New York, NY – More than one-hundred employees at REI in Soho are unionizing with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] and have asked the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] for an election. They are also seeking voluntary recognition of their union.

Workers at REI’s popular Soho store are organizing with RWDSU.

REI has over 15,000 employees in the U.S. and is a “member-owned co-op” where those who wish to opt in pay $20 for a lifetime membership that entitles them to such perks as 10% back in certain cases, gear trade-in, bike & ski shop services, and special member pricing on REI Adventures and trips.

The company claims more than 70 percent of its profits are “invested back into the outdoor community” each year and likes to bill itself as somehow apart from the rest of corporate America.

Hard-pressed employees in Soho, however,  say the company doesn’t think much of its workers.

“Over the past several years, we have faced a lot of change working at REI; there has been a tangible shift in the culture at work that doesn’t seem to align with the values that brought most of us here in the first place,” said Graham Gale, a 23-year-old bike and ski technical specialist and REI SoHo Worker Organizing Committee member. “Because of this, plus the new struggle of facing unsafe working conditions during a global pandemic, we have collectively worked to bring change to our REI store. We have filed for our union vote with RWDSU to have a seat at the table, and we hope REI will uphold its values ‘we go further together!’ and voluntarily recognize this effort, but we cannot continue to allow our job security, safety and well-being to be at stake. REI’s values need to extend to its workers – we are the carriers of the co-op’s success. We care deeply about the positive influence REI has on the retail industry, but first, the workers need quality of life.”

Kate Denend, a sales specialist in the camp department, told news outlets REI workers want full-time status and benefits, COVID-19 protections and guaranteed hours after the holiday season. She also said the company’s captive audience meetings are filled with anti-union propaganda.

On Jan. 17, REI Tweeted, “Celebrate #MLK day with us by supporting legislation that protects everyone’s right to vote. Voting is one of the most powerful ways to make sure our voices are heard and count towards change.”

Workers, however, are throwing REI’s own verbiage back at them, quoting the store’s own feel-good language within their own calls for unionization.

“We believe a union will benefit us for several familiar reasons,” @reiunionsoho Tweeted. “First, ‘we go further together.’ To us, that means employees need a seat at the table to collaboratively develop our agreements with you.” And since, “‘We are all responsible for the co-ops results,’ we want to work with our management to make the decisions that will impact every aspect of our working lives.”

REI customers, co-op members, other union members and official, and politicians have been burning up Twitter with their support for the organizing employees at #REIunionsoho.

“Love this! Hope REI makes the right choice and doesn’t union bust,” Twitter user @ispitonteslas wrote.

“Co-op and union member here – @REI do the right thing and recognize @reiunionsoho – United we stand!” @bmunroe said.

Other supporters are asking if there is anything a “co-op member and regular shopper at the PDX store can do to support all REI unionization efforts, besides just saying I support you on Twitter?”

Toby Elizabeth Frank replied, “Give us a call. And if you’re out shopping, tell the workers at the store you’re rooting for us. Hopefully it gives them the courage to start organizing.” Frank then tweeted other ways for co-op members and non-members to show support, after calling a store. “When you first get a response, ask to speak to a manager. Once you get a manager on the line, [say] ‘I’m calling as a customer to express my support for the union and to say I’m disappointed with the way management and the company has responded. The union should be voluntarily recognized, and at the very least they deserve a fair election without interference.'”

REI has received notice about the election petition and says it is “working in good faith with the NLRB on next steps” but wasted no time regurgitating classic anti-union corporate speak.

“At REI, 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,” a spokesperson said in an email to LaborPress. “However, we do not believe placing a union between the co-op and its employees is needed or beneficial.”

Despite employing the same argument most every other anti-union corporation uses when faced with a unionization drive, REI insists it really is a different kind of company.

“We are, at our core, a cooperative,” the spokesperson added. “By definition, we do business differently; we are collaborative by nature, working toward common goals. We stand up for our shared values in all we do. And we measure our success by our positive impact on our employees, our members, society, and finally our business – in that order.

It’s clear that some of the employees in our Soho store have concerns. We remain committed to our people first—and, as we always do, we will work closely with our Soho store team.”


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