REI workers in Northeast Ohio are aiming to make their store the third to unionize in less than a year, according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
The labor group said in a statement Wednesday that a “majority” of employees at the REI store in the Cleveland suburb of Orange Village had signed union cards and submitted a petition for a union election to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The board must ensure sufficient interest in unionizing before scheduling a vote.
Workers at REI’s New York City and Berkeley, California, locations formed the outdoor retailer’s first unions last year. The REI labor effort is part of a wave of new organizing to hit previously non-union companies, many of them in the retail space, including Amazon, Starbucks, Apple and Trader Joe’s.
REI said in a statement to HuffPost that the labor board had not yet notified the company of a union petition.
“As always, the decision to be represented by a union is up to our employees—not the REI leadership team, Board of Directors or anyone else,” REI said. “We believe in the right for every employee to vote for or against union representation and would fully support the petition process and vote in Cleveland.”
“We weathered the pandemic and kept the company afloat… and now we’re being told that there aren’t enough hours to go around.”
– REI worker Dave Hein
The company, based in Kent, Washington, and structured as a customer-owned cooperative, opposed the earlier organizing efforts, at one point releasing a much-discussed podcast arguing that a union could “impact our ability to communicate and work directly with our employees.”
Workers at the flagship New York store in the SoHo neighborhood voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the RWDSU, 88 to 14, last March. Likewise, workers in Berkeley voted 56 to 38 in favor of joining the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which is affiliated with the RWDSU, in August. Now, workers at those stores are trying to bargain their first contracts with the retailer.
The RWDSU estimates that the Ohio store employs roughly 55 workers eligible for union representation. Dave Hein, a bike services and ski mechanic at the store, said in a statement through the union that REI workers’ expertise “drives the company’s brick-and-mortar retail business.”
“We weathered the pandemic and kept the company afloat, we stretched ourselves thin helping the company achieve its highest profit margin ever, and now we’re being told that there aren’t enough hours to go around due to corporate overbuying and recession fears,” Hein said.
Many retail workers have said that the strains of working through the pandemic made them consider unionizing to improve their jobs. The labor board has seen a significant uptick in union election petitions recently, citing the highest single-year total since the fiscal year 2016. Workers at more than 200 Starbucks stores have unionized in a year.
Correction: This story originally said the REI store was located in Cleveland. In fact, it is in the Cleveland suburb of Orange Village.