Workers at REI Coop march on Seattle HQ with contract demands

Grievances include the growth of erratic part-time hours and the co-op’s sickness policy and health care plans

Workers at US outdoor retail co-op REI marched on its HQ near Seattle to deliver a brace of contract requests, and called on management to negotiate.

The march involved those REI workers who have unionised with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).

A press release from RWDSU said Bargaining Committee representatives from all nine unionised stores had travelled from across the country, some as far as 3,000+ miles, “to face company management who only needed to walk mere feet to meet workers” at negotiating tables set up by the union outside the building. “Workers faced a lone empty chair available for REI CEO Eric Artz, who never showed,” it added.

The representatives co-signed a commitment to reach a contract with the co-op by the end of 2024; the union says it is awaiting a response from the company. Grievances include the reliance on part-time workers and erratic scheduling of hours, which workers say makes it harder to budget.


Workers were joined by REI co-op members, community members and local elected officials, the union added.

In the days leading up to the march, workers at all nine unionised stores – in SoHo, New York; Berkeley, California; Cleveland, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; Durham, North Carolina; Boston, Massachusetts; Bellingham, Washington; Maple Grove, Minnesota; and Castleton, Indiana – participated in hikes, bike rides, and other outdoor activities, with each activity representing a new demand in their new national platform.

RWDSU accuses the co-op of “bad-faith bargaining practices and unilateral workplace changes that show a pattern of egregious anti-union behaviour, and retaliatory actions against workers”.

It added: “Despite these tactics, the growing unionisation movement at REI is building momentum, with the ninth REI location winning their election outright on February 9, 2024 in Castleton, Indiana.”

Steve Buckley, senior sales specialist at REI SoHo, NYC, said that as an elected member of its bargaining committee, he has been “incredibly frustrated and disappointed by REI’s continued refusal to actually bargain with us”.

“They have taken all REI employees from the management side of the table and replaced them with lawyers who lack a basic understanding of how the stores and company functions,” he said. “This, combined with the repeated rejections of our proposals and refusal to give counters, has stalled the process, which feels incredibly intentional.

“Our committee remains dedicated to resolving all outstanding issues and reaching a contract that reflects our contribution to the co-op. We call on REI to do the same.”

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Cloud Schneider, sales lead at REI Cleveland, Ohio, criticised the co-op’s sick policy and health care plans.

“It’s difficult for us to adequately take care of ourselves under the current conditions,” they said. “So many of my peers have to come to work sick because they don’t have adequate sick time and if you get enough unexcused absences you can get fired, which has happened before at our store.

“Being a chronically ill person myself, the system has been difficult to navigate – it’s not easy to get adequate accommodations – and even when you do, they’re often less than ideal. As a union, we’re really fighting to make policies that actually work for the workers and allow us all the time and resources we need to take care of ourselves.”

Margaux Lantelme, frontline and banker at REI Chicago, said: “We should not be expected to accept living paycheck to paycheck. I’m consistently one emergency away from financial disaster. I cannot save any money. I have never been able to save money, and it costs too much to pay for housing and food and necessities to have enough to set aside. How can a company that claims such ‘progressive’ values not be ashamed to fight workers who are asking for such reasonable, essential things?”

RWDSU says workers at the first unionised REI store have been bargaining with the co-op for a union contract for almost two years, “while others have been left to languish at the table for months after winning their elections a year or more ago”.

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It added that after the first year of contract negotiations, REI changed its legal representation to Morgan Lewis, “a notoriously, vehemently anti-union law firm” before cancelling all bargaining sessions and backtracking on an agreement to give the first unionised store the same increased pay scale offered to other non-unionised stores. 

In November 2023, all unionised stores filed a combined 80 unfair labour practice charges (ULPs) over the company’s bargaining practices and unilateral workplace changes that, says RWDSU, “showed a pattern of egregious anti-union behaviour against workers”.

Charges are still pending before the National Labor Relations Board, the union added.

RWDSU also says that In recent months, only REI’s attorneys have been appearing at bargaining sessions, further delaying the process of getting to a contract. “Company management and decision makers have continually failed to attend sessions and negotiate with workers directly,” it adds.

A spokesperson for REI said: “On March 7, a planned union rally took place at our HQ Satellite location in Issaquah. REI is committed to and will always negotiate in good faith with our stores that have chosen union representation.”