REI workers win vote to unionise in Manhattan

An REI store in Manhattan has become the co-op retailer’s first unionised branch, following an in-person vote in the REI SoHo store last week

Workers at the outdoor clothing and equipment co-op REI voted last week to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU.

The vote, on 2 March, was conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, and came out 88 to 14 in favour of unionisation. 

Workers cited unsafe working conditions during the pandemic and a shift in work culture, as well as a need for guaranteed hours and living wage, as motivations for filing for a union election. The 116 workers at the store will now be represented by RWDSU in contract negotiations set to begin later this year.

RWDSU president Stuart Applebaum said in a statement: “The workers of REI SoHo are ready to negotiate a strong contract that will allow them to uphold the co-op’s progressive values while providing the top-notch service REI customers have come to expect. With a seat at the table, workers can make working at REI safe and sustainable for years to come.”

The move to unionise at REI comes alongside a number of high-profile union drives in other companies such as Amazon and Starbucks. Two Starbucks branches in New York and Arizona have voted to unionise and Amazon workers in New York City and Alabama are also seeking representation from RWDSU.

Claire Chang, a member of the REI SoHo Organizing Committee and retail sales specialist at REI SoHo, said: “I am proud to be here in this moment with my coworkers at REI SoHo as a part of this new wave of unionisation efforts that is sweeping the nation. 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.”

She added: “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, so we can all demonstrate that we really do go further…together.”

The statement from RWSDU said the workers had endured a “union busting campaign that included captive audience meetings, a halt on promotional opportunities, and even a 25-minute union busting podcast”.

REI, a consumer co-op with around 170 stores and 15,000 employees across the US, had previously stated that they “do not believe placing a union between the co-op and its employees is needed or beneficial.”

In a company statement provided to Co-op News, REI responded to last week’s vote result: “As we have said throughout this process, REI firmly believes that the decision of whether or not to be represented by a union is an important one, and we respect each employee’s right to choose or refuse union representation.

“We are, at our core, co-operative. Our employees are the heart of the co-op community, and their expertise, enthusiasm and joy in helping people get outside make us who we are. We greatly appreciate their hard work and dedication through what continues to be a remarkably challenging time in the world.”

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