Cleveland REI Workers Form Union, Adding Fuel To Labor Effort – Heemang Parmar
Workers at an REI store near Cleveland voted 27-12 in favor of unionizing on Friday, adding more fuel to a labor organizing campaign at the national outdoor retailer.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said it prevailed in the vote following a tally by the National Labor Relations Board. The company has a week to file any objections to the results.
The Ohio election marks the third union victory at an REI outpost over the past year, following other votes in New York City and Berkeley, California. The Cleveland store, which is in the suburb of Orange, employs around 55 workers who would be part of the union.
REI said in a statement that it “believes in the right of every eligible employee to vote for or against union representation.”
“We fully supported our Cleveland employees through the vote process and we will continue to support our employees going forward as they begin to navigate the collective bargaining process,” the company said.
RWDSU, however, said pro-union workers had endured “intimidating one-on-one meetings” with managers.
“They have stuck together through a horrendous, relentless, and unlawful union-busting campaign and have come out the other side stronger,” the union’s president, Stuart Appelbaum, said in a statement.
The union said its margin of victory in the election was greater than the results suggested, since the company challenged the eligibility of nine workers to cast ballots. Those ballots were not counted but likely would have favored the union, a spokesperson said.
REI, which is structured as a customer-owned cooperative, is one of a number of high-profile retailers whose workers have recently chosen to unionize amid a wave of organizing. Since late 2021, employees have formed the first U.S. unions at Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and Trader Joe’s and are now trying to bargain their first contracts with those companies.
As with those other organizing campaigns, the share of REI’s workforce that has formed unions so far remains small. The Kent, Washington-based retailer has more than 160 locations and nearly 15,000 employees around the U.S.
Despite its progressive image on climate change and other issues, REI has not exactly rolled out a welcome mat for the union. When the New York organizing drive got underway, the retailer released a widely shared podcast that warned that a union could “impact our ability to communicate and work directly with our employees.”
In February, the REI workers in Ohio walked off the job on an “unfair labor practice” strike, accusing the company of trying to delay the upcoming election and surveilling pro-union workers. REI soon agreed to terms for a vote, and workers returned to their jobs.