REI Staff’ Union Spreads To 10 Shops

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By Calvin S. Nelson

REI staff from shops across the nation confirmed up uninvited at their company workplace in Issaquah, Washington, final Friday. The indicators they have been carrying made it clear to the white-collar staff wanting down from the home windows above that they weren’t there to tour the campus.

“The place the hell’s our benefit pay?” one signal requested.

“Ask me about my increase (REI took it away!)” learn one other.

Loads of REI’s devoted clients ― “members,” in firm parlance, since REI is structured as a cooperative ― would have been stunned to see disaffected staff protesting such a beloved retailer. However a rising union marketing campaign that has up to now organized 9 shops and counting is testing the progressive status that REI constructed by means of its environmental and conservation advocacy over time.

Staff who’re making an attempt to enhance their jobs by means of a union contract say the cooperative is failing to stay as much as its values and damaging its status within the course of.

“I feel they’re making an attempt to determine easy methods to be dug in on this and preserve their public picture,” stated Steve Buckley, a senior gross sales specialist and union chief on the firm’s flagship retailer within the SoHo neighborhood of New York Metropolis. “That’s getting more and more tougher to do as the times go on.”

Buckley’s was the primary of REI’s 181 shops to unionize, in March 2022, becoming a member of the Retail, Wholesale and Division Retailer Union. The RWDSU and its mum or dad group, the United Meals and Business Staff Union, have organized eight extra shops, with election wins in Berkeley, California; Cleveland; Chicago; Durham, North Carolina; Boston; Bellingham, Washington; Maple Grove, Minnesota; and Indianapolis.

“I feel they’re making an attempt to determine easy methods to be dug in on this and preserve their public picture.”

– Steve Buckley, REI employee in New York Metropolis

Staff at REI’s retailer in Santa Cruz, California, on Thursday grew to become the most recent to petition for an election, with a vote prone to occur within the coming weeks.

However none of these shops has secured a contract greater than two years after the SoHo victory. Within the meantime, the unions have accused REI of threatening pro-union staff, firing union supporters and bargaining in unhealthy religion in an effort to sluggish the organizing marketing campaign.

The corporate has denied these allegations and stated it’s critical about reaching agreements with all of the union retailers.

“REI is — and can all the time be — dedicated and engaged in good-faith bargaining with shops which have chosen union illustration,” the corporate stated in a press release. It added that the firings in query “have been utterly unrelated as to if or not that worker was concerned with the union ― particular person worker union curiosity or exercise isn’t an element.”

REI staff exterior the corporate’s company workplace in Issaquah, Washington, final week.

The corporate made its stance towards the union evident early on, when it launched a podcast with its CEO, Eric Artz, and chief variety and social influence officer, Wilma Wallace. Folks have been fast to level out on social media that Artz and Wallace launched themselves with a land acknowledgment — noting they have been on land stolen from Indigenous individuals — as they tried to discourage collective bargaining by their staff.

REI views local weather change as “an existential menace to life exterior” and has set a aim to cut back its greenhouse fuel emissions by 47% by 2030. It has additionally publicly dedicated to turning into a “totally inclusive, anti-racist, multicultural group” and maintains a manufacturing facility code of conduct for sourcing merchandise primarily based on requirements set by the Worldwide Labour Group. The code features a stipulation on collective bargaining that requires suppliers to “acknowledge and respect the authorized rights of staff to free affiliation.”

The retailer maintains that it respects these rights right here within the U.S., however staff on the union shops disagree ― and so they’re more and more sharing their views with the cooperative’s progressive buyer base. The unions say they not too long ago received greater than 4,000 members to e-mail REI telling the corporate to barter contracts.

“There’s a big hole between what REI tells the members and what REI is definitely doing that we see as staff,” stated Sihua Chang, 31, a gross sales specialist within the Durham retailer. “Far more REI members are beginning to hear about our working situations.”

Staff not too long ago put out an inventory of bargaining calls for labeled “10 necessities” for a sustainable REI, a riff on the 10 necessities wanted to outlive within the backcountry. The listing contains “navigation” (predictable scheduling), “shelter” (minimal hours with a livable wage) and a “restore package” (dedication to variety).

“I assumed they try towards this progressive picture, this concept that our staff are our lifeblood…. To see this marketing campaign towards staff has been a stark actuality change.”

– Alaina Preddie, REI employee in Indiana

Lack of constant hours is a standard grievance among the many union shops and throughout retail extra typically. Anni Saludo, who additionally works on the Durham retailer, stated she usually will get her schedule eight days upfront, making it onerous to plan her life and unattainable to know what her paycheck will seem like.

“How can I keep on target if one week I’m scheduled 24 hours and 6 the subsequent?” Saludo stated. “How can I keep on target if I can’t schedule a medical appointment as a result of I don’t know what days I’ll have off?”

The corporate and the union reached some tentative agreements in bargaining when REI was represented by the legislation agency Perkins Coie. However staff say progress slowed considerably after the corporate switched to Morgan Lewis, the identical agency whose attorneys have argued on behalf of Dealer Joe’s and Elon Musk’s SpaceX that the Nationwide Labor Relations Board itself is unconstitutional.

One of the vital contentious points is pay raises. After shops started unionizing, REI elevated worker pay however withheld the hikes from organized shops, saying the raises wanted to be negotiated on the bargaining desk. The unions allege this was a retaliatory transfer meant to chill different areas on organizing.

REI finally prolonged the raises however later took them again. The unions say it did so after staff refused to waive their proper to strike as a precondition; REI says it was a short lived settlement that the union refused to increase.

REI workers in Chicago marched to their store to announce their intention to unionize last year.
REI staff in Chicago marched to their retailer to announce their intention to unionize final yr.

Chicago Tribune through Getty Pictures

Alaina Preddie, who works on the Indianapolis retailer that unionized final month, stated she’s been stunned by what she views as the corporate’s hardball ways, in addition to its hiring of a famously hard-nosed legislation agency.

“It’s been fairly stunning, really,” Preddie stated. “I assumed they try towards this progressive picture, this concept that our staff are our lifeblood…. To see this marketing campaign towards staff has been a stark actuality change.”

Together with Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and Dealer Joe’s, REI is one among a number of beforehand non-union firms the place unions have made organizing breakthroughs within the final two years. However parlaying these election wins into written agreements has proved rather more troublesome.

After they met at Issaquah final week, REI union members mentioned other ways they might proceed to strain the corporate into settling contracts. They’ve already waged various non permanent strikes and will develop them to extra shops. And though the unions haven’t requested co-op members to boycott REI, Buckley stated that pondering “might or might not change as staff see match.”

They discovered some trigger for optimism final month when Starbucks reached a detente with its union, pledging to hammer out a contract framework and lengthen raises and advantages that had been withheld from union shops. The espresso chain might have grown bored with bruising its personal progressive picture by means of a rising listing of unfair labor observe fees, together with claims of retaliatory firings, threats and retailer closures.

Buckley believes REI will begin to squirm as extra shops file election petitions and the union’s allegations of unlawful union-busting are litigated. However he stated the purpose of the marketing campaign isn’t merely to “harangue” the corporate about hypocrisy. REI holds itself out as a unique sort of firm, he argued, so it ought to set the next customary for retail work.

“It doesn’t must be a short-term churn-and-burn retail institution,” Buckley stated. “What this motion is all about is holding REI to their very own degree of commitments.”

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