REI Co-op building in New York's SoHo district; (photo/M. Brochstein)
REI Co-op building in New York's SoHo district; (photo/M. Brochstein)

REI Green Vests Push for Union, Co-op Responds

More than 100 workers in New York filed a bid to form an REI union, stating unfavorable health, safety, and culture within the workplace. The move comes at a time of extraordinary unionization activity among major corporations.

REI employees in New York City’s SoHo district filed for a union election on Friday afternoon. The filing, submitted to the National Labor Relations Board, requests authorization to hold an election among REI SoHo’s 116 workers.

As reported by The New York Times, SoHo workers say that the union is an essential safeguard. One of the SoHo store’s organizers, Graham Gale, cited concerns over pandemic safety precautions. These include what some say were prematurely relaxed mask policies and distancing protocols at the SoHo store.

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Gale also told The Times that the Co-op has undergone “a tangible shift in the culture at work that doesn’t seem to align with the values that brought most of us here.”

Information about what’s next in the push for unionization was not immediately available.

The group has sought union representation through the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers coalition (UFCW).

Amazon workers in Alabama have also called on the RWDSU to organize their second election to unionize, slated for next month.

REI Responds to Union Request

In congruence with their labor board filing, SoHo’s workers asked their employer to recognize the union voluntarily. Agreement by REI officers to accept the SoHo REI union would effectively override the requirement for election.

In a statement, REI affirmed its commitment to employees’ rights. But it stopped short of embracing unionization, appearing to necessitate a vote to unionize:

On Friday, we received notice from the National Labor Relations Board that the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union has filed a petition for an election at our Soho store. We are working in good faith with the NLRB on next steps.

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. However, we do not believe placing a union between the co-op and its employees is needed or beneficial.

We are, at our core, a cooperative. 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.

We will continue to report on future developments as they come. Stay tuned.

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Jilli Cluff
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Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing — and life would never be the same. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear family. She is based out of Atlanta, Georgia where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.