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Friday, September 4, 2015

Emeryville Guitar Center Violates Minimum Wage Ordinance Says Employees

Minimum Wage Ordinance Violations:
City Attorney Investigates Guitar Center 

Employees of the Guitar Center store on Shellmound Street have filed complaints with the City of Emeryville alleging their employer is not paying them the proper wage as the new Minimum Wage Ordinance mandates the Tattler has learned.  Employees say they're being paid $12.25 per hour and the store manager has violated the $14.44 per hour provisions mandated by the Ordinance for every Emeryville employer with 56 or more employees.
The employees say the manager is telling the City the store formerly had more than 55 employees but he had fired enough of them before the new law took effect on July 2nd to bring down the number of employees to 55, the cut off point requirement between the two differing wages.  The contention is that the store still has more than 55 employees according to the employees and that even if the manager was correct that he had fired the requisite number of employees, the Ordinance provides for employee counts to be averaged over the preceding fiscal quarter and that average for Guitar Center was in excess of 55 employees.  The manager failed to understand how employees are counted by the City before he started firing them they allege.

The Guitar Center is further violating the Minimum Wage Ordinance in other ways by misrepresenting the nature of its business the employees say.  The manager is attempting to portray the Shellmound Street business as two businesses to the City in order to employ more than the 55 employee cut off by claiming a portion of the store, the so called 'Guitar Center studios', is a separate business they say. Further, the employees were not properly informed of their rights because the manager failed to post required documents they say.

An employee complainant who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals from the store manager told the Tattler the employees at Guitar Center intend on forcing the store to obey the Ordinance and they expect to receive their legitimately earned back pay, "I was excited that the citizens of Emeryville agree with so many other Americans that people deserve to be paid a living wage.  I find it disheartening that the Guitar Center is subverting that" the employee said of the new law and the manager's attempts to bypass it.
Michael Guina, Emeryville's City Attorney said the City is actively taking up the issue, "We're in the initial stages of the investigation of the Guitar Center employee's complaints.  If we find evidence of wrong doing, we will work with the employer to make sure they comply with the ordinance".

Guitar Center, which is majority-owned by private equity firms Ares Management and former Republican Party presidential aspirant Mitt Romney's Bain Capital, has had a long history of labor strife including union quashing.  The Nation did an expose piece in 2013 on Guitar Center's employee mistreatment centering on low employee pay and sleazy tactics.

The Emeryville store manager could not be reached for comment.


  1. My God this stinks to high heaven! Thank you for reporting this and please please make sure you follow up. I really want to know what happens with this. That manager sure sounds like a lowly creature. Let's make sure he gets his comeuppance!

    OK everybody; not in our town!!!

  2. Your reporting is inaccurate. You state "the Ordinance provides for employee counts to be averaged over the preceding fiscal quarter". It does not. There is no text in the MWO that states this (or feel free to correct me and provide the text that mentions this). This concept of using the prior quarter to determine the number of current employees was an invention of the city staff that doesn't align with the text of the passed ordinance.

    If the Studios and the Store are separate businesses under law (that is, they are separately incorporated), then the employee is wrong and the employer is correct. It's very likely that this is the case as these are very different types of businesses. The store is a retail outlet selling equipment. The studios are a service business renting space and, I believe, providing lessons. It is extremely common in businesses that have both a retail and a service arm that those two businesses are separated. Insurance of each half of the business, for example, and state regulations which apply only to one or the other business type would be very different for each side, so having them combined together would create all sorts of problems.

    Also, didn't this blog report that minimum wage increases do not cause job loss? But here, it seems pretty apparent that they do.

    1. The information about the employee counts determined from the previous quarter come directly from the City Attorney Michael Guina. So if the City Attorney is incorrect about this law, then the story is incorrect.

      The separate businesses claim is being investigated by Mr Guina but if there are two separate business licenses, then there's a pretty good argument the two businesses are separate entities.

      This blog has never claimed there would be no job losses if the new minimum wage ordinance is passed. I did opine that there would likely be businesses that go under as a result of the ordinance and those failing businesses are not viable and as such not welcome in Emeryville. If a business is so badly run that it can only afford to pay poverty wages that needs to be supplemented by government welfare then we don't want that business here.

