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REI workers vote to unionize at SoHo location

The Manhattan store is the first within the Seattle-based company to unionize.
Credit: AP
A sign at the REI flagship store is shown Friday, March 2, 2018, in Seattle. The outdoor retailer says it's halting future orders of some popular brands, including CamelBak water carriers, Giro helmets and Camp Chef stoves, whose parent company also makes ammunition and assault-style rifles. The Seattle-based company has been facing mounting pressure from some customers. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

MANHATTAN, New York — Workers at the REI Co-op in Manhattan, N.Y., voted to unionize Wednesday with an 86% majority, according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). 

The SoHo location became the first store within the Seattle-based company to unionize.

Workers participated in an in-person vote conducted by the National Labor Relations Board in the REI SoHo breakroom on Wednesday. The RWDSU will represent 116 workers at the company in contract negotiations which will begin this year, according to the organization.

"I am proud to be here in this moment with my coworkers at REI SoHo as a part of this new wave of unionization efforts that is sweeping the nation. As members of the RWDSU, we know we will be able to harness our collective strength to advocate for a more equitable, safe, and enriching work environment," said Claire Chang, Member of the REI SoHo Organizing Committee and Retail Sales Specialist-Visual at REI SoHo. 

Chang said the union is necessary for employees to achieve more stability and security, and to work out a collective bargaining agreement that works for employees. 

The RWDSU alleged the company waged a union-busting campaign that included "captive audience meetings, a halt on promotional opportunities, and even a 25-minute union-busting podcast." 

"These workers have vast expertise in their field and have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to serve the outdoor community. They have stuck together through a horrendous union-busting campaign and have come out the other side stronger," said Stuart Appelbaum, President of RWDSU. "The workers of REI SoHo are ready to negotiate a strong contract that will allow them to uphold the co-op’s progressive values while providing the top-notch service REI customers have come to expect.

The REI Co-op communications team sent KING 5 the following statement: 

"Today our SoHo store employees participated in an election to determine whether they would be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The initial vote tally in the SoHo election is 88 votes for union representation and 14 votes against. The official results will be certified and are typically announced within five days of the vote tally. As we have said throughout this process, REI firmly believes that the decision of whether or not to be represented by a union is an important one, and we respect each employee’s right to choose or refuse union representation. We are, at our core, cooperative. Our employees are the heart of the co-op community, and their expertise, enthusiasm and joy in helping people get outside make us who we are. We greatly appreciate their hard work and dedication through what continues to be a remarkably challenging time in the world."

REI is the second major Seattle-based company to have a location form a first-ever union in the past four months. 

A Starbucks location in Buffalo, N.Y. became the first location in the coffee company to unionize in December of 2021, inspiring dozens of other locations across the country to file to hold their own union elections.

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are holding their second union election after the National Labor Relations Board determined the company unfairly influenced the original union election in 2021.

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