It was an overwhelming “yes.” In an 88-14 vote, employees at the Manhattan REI voted to approve a union. It’s the first REI to do so, and follows on the heels of chains like Starbucks seeing similar union drives in the service and retail sector.

“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,” said a statement from Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.


REI’s company as a whole is composed of younger workers. They average 37 years of age, about 5 years younger than the average retail worker in the U.S. Many of those workers feel a growing unease over a gap between housing cost, inflation, and wages.

Further, many have been alarmed at aggressive pushes to sell memberships to customers, coming from a store that typically has less than pushy vibe.

“REI seems like another example of predominantly young workers who are not buying the arguments about unions being special-interest groups,” said John Logan, a professor of labor studies at San Francisco State University.

The company released the following statement after the vote:

“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.”

“We’re not organizing because we hate it here; we love it here,” REI employee Toby Finke said in an interview. “But we want the culture of our workplace [to] match what we were promised when we were hired.”

Photo: REI

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