    2. Ok, point taken, we agree that the MWO will cost some people their jobs.

      In terms of businesses we want in Emeryville, what about businesses that take unskilled workers from unemployment and 100% dependence on government assistance and turn them into skilled employees who now only require minimal assistance and have the skills to seek out higher wages? I think these are exactly the kind of business we need more of.

      Also, what about businesses that go out of their way to give opportunities to young people and the disadvantaged? think these are important businesses to our community too.

      If I had never been allowed to work for what I was worth when I was twenty, I wouldn't have a job today. At that time, what was most important to me wasn't renting an apartment (that is, making a "living wage"), it was getting some experience. When I was in school, my main priority was someone who would put up with my class schedule. When I took an unpaid internship, I didn't want a "living wage". I wanted to work in a field I knew nothing about and mostly wanted patience with my lack of knowledge or ability.

      If we forbid people from investing in themselves and forbid businesses from helping people start a path out of poverty, then we are cutting the young and unskilled off from any hope of a future.

      There is a balance between having a minimum wage that is too low and having one that is too high. I think Emeryville made the mistake of going way too high, way too fast. We can't be so certain we know what's right for workers that we make it illegal for them to do what's right for themselves.

    3. Thanks for your opinions. Your experience in your 20's is an outlier. We know the statistical demographic of who takes minimum wage's not college students. It's mostly single mothers trying to feed their families.

    4. "It's mostly single mothers trying to feed their families" This is incorrect.

      - Disproportionately young: 50.4% are ages 16 to 24; 24% are teenagers (ages 16 to 19).
      - Mostly (77%) white; nearly half are white women.
      - Largely part-time workers (64% of the total).


    5. The alternative set of facts. Yes I know all about that. Bully on you to whip it out with such bravado. But the question then of course becomes how should public policy be formulated? Sean Hannity et al exposes their facts from the right wing alternative world. And then there's science based facts. The measurable fact base. I think public policy should use the measurable based facts because the right wing alternative set of facts can't be quantified and policy makers need to defend their decisions. They could be later questioned: "Why did you use Sean Hannity's facts when you could have used Rush Limbaugh's facts" (presuming a slight difference).

      Much has been made about this schism between the left and the right in recent've heard about the right wing war on science...that's the right wing fact world battling the measurable based fact world. But what's not been documented is how the rise of the right wing alternative fact world actually crashed our economy. Capitalism requires the notion of the enlightened self interested (consumers) to work. The idea of course is people will work rationally in their own interest and that force expanded is what makes for rational markets and is the basis for the working frame of capitalism. The right wing economist Allen Greenspan was at a loss at the end of his career, as to why markets had not operated rationally in 2008 at the onset crash to the Great Recession. He famously noted his entire life had been devoted to the rational markets concept and he and other neo-classical economists despaired of the impossible spectacle come to life....irrational markets. But in fact the markets were acting rationally when hedge fund managers et al purposely destroyed the economy. They knew that capitalism cannot function without consumers getting information (to act rationally). Free flow of reliable information is a critical element without which the whole free market enterprise becomes unstable and collapses. The insiders saw the rise of an alternative set of facts foisted upon the system over the years by right wing think tanks as a great destabilizing force and an existential threat. They did what a rational person would do seeing the endgame approach: they took all they could while they still could.

    6. Sorry, I could get halfway through your rant. Do you have some alternative, non-partisan data to share that I can compare?

    7. So do you mean by your use of the word 'rant' the standard English usage?: To speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way.?

      You'll note the cap lock is not used, the standard for written 'shouting'. So I take it you mean: to speak at length in a free and impassioned way. To that I say yes...I'm passionate about creating a just city and society, I'm willing to use the space it requires to make a lucid point on my blog and I use the words I mean to use (usually). To not be passionate about that could arguably be called 'not caring about justice' (you perhaps?).

