New York, NY — Workers at the REI SoHo store have overwhelming voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), bringing a victorious end to a unionization struggle that began in the fall of 2020.
The vote to unionize showed that, despite the outdoor equipment giant’s anti-union tactics, the desire by workers to challenge new scheduling and labor policies and shore up workplace safety, among other concerns, held firm. Workers voted inside the SoHo store break room on March 2. The final tally was 88 to 14, or 86% in favor.
Claire Chang, a retail sales specialist and member of the store’s organizing committee, called the decisive win part of a “new wave of unionization 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 said. “A union is necessary for many of us to achieve more stability and security in our lives which could allow for us to explore and play more outside of work!”
REI is a member owned co-op where for $30 consumers can have access to a range of perks, such as discounts on REI “classes, day trips and nationwide adventures.” It also has a REI Cooperative Action Fund, a public charity “which makes grants to nonprofits that promote justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors.”
But such seemingly progressive values, and others the company has touted on social media, did not make their way to Chang and her co-workers. Fellow organizer Steve Buckley, who came down with COVID in the often crowded store, says managers harassed him over the phone while he was sick. According to Chang, there was widespread concern amongst employees about COVID safety in the fitting rooms, but managers just brushed them off.
REI further antagonized employees by its anti-union activities, such as forcing one-on-one meetings with workers, and flooding the staff breakroom with anti-union propaganda.
“History was made today!” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said after the winning vote. “We’re excited to welcome the workers of REI SoHo into the RWDSU, marking the first-ever unionized REI store in the whole country. 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. 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.”
REI responded to the union vote with the following statement: “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, cooperative. 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.”
The winning vote means workers at the SoHo store have chosen RWDSU to represent them in contract negotiations, which are expected commence later this year. The workers in the bargaining unit include all full- and part-time sales specialists, technical specialists, visual presentation specialists, shipping and receiving specialists, certified technicians, operations leads, sales leads, and shipping and receiving leads.