Ray Sanchez can give you a flattop, a buzz cut or a crew cut.
But he'd rather not take another pay cut.
For more than five weeks now, Sanchez, who has been a barber at the U.S. Air Force Academy's community center for 19 years, has abandoned the barbershop for the picket line. Since May 1, he and the other five barbers at the community center have been on strike.
The barbers, represented by Local 7 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, aren't demanding a raise or increased benefits. They are protesting a contract offer from their employer, privately owned Gino Morena Enterprises, which would lower their compensation.
"All we want is to stay where we're at," Sanchez said recently while picketing near the Academy's south entrance.
The San Francisco-based company has proposed reducing the barbers' commission on haircuts from 64 percent to 58 percent -- amounting to almost a 10-percent reduction in their income.
It would be the second consecutive pay cut for the barbers. The commission dropped from 70 percent to its current level five years ago, when the last contract negotiations took place.
The company "keeps pushing us, pushing us," said Lula Garnett, a barber at the Academy since 1998. "We had no choice but to go out and stand up for ourselves."
Haircuts at the Academy barbershop cost $6.45. Other than tips, the commission is the barbers' only compensation.
"We don't get no benefits, and we don't get no retirement -- zero," Sanchez said.
A spokesman for Gino Morena, which operates the barbershop under a contract with the Air Force, did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
The company also has barbershops at Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base, though barbers there have separate contracts with the company and are not striking.
Most of the clients at the Academy barbershop are instructors and staff, dependents, and military retirees. Cadets get their haircuts from other barbers.
For the duration of the strike, the Academy barbers are asking their regular customers to go elsewhere. Many customers have been supportive, stopping by the picket line to chat or bring the barbers food, Garnett said.
However, a strike at one barbershop, with only six barbers, may not make much of a dent in Gino Morena's profits. The company operates more than 500 barbershops at U.S. military installations worldwide, according to the union.
The company has made no new offers since negotiations broke down and the strike began, union representatives say.
"It might be a long struggle," Garnett said. "We don't know."
-- Terje Langeland
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