SEATTLE – For the most part Colin Pointon loves his job.
"Positive environment," said the REI sales specialist. "A lot of people who enjoy their jobs."
Pointon has worked at the South Lake Union flagship store for almost 2 1/2 years, and the only problem is a few policies that have been instituted.
He's referring to a system that does not allow many employees to get full time status, or health care benefits. Most, he said, have also not been given a cost of living adjustment in two years, even as the cost to live in Seattle has skyrocketed.
"This is a company that can ultimately easily afford to make a really good working environment," said Kshama Sawant, who organized a public forum on REI and their labor practices at Seattle City Hall Monday night. "Ultimately, what they need is a union."
The allegations are a bit of surprise, given REI's reputation as a favorite of employees. Fortune Magazine has consistently rated the company among the Top 100 Places to Work.
REI also took issue with Sawant's claims on Monday, although declined to answer direct questions.
"We are aware of the conversation that councilmember Sawant is attempting to create. As a co-op, we welcome open, constructive dialogue with our employees," said REI Spokesman Michael Ferris in a statement. "In this instance, however, the full picture is not being properly represented."
The company provided other numbers claiming part-time hourly employees earn 32 percent more per hour, or $11.50 per hour on average, "than current regulatory minimums across the country,” and that full timers earn 65 percent more than those minimums, near $14.50 an hour.
REI said that employees are also eligible to earn additional pay via an incentive plan, and benefits when they work more than 20 hours a week. REI was also quick to point out that besides Fortune, Glassdoor listed it as one of the 50 Best Places to work.
Ferris added, "We give back 72% of our profits to our employees, members and nonprofits. Last year, we gave $70 million to employees in retirement and incentive pay. Last month, our CEO shared with employees that we plan to make select, targeted investments in pay this year and our employees will learn more this summer."
Sawant didn't say what her next move may be, but Pointon, who attended the forum said he's all ears.
"I would love REI to disclose what its changes are going to be," Pointon said.