar with and can ensure base soldiers are respected.
Since Sheffield Barbers got their contract just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed stores across the country, Harris said many of their customers were aware of their barbers’ pay situation, which puts them in a delicate position.
“It’s a little difficult because it makes customers want to tip more, and they shouldn’t have to make up for what the contractor doesn’t do,” Harris said. “They are trying to compensate for that. It’s not fair to put that on the soldiers, they don’t make a lot of money in the first place.
Barbers argue that the increase in haircut prices, combined with their lower wages, means the entrepreneur is pocketing extra money rather than concentrating the income on his staff. A customer says this is a huge mistake.
Kevin Philips is a retired military veteran who has worked and had his hair cut at Fort Lee for six years. He says he won’t be returning to the Fort Lee store until the dispute is resolved in favor of the barbers.
“I even called the entrepreneur to express the relationship we have,” said Philips. “I’m just not willing to go back and start all over with someone else at this particular point.”
This relationship is what he says he will miss, most of the barbers on the base don’t have their demands met and decide to leave.
“A barber is a stylist; they know what you want. You don’t have to explain how you want your cut. But you also build a personal relationship with them. I know his family, he knows mine, ”said Philips.
Now running a grassroots agency, Philips added that losing these barbers would be a terrible mistake as they have become an institution, with a number of barbers who are long-time employees.
“People think you can just slide something in and slide it out. It takes a whole process of reconstruction. In my mind, [Sheffield] made [itself] bad service because barbers have a known product that has been producing for years, ”said Philips. “I don’t think they see this loss, it’s going to be a loss.”
Currently, temporary barbers have been hired in place of those who go on strike. Sheffield Barbers also advertises barbers on Indeed.com. The listing says she is looking for 8-10 people and is offering a pay rate of up to $ 70 an hour. Barbers say it’s way above the compensation they’re asking for.
While knocking, many barbers have gone completely without a paycheck. A barber, Mike Kates, has cut the hair of several of his former clients while advertising for more clients on social media to help make ends meet. Kates said it felt like a waiting game, with Sheffield just waiting to see how long the strike would last.
One of the base’s newer barbers, Delvon Jackon, is one of the barbers who don’t have a salary. He said unless the salary is reset to 55% of the sticker price, he will not return to work at Fort Lee.
“I gave these people 110% and it makes sense that you treat your employees well,” Jackson said.