REI workers in New York vote to unionize

Workers at a REI store in New York City voted to form a union on Wednesday, creating the only union in the outdoor clothing and equipment retailer. The vote, which took place in the store, was 88 to 14.

The vote in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood followed a series of union efforts at prominent service industry employers. Workers in their three Starbucks stores Vote for union unification Since early December, the only union has been established in company-owned stores. workers in two amazon Warehouses Voting in the union elections will end at the end of the month.

REI, with about 170 stores and 15,000 employees nationwide, is a cooperative owned by customers who purchase a lifetime membership, Currently $30, and brands themselves as a progressive company, in the context of Starbucks. her website Says That the cooperative believes in “putting purpose before profits” and that it invests more than 70 percent of its profits in the “outside community,” including contributions to nonprofit organizations.

A statement from Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union’s retail, wholesale and department store company, helped organize workers.

After the vote, the company said in a statement, “As we have said throughout this process, REI firmly believes that the decision to represent or not be represented by a union is an important decision, and we respect each employee’s right to choose or decline union representation.”

Like Starbucks, REI attracts workers who appear to have an ideological affinity with unions beyond potential practical benefits, such as higher wages, said John Logan, professor of labor studies at San Francisco State University.

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“REI appears to be another example of predominantly young workers not buying into arguments about unions being special interest groups,” Logan said in an email.

The company estimated the average age of its workers at 37 years, about five years younger than mid-age For all workers in the United States.

Workers in the store began organizing in the fall of 2020, in part because many felt employees who had spoken out about Covid-related safety concerns were not allowed to return after REI Temporarily closed its stores that year. that Election petition It was submitted five weeks ago.

In a video conference with reporters held by the Retail Workers’ Union last week, Claire Chang, a visual presentation specialist who has worked in the store for more than four years, noted concerns about the safety of the coronavirus.

Ms Zhang said that after the store reopened in 2020, managers asked workers how comfortable they felt about reopening fitting rooms, where employees come into frequent contact with clothes worn by customers.

“The majority, if not all, of the staff said they were uncomfortable with it, and they still go ahead and do it,” Ms. Zhang said.

Steve Buckley, a sales professional who has been in the store for about six months, said in a video conference that he was one of several workers who contracted the coronavirus during the Omicron wave, while the store was crowded with customers.

A REI spokeswoman said the retailer left less than 5 percent of its workers nationwide when it reopened and that the decisions had nothing to do with how upfront employees were. She said fitting rooms are equipped with sterilization supplies and that store capacity is limited throughout the pandemic.

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She cited a survey from 2021 showing that employees typically rate the company highly on questions such as whether it treats them as valuable employees.

Several workers said they sought unionization because of the gap they noticed between REI’s behavior and its stated values, asserting that the workplace had become more impersonal and more profit-focused as it sought to expand.

“There was a huge push to sell the membership,” Graham Gill, an employee involved in the organization, said in a text message to a reporter in January.

Workers also said REI launched an aggressive anti-union campaign, turning to company officials to hold meetings with employees about the dangers of forming unions, suspending materials in break rooms, and creating website which highlighted these risks.

Mr. Buckley said the meeting he attended with senior officials in February lasted about two hours and touched on issues such as health insurance. He said officials “were publicly yelling at us saying we were wrong about the basic policies in our store and the basic conditions we face.” “How is this a respectful environment?” The company offers health insurance to workers who average at least 20 hours a week after one year.

The spokeswoman said the company sought to share information about unions, and that the February meeting was a long-scheduled training session to relaunch the company’s membership program.

Mr. Logan, a professor of labor studies, said one reason REI’s efforts to discourage workers from joining unions, such as Starbucks, have not worked is that stores have not usually been overburdened with supervisors.

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“They operate relatively independently, with little management or oversight, which provides ample opportunity to talk about unions,” Logan said. “After they do that, anti-union propaganda becomes less effective – and their minds are foretold.”

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