      Perhaps you meant to use the word 'rant' in a pejorative sense and I would have to say in that case my charge of you're not caring about increasing justice in our city would have to apply. And to that I say: thanks for letting us know how you feel. Want to use your name instead of 'anonymous'? It would carry more weight. Your choice.

      RE non-partisan data: see below.

  3. Brian, thanks for hosting this conversation on your blog. It's really great to hear the different opinions, and I think it's great evidence that you're allowing both sides to post their thoughts.

    Based on this thread, I was curious what percentage of minimum wage workers actually are poor single mothers, so I started Googling and here's what I came up with for anyone interested:
    "Poor single mothers comprise less than five percent of all minimum wage workers."

    I found this interesting also.

    "A 2010 study by Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser found that only 11.3 percent of workers who would benefit from raising the wage to $9.50 an hour would come from poor households. An earlier study by Sabia found that single mothers’ employment dropped 6 percent for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage."


  4. Uh, are you saying you think Pew Research is right wing? They are about the most trusted non-partisan think tank there is. They're quoted by the right to attack the left and by the left to attack the right.

    Do you trust the Bureau of Labor Statistics under Obama? They have almost identical numbers:

    If you think Pew Research is right wing, you might enjoy this study in which they document that Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck are distrusted by Milleninials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers.

    Can you post a link to some (non-partisan) data source that says that minimum wage workers are mostly single mothers trying to feed their families (ie living in poverty)? Then we can compare and assess for ourselves who we believe.


  5. So there's the right wing facts that show the majority of minimum wage earners are teenagers working part time for some mad money. Maybe they want to get the latest I-Phone or computer game.
    And then there's the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows something quite different:

    Both sexes at or below the minimum wage:
    under 25 = 48.6%
    over 25 = 51.4%

    under 25 = 29.8%
    over = 32.2%

    under 25 = 18.9%
    over 25 = 19.1%

    Total at least 20 = 83.4%
    Teen part timers = 6.4%

    BTW, we can do this back and forth all day long.

  6. Source:

  7. Ok, we agree BLS is non-partisan. We agree that about 50% of minimum wage jobs are held by the young (under 25).

    I'm going to quote from the BLS 2014 report instead of 2009 (though the numbers are about the same):

    "Age: Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up nearly half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less." (same as your data)

    And from the Congressional Budget Office in February of 2014 analyzing who would receive the benefits of a proposed increase in the minimum wage:

    "Many low-wage workers are not members of low-income families. Just 19 percent of the $31 billion [increase in wages resulting from an increased minimum wage] would accrue to families with earnings below the poverty threshold, whereas 29 percent would accrue to families earning more than three times the poverty threshold."

    We cited the same source (BLS) so I don't think you can try to discredit the conclusion by saying our source is "right wing".

    There's a great chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics here that visualizes the same data you cite ( It's really obvious when you look at the graph that minimum wage workers skew young. From that page: "Among employed teenagers paid by the hour, about 21 percent earned the minimum wage or less compared with about 3 percent of workers age 25 and over."

    It's true that minimum wage workers are not mostly teens, but that's just because teens represent a small percentage of workers generally and the percentage of teens working has fallen dramatically in the last 10-15 years (from about 50% to 33%)

    I think it's very important for people to understand who currently works minimum wage jobs because that's both who receives the benefit and who also is most at risk to lose their job.

    Ultimately how high you make the minimum wage is a trade-off. Having a higher minimum wage is good for the employees who receive an increase, but it hurts those who lose their jobs. It also hurts those with limited skills trying to enter the workforce and those who need flexible part time work (for example, students).

    If you are young or unskilled, the minimum wage job isn't a poverty creator, it's the first rung on a ladder out of poverty and into the workforce. It can't be raised so high that it's completely out of reach.

    We need more businesses willing to hire the young and the unskilled, willing to bear the cost of training them, and willing to help people get started up the ladder.

    1. So what you're really saying is minimum wage laws are bad things and they hurt people. Poverty wages aren't bad because they don't create poverty, right? So really then we need to decrease, not increase the minimum wage, right? Or better yet as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh say, just get rid of it altogether. Is that a fair take on your position?

