On January 11, a delegation of workers from the REI store in Cleveland, Ohio, formally filed for the right to hold a union election with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking representation with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
This came on the heels of two REI stores winning their union elections at the flagship in New York’s SoHo, and in Berkeley, California stores. These wins came despite REI efforts to union bust coast-to-coast, the RWDSU said.
The worker-led movement to unionize at the store in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, has been underway for more than a year, according to the RWDSU, but workers cited the overwhelming response at REI’s SoHo flagship as the motivation they needed to move forward.
The store workers in Cleveland made a push to get a majority of card signers and file for election. On January 11, REI workers at the Ohio store formally filed for a union election with Region 8 of the NLRB.
On Monday, the union released a statement, “REI’s request to bar clearly eligible workers from voting for their union is union busting on its face,” said Stuart Applebaum, president of the RWDSU.
“It’s nothing but a feeble attempt to delay the union election – period,” he said. “It cannot be clearer that REI’s motion to remove previously eligible job classifications from this election only seeks to silence workers’ voices. And these are not just any workers’ voices, these are the voices of workers with the same job classifications who are already being heard at bargaining tables on both coasts.
“You cannot be in support of union elections and freedom of speech, and then bar more than half of your workers from voting,” Applebaum said. “Let the workers at REI in Ohio have the same opportunity you gave workers on the coasts. Let workers vote, and stop these baseless delay tactics.”
If successful, the RWDSU will represent about 55 current NLRA-eligible workers in the Beachwood store in contract negotiations. The store is now operating at a 60% staffing level. At full capacity, that number could increase to more than 70.
The Union seeks to represent all non-supervisory employees at the store, which includes all full- and part-time sales specialists, technical specialists, visual presentation specialists, shipping and receiving specialists, certified technicians and mechanics, operations leads, sales leads, and shipping and receiving leads.
Unless the Union and REI reach an election agreement, the Cleveland office of the NLRB will hold a hearing at 10 am ET on February 3, 2023 by Zoom. Hearings are open to the public.
Today, at 1:30 pm ET, REI agreed to terms of an election agreement with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and the Cleveland office of the NLRB. The agreement was met immediately following workers walking out this morning on a ULP strike demanding the right to vote in a free and fair NLRB election and for the company to stop its unlawful surveillance of workers. The workers intend to unconditionally return to work this afternoon.
REI’s refusal to allow a vote means the election can’t proceed swiftly, so the Cleveland office of the NLRB set a hearing to begin today. The hearing process can prove to be a lengthy distraction and delay, stifling workers’ voices. That’s something workers did not have to endure during the prior two REI [elections], the union said.
“The Union seeks to represent all non-supervisory employees at the store, a presumptively appropriate bargaining unit,” said the RWDSU. “But REI has put forth meritless assertions to delay the election.
“First, REI said that sales leads are supervisors under the law and therefore cannot unionize; second, that workers in the shop section of the store do not share a community of interest with the store’s retail workers; and third, that certain workers are ‘casual’ employees and shouldn’t vote. The RWDSU vehemently disagrees with REI’s objections.”
REI wants to burnish its image as a good corporate citizen. It’s Co-op isn’t just the nation’s “favorite retailer for all things outdoors, they’re also a leading voice in sustainability, philanthropy and outdoor stewardship,” said REI’s ecommerce site.
To help REI’s communications team continue to elevate this work, C+C has developed stories that showcase the co-op’s commitment to the greater good, including supporting small outdoor nonprofits, making the outdoors more accessible through rental gear, and investments in environmental journalism.
“We collaborate with our employees, members and the broader outdoor industry to impact the world for good,” REI’s web site said.” The co-op remained dedicated to philanthropy in 2021, supporting more than 450 organizations around the country, with cumulative donations in excess of $7 million.
“To date, C+C has placed stories in over 40 local and national outlets and garnered over 21 million media impressions. C+C also leads customized media trainings for all REI spokespeople, from store managers to C-suite executives, to provide the tools needed to nail the interview.
“Together, we are stewards of something truly special—this 85-year-old cooperative, its legacy, and its future impact,” REI said. “We are all here because we believe that time outside is fundamental to a life well-lived. The decisions we make today will determine the co-op’s ability to live up to our mission — to connect every person to the power of the outdoors and engage them in the fight to protect it — for generations to come.”
However, REI has been impacted by the economy, which has taken a hit from increases in the interest rate by the Federal Reserve. The action was taken to tamp down inflation, which is the highest levels in decades, and has been putting a damper on consumer spending.
REI said it’s reducing the size of its overall headquarters team to align the co-op’s resources and people to the areas of highest impact. “This change impacts 167 leaders and employees, approximately 8% of our HQ workforce and less than 1% of our total workforce,” REI said. “All impacted people have been notified via a conversation with a leader.”