On the Picket Line

Military barbers strike after bosses raise prices but not pay

By Arlene Rubinstein
October 11, 2021

Since July 4, workers at four barbershops at Ft. Lee U.S. Army Garrison and Ft. Pickett Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center in central Virginia have been picketing outside Ft. Lee. The 20 barbers, members of Laborers International Union Local 572, are on strike against Sheffield Barbers, a contractor hired by the Army & Air Force Exchange Service.

“The contractor is not paying us the posted price. That’s not what our contract intended. That’s not fair. But that’s what we are up against,” Eugene Harris, who has cut hair on the base for eight years, said on a union video about the strike. Harris served in the military for 21 years before becoming a barber, and was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. Most of the barbers are African American or Korean American. Sheffield has hired replacement workers.

When Sheffield first took over the shops in 2019, the barbers were making 55% of the $12.15 charged per haircut plus tips. But Sheffield started paying them based on the 2017 haircut price of $11.25. In the current negotiations, Sheffield offered a 6 cents increase per haircut, even though it has raised the price to $13.25.

“I don’t like the way they’re treating these guys,” Matt Macklin, retired from the Ft. Lee barbershop after 48 years, said in an article in Stars and Stripes, a U.S. military daily. When he heard about the issues, he headed to the picket line. “I said, ‘That’s it, I’m going to be there.’”

Some soldiers on the base and army veterans are honoring the picket line. For more information or to contribute to the strike fund, go to www.liunalocal572.org.