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REI workers demand company bargain in good faith

REI workers from across the country march to company HQ in Issaquah, WA


The following is from the RWDSU:

ISSAQUAH, Wash. (March 8, 2024) — REI workers from across the country who have unionized with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) hiked to REI’s national headquarters in Issaquah on Thursday where they delivered their unified national platform to the company and called on management to bargain in good faith at tables outside – bringing bargaining to their literal doorstep.

REI Bargaining Committee representatives from all nine unionized stores traveled from across the country, some more than 3,000 miles, to face company management who only needed to walk mere feet to meet workers at the table. Workers faced a lone empty chair available for REI CEO Eric Artz, who never showed. REI union members were joined by REI co-op members, community supporters, and local elected officials including King County Councilmembers Girmay Zahilay and Sarah Perry, and others.

Union representatives from all nine Bargaining Committee’s co-signed a letter of commitment to reach a contract by the end of 2024, which workers also delivered to REI Headquarters on Thursday, the union is awaiting response from the company.

In the days leading up to the final leg of the workers’ metaphorical march across the country, workers at all nine unionized stores in SoHo, NY; Berkeley, CA; Cleveland, OH; Chicago, IL; Durham, NC; Boston, MA; Bellingham, WA; Maple Grove, MN; and Castleton, IN participated in hikes, bike rides, and other outdoor activities, with each activity representing a new demand in their new national platform.

Throughout the process of trying to bargain the first contract for REI workers, the company has engaged in ongoing bad-faith bargaining practices and unilateral workplace changes that show a pattern of egregious anti-union behavior, and retaliatory actions against workers. Despite these tactics, the growing unionization movement at REI is building momentum, with the ninth REI location winning their election outright on Feb. 9, 2024, in Castleton, IN.

REI workers in Bellingham after they voted to unionize on June 9, 2023.

“As an elected member of our bargaining committee, I have been incredibly frustrated and disappointed by REI’s continued refusal to actually bargain with us,” said Steve Buckley, Senior Sales Specialist at REI SoHo in New York. “They have taken all REI employees from the management side of the table and replaced them with lawyers who lack a basic understanding of how the stores and company functions. This, combined with the repeated rejections of our proposals and refusal to give counters, has stalled the process, which feels incredibly intentional. What hurts most is knowing that it does not need to be like this. Before Morgan Lewis took over, we were making real progress at the table and were able to find common ground. Our committee remains dedicated to resolving all outstanding issues and reaching a contract that reflects our contribution to the co-op. We call on REI to do the same. Come to the table and get this done.”

“The essentials we are asking for as a union are simply the basic necessities to live a healthy life,” said Margaux Lantelme, Frontline & Banker, REI Chicago, Illinois. “We should not be expected to accept living paycheck to paycheck. I’m consistently one emergency away from financial disaster. I cannot save any money. I have never been able to save money, and it costs too much to pay for housing and food and necessities to have enough to set aside. How can a company which claims such ‘progressive’ values not be ashamed to fight workers who are asking for such reasonable, essential things? Our union is strong and proud, and knows that what we are asking for is important. Several co-op and community members came to support our walkout in Chicago a few weeks ago because they also relate and recognize that workers deserve better treatment and wages. Our union has solidarity with other unions, laborers, and the community, and it helps make us a stronger force.”

BACKGROUND — Workers at the first organized REI store have been bargaining with the company for a first union contract for almost two years, while others have been left to languish at the table for months after winning their elections a year or more ago. Exactly a year into contract negotiations at the first store, REI announced it was changing its legal representation across all of its stores to Morgan Lewis, a notoriously, vehemently anti-union law firm.

This led REI to cancel all bargaining sessions in the immediate weeks, and roll back an agreement to give the first unionized store the same increased pay scale it offered other non-unionized stores the day after their election, meaning workers have been working with less pay at that store than all of the other stores for almost a year. When negotiations resumed later in the summer, the move forced the worker-led bargaining committees at many stores to waste time recapitulating proposals that have been on the table for months, derailing and delaying bargaining.

In November 2023, in the first nationally coordinated effort, all eight unionized stores (at the time, now nine) filed a combined 80 unfair labor practice charges (ULPs) over the company’s bad faith bargaining practices and unilateral workplace changes that showed a pattern of egregious anti-union behavior against workers. Charges are still pending before the National Labor Relations Board.

In recent months, only REI’s attorneys have been appearing at bargaining sessions, further delaying the process of getting to a contract. Company management and decision makers have continually failed to attend sessions and negotiate with workers directly. The national worker committee is saying enough is enough and on March 7, workers literally brought the bargaining tables to the company and demanded they come out and bargain in good faith. REI cannot turn a blind eye to workers on their doorstep. REI may think if they stay in their Washington treehouse the movement will shrink, but in fact, the REI Union is only growing, as a ninth store in Castleton, Indiana joined their fellow unionized workers just weeks ago.

Learn more about the growing REI unionization movement here.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!