Paul Pedraza is quick to correct anyone who calls him a butcher. "I'm a meat cutter," he insists. And meat, he says, is the only thing he is willing to cut for Fry's Food Stores.
A few weeks ago, Fry's sent its employees a new dress code that, among other things, requires men to have short hair. But Pedraza, like many other men these days, wears a ponytail, and he refuses to chop his locks.
The new rules call for "conservative, business-like" hair that must not "exceed top of collar." Men are prohibited from having "dyed hair, tails, lines cut in hair or unnaturally high flat tops."
Describing the dress-code changes as "personal internal business," a Fry's spokesman refused comment about why the changes are being made. (Health codes apparently aren't the issue in this case. For years, Pedraza and other longhaired men have worn hair nets on the job, a practice they don't object to.)
The 29-year-old Pedraza, a Fry's employee for 11 years, maintains that the new rules discriminate against him and other male workers because the regulations do not require women employees to cut their hair.
"If we have got to do it, the women should do it," he says.
The new dress code goes into effect August 31, but Pedraza says he will do everything he can to fight it until then. Last week, he and other longhaired Fry's employees met outside work to discuss what to do.
For the most part, the men, who were all in their 20s, did not know one another. They came from different stores and worked in different departments. Some had hair down to their buttocks, and some had it just below their collars. But each one was searching for hope that he could somehow save his hair.
Leading the discussion, Pedraza declared, "We are standing up for what we believe in and for what we think is right." Everyone agreed. After airing their gripes, the men weighed the possibility of hiring a lawyer and decided to meet again, after recruiting more members, to discuss the matter further.
Fry's isn't the only Valley grocer to ban male ponytails, however. Safeway, Smitty's and Bashas' also require male employees to have short hair, according to company spokesmen. (Representatives of other major grocery chains didn't return telephone calls.)
According to Pedraza, Fry's has told its employees that the new rules were introduced after a customer survey indicated that many shoppers did not like longhaired males serving them.
Pedraza says he doubts the survey's results are accurate. But even if they are, he says, he still disagrees with the new policy. He says it will take away his individuality.
"Fry's wants to give an image to the customers that it is a neat and conservative company," he said.
But what's wrong with that? Nothing, according to an unscientific survey of some Fry's customers.
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When asked what they thought of the dress-code changes, several customers replied that if Fry's wants to change its image, then it should.
"That these guys want to fight this is ridiculous," says one shopper who asked that her name not be used. "This is a business, not a democracy. The next thing you know they will want to wear nail polish and lipstick."
Pedraza and his co-workers say they don't want that, but they may wear wigs. The new dress code, which forbids such items as nose rings and nose studs, allows for wigs.
"I will wear a wig before I cut my hair," Pedraza says. "That's how much my hair means to me. This is the style. This is the Nineties. This is me."
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