NOVEMBER 16, 2017 – When musician Jonathan Feinberg arrived in Lynn in 2015 from his native Atlanta and took a job at Guitar Center in Danvers, he said his colleagues were “generally friendly but unhappy.”
“My coworkers are all active musicians chasing their dreams just like me,” Feinberg said. However, working at Guitar Center was “not seen as a good job, but a job that would work with a musician’s schedule.”
Even so, Feinberg continued to appreciate the strong sense of camaraderie among the employees who stuck it out.
“We were all here because we love music,” he observed, “enough so that unsatisfactory working conditions were bearable, but still the subject of many [angry] conversations.”
Feinberg saw the need to stop talking and take action. As he had been working simultaneously at a labor-community organization called the New Lynn Coalition, Feinberg was aware that other Guitar Center stores in Manhattan, Las Vegas, and Chicago had been trying to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
“I was prompted to take action [in Danvers] for a few reasons,” Feinberg said, noting that the negotiations took place in June 2017 with a unanimously ratified vote in July.
“When I initially brought the idea to a couple of close coworkers, their enthusiasm and almost immediate commitment propelled the campaign into reality.”
After over a year and a half of dedicated and often difficult work (which came at the tail end of a six-year push for unionization at Guitar Center stores across the country), Feinberg and his colleagues were granted union status. With the end of negotiations came a national contract that included pay raises, a more effective commission structure, inclusion of warehouse workers in the bargaining unit, and other benefits.
“Many folks who had never heard of a union now believed they had some control in the workplace,” Feinberg said.
In addition to drawing strength and support from his colleagues, Feinberg said he also drew inspiration from his Jewish upbringing, particularly what he calls the “rich tradition of radical Jewish organizers,” such as garment worker leaders Clara Lemlich and Rose Schneiderman, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin of the Youth International Party, and the General Jewish Labor Bund, which united Jews across Europe between 1897 and 1920.
Going further back, Feinberg recalled the lessons of the sages.
“From Deuteronomy to Isaiah,” he pointed out, “we are called on to build a world that no longer needs Messianic salvation. We can only build that world in community, which means we have to be organized together everywhere we can be.”