New York REI Workers Overwhelmingly Vote to Form a Union

Workers at Manhattan REI overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to form a union, defeating a fierce union-busting campaign waged in January by the company.

The results of the in-person vote to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) on Wednesday were 88 to 14 in favor of the union, or an 86 percent “yes” vote. The store, located in SoHo, is the first of the company’s 170 locations to unionize.

“As members of the RWDSU, we know we will be able to harness our collective strength to advocate for a more equitable, safe, and enriching work environment,” Claire Chang, a member of the workers’ organizing committee, said in a statement.

“We’re hopeful that REI meets us in good faith during negotiations for our first contract, while keeping our co-op values in mind and applying them to workers,” Chang continued.

REI, despite claiming to be a progressive business, has taken many anti-union actions over the past few months. It published information on an anti-union website it set up. a 25-minute podcastEric Artz, the CEO, used the language of social movement to persuade workers not to unionize.

“These workers have vast expertise in their field and have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to serve the outdoor community. They have stuck together through a horrendous union-busting campaign and have come out the other side stronger,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “With a seat at the table, workers can make working at REI safe and sustainable for years to come.”

Workers claim that the company placed anti-union flyers in their store and suspended promotions. The company also invited executives to meet with workers and pulled workers into one-on-1 meetings with managers to discuss anti-union messages.

In response, organizers have quoted the REI’s own purported values back to the company, saying that the company’s “co-op” structure with its customers should also extend to its workers.

Employees have said that company culture has shifted over the past couple of years, and that management hasn’t been maintaining safe working conditions during the pandemic or paying a living wage. Workers also say that many employees aren’t classified as full-time and thus don’t receive benefits, despite working for 40 hours a week.

“I never feel like anyone is actually listening,” Kate Denend, sales specialist at the now-unionized store, told MotherboardJanuary. “We hear about how REI is having record breaking profits this year. But a lot of people aren’t insured. A lot of people look elsewhere for healthcare.”

This unionization might inspire other REI sites to join the union and boost the labor movement, which has been experiencing a resurgence for the past year. Retail and service industries are both affected. are overwhelminglyWorkers are not unionized Starbucksare undergoing a strong union drive that has seen more than 100 union filings sofar and three successfully unionized sites.