Workers at REI store in Manhattan seek to form retailers’ only union

Workers at a REI store in Manhattan filed for a union election on Friday, making the outdoor gear and apparel retailer the latest major service-sector employer whose workers have sought to unionize.

Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama, rejected a union in an election last year, though the National Labor Relations Board later rejected the result, citing labor irregularities. business, and ordered a new election next month.

In December, workers at two Starbucks stores in Buffalo voted to unionize, making them the only company-owned Starbucks locations in the country with a union. Employees of about 20 other Starbucks have since contested union elections.

The depot at the REI store in SoHo has petitioned the labor board for an election involving about 115 employees, who are seeking representation from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the same union that oversaw the labor campaign at the warehouse. ‘Amazon in Alabama.

In addition to filing the electoral dossier, REI employees asked for voluntary recognition of their union, which would make a vote unnecessary.

Like Starbucks, REI, a consumer cooperative made up of customers who buy lifetime subscriptions for $20, cultivates a progressive image. REI’s website said that the co-op believes in “putting purpose before profit” and reinvests over 70% of its profits “into the outdoor community” through initiatives such as member dividends and employee profit sharing.

The site also says REI is closing all of its approximately 170 stores, none of which are currently unionized, on Black Friday to allow employees to spend the day with family and friends.

The retailer has more than 15,000 employees in the United States, compared to more than 230,000 at approximately 9,000 company-owned US Starbucks locations.

In a statement, Graham Gale, an employee involved in labor organizing at the SoHo REI store, said the campaign was partly a response to “a tangible shift in workplace culture that does not appear to align with values who brought most of us here.

The statement also highlighted “the new struggle to deal with unsafe working conditions during a global pandemic”.

In a follow-up text, Mx. Gale, who prefers gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, said REI had refused to bring back some long-serving employees who openly expressed workplace concerns after the retailer temporarily closed its stores in 2020.

Since the start of the pandemic, some REI employees have criticized the retailer for what they say are insufficient safety protocols, including a lack of transparency about which employees have tested positive for Covid and a decision to relax its policy. masking. The retailer said it was following relevant guidelines from state and federal health authorities, but it adjusted some policies as it faced criticism.

Responding to the Manhattan labor campaign, REI said in a statement, “We respect the right of our employees to speak up and act for what they believe – and that includes the right of employees to choose or refuse. union representation. However, we do not believe that the establishment of a union between the cooperative and its employees is necessary or beneficial.

The statement went on to say that the co-op is committed to working with SoHo store employees to resolve their issues.

Despite efforts to organize companies like Amazon and Starbucks last year, union membership fell to 10.3% labor force, matching its lowest figure in Department of Labor records dating back to 1983.

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