    2. No. Of course not :-)

      My position is that it's a balancing act. A minimum wage can be too low. It can also be too high.

      Minimum wages that are so low as to discourage people from working are bad. Minimum wages that are significantly below historical averages (like the federal minimum wage is today) are bad. And minimum wage jobs that do not provide a path to higher wages are particularly bad.

      Unreasonably high minimum wages that businesses can't support are bad. Changes to the minimum wage that happen too fast are bad. And minimum wages that exceed the earning capacity of those in poverty and the young are particularly bad.

      For example (and just to make a point), a $150 minimum wage would be a "poverty wage" for almost everyone because most of us don't have a skill that can command $150 per hour. If the minimum wage went to $150 tomorrow, most of us would end up unemployed and in poverty. So, yes, there is a minimum wage which is too high.

      The point is that we need to strike the right balance, and I believe that Emeryville has gone too high, too fast largely based on the incorrect belief that you can raise the minimum wage to any amount you want without hurting the poor.

      You have to remember that the minimum wage is not just the minimum amount an employer is required to pay. It's also the minimum ability level you must have to avoid being legally barred from employment for life. It also sets the bar for the simplest job an employer can legally create. If the minimum wage is $150, an employer can only create jobs for doctors and lawyers.

      When the minimum wage is too high, there are no jobs for the young, inexperienced, and unskilled to get their start. And that's devastating because most people start with minimum wage jobs and normally move rise right through them to higher and higher levels.

      It's not about left wing or right wing.

      It's not about trying to cast people into the same (sinking) boat with Hannity and Limbaugh.

      It's about having a discussion that Emeryville needs to have about how high is too high and how fast is too fast.

  8. Just FYI, there are multiple Anonymous posters participating in this thread. Not really thrilled with the use of the word 'rant' either. This is almost a civil conversation with two different points of view, and it would be great to keep it that way. We need more of those. This tendency to make the conversation personal is a sign of the times, but not good.

  9. With all of your back/and/forth about the statistics and if they are trustworthy or not, here is a simple statistic from the GC Emeryville : Out of 3 part timers fired before the law went into effect , one was over 25, one was a middle aged man and one was a young father of 2 .

    1. These demographics, if true (I presume you're a Guitar Center employee) of course prove the greater point: It's not teenagers that generally earn the minimum wage, instead it's adults and even adults trying to raise children. This is the disturbing fact that causes such vitriolic perturbations from the right wing. Because to have that universally recognized would have the effect of repulsion among the non-sociopaths (the majority) among us.

  10. Exactly!!! That's the point.

    While most minimum wage workers are young, the negative effects disproportionately affect those in poverty.

    When an employer has to lay off people, who does he choose? The burden falls on the wrong people (the poor). At the same time, the benefit of a higher wage goes mostly to the wrong people (only 19% goes to families below the poverty line).

    The college kid picking up some extra money kept his job. The father of two did not. That sucks! And it's exactly what the studies say happens.

    For every 10% increase in the minimum wage, the unemployment rate for single mothers increases 6%. The minimum wage in Emeryville just rose 60 percent(!) Guess who's going to bear the brunt of it?

    The non-partisan data is out there, and it says exactly what everyone here is saying, the same thing the residents and businesses of the city were saying: "Raising the minimum wage too high, too fast puts a lot of people out of work and marginalizes people who are struggling."

    It's not about right or left, it's about prescribing a cure that works.

    Are we a better doctor just because we gave our patients more medicine than anyone else, faster than anyone else?

    Are we more progressive, because we raised our minimum wage higher than anyone else, faster than anyone else?

    [Let's keep this civil...just like no one should call your comment a 'rant', no one should call anyone a sociopath either. It's a good conversation, let's keep it going. We can set a good example.]

  11. I don't believe the store manager is at fault in this situation. As someone who knows quite a few employees at this location, I know that the store managers' hands were tied in this situation. He did what he was told by the regional management who was told by his superiors what this store could and could not do in this situation. This store is severely understaffed and the people at the corporate level seem to not care about any of it. Sad situation all around.

    1. You don't have to use the third person in your comments. And you don't have to comment anonymously.