REI employees move to unionise in Manhattan

The co-op’s bosses say a union is not “needed or beneficial”

Employees at US outdoor retail co-op REI began the process of forming a union last week with a request to the National Labor Relations Board for a union election involving over 100 employees.

Workers at the REI flagship store in SoHo, Manhattan, are seeking to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the same union that has overseen the Amazon warehouse workers’ campaign in Alabama.

The New York Times reported that campaign organisers at the SoHo store described a “new struggle of facing unsafe working conditions during a global pandemic”. 

REI has previously received criticism over its treatment of workers throughout the Covid-19 crisis, including changes to its mask policy and failure to notify staff about positive covid cases within teams. Last year a petition was created by REI staff urging the co-op to “be a leader in our communities and in our country by putting people over profits,” adding “now is the time for the Co-op, at every level, to live our values.”

Graham Gale, a worker involved in the SoHo store’s call for unionisation, told the New York Times that the move was in part a response to “a tangible shift in the culture at work that doesn’t seem to align with the values that brought most of us here”.

REI workers have also requested that the co-op voluntarily recognise their union, which would mean the election they filed for last week would not be needed. 

REI responded to the campaign with a statement reported by the New York Times: “We respect the rights of our employees to speak and act for what they believe — and that includes the rights of employees to choose or refuse union representation. However, we do not believe placing a union between the co-op and its employees is needed or beneficial.”

They also said that the co-op was committed to working with SoHo employees to resolve their concerns.

REI is a member-owned consumer co-op employing over 15,000 workers across 160 stores in the US, none of which are currently unionised.