Employees at Manhattan’s SoHo store have filed papers to unionize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. 116 of them, to be precise. After a difficult couple of years dealing with closures, and mandates, and skyrocketing housing costs, and inflation, and, and, and, etc., perhaps it shouldn’t surprise that employees are looking for a bit of wage protection and solidarity.
Graham Cale, an REI employee at the SoHo location said that the efforts at unionization were at least in part because of “a tangible shift in the culture at work that doesn’t seem to align with the values that brought most of us here.” Cale further remarked, in an email to The NY Times, that “the new struggle of facing unsafe working conditions during a global pandemic” was also a factor.
In the summer of 2020, for example, when businesses were just beginning to grapple with re-opening after the first wave of Covid illnesses and deaths spread throughout the country, REI stores faced intense scrutiny for being opaque about which staff members had tested positive for the virus, potentially risking infection among the rest of the employees.
REI has responded to the unionization efforts by releasing a statement that says, in part: “We respect the rights of our employees to speak and act for what they believe — and that includes the rights of employees to choose or refuse union representation. However, we do not believe placing a union between the co-op and its employees is needed or beneficial.”
The r/REI Reddit thread has long discussed efforts at forming a union, and the recent filing with the labor board has prompted an outpouring of support among employees on that thread. Some on Twitter are sharing an internal email from President and CEO of REI Eric Artz addressing the attempt to unionize as unnecessary, but it’s impossible at this time to verify the source, accuracy, or context of the email being shared.
REI is organized as a retail co-op, not a worker’s co-op, so it’s not a worker-owned company. We’ll follow up with more as the story develops.
— Daily Union Elections (@UnionElections) January 22, 2022