Workers at a Seattle-based retail in lower Manhattan successfully voted to unionize.

Earlier this month, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), announced that 86% (88 out of 102) of workers at the REI Co-Op at Lafayette Street in Manhattan voted to join the RWDSU, making the location the first unionized REI store in the country.

“History was made today! We’re excited to welcome the workers of REI SoHo into the RWDSU, marking the first-ever unionized REI store in the whole country,” stated RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.

“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.

“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. With a seat at the table, workers can make working at REI safe and sustainable for years to come.”

Workers said that REI engaged in a union-busting campaign using similar tactics that Amazon used against its workers in Bessemer, Alabama: captive audience meetings, putting the kibosh on promotional opportunities, and upped the ante by making workers listen to a 25-minute union busting podcast.

In a statement, REI officials noted the 14 workers who voted against forming a union.

“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,” read REI’s statement. “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 a co-op like operation. Customers are pushed to memberships to receive perks and discounts like other retailers.

“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,” stated Claire Chang, member of the REI SoHo Organizing Committee and retail sales specialist-visual at REI SoHo. “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. A union is necessary for many of us to achieve more stability and security in our lives which could allow for us to explore and play more outside of work!

“As green vests, we believe ‘a life outdoors is a life well lived’ and in order for that to be viable and accessible to us, we need to be at the bargaining table alongside REI leadership to work out a collective bargaining agreement that works for us,” continued Chang. “Hence, we’re hopeful that REI meets us in good faith during negotiations for our first contract, while keeping our co-op values in mind and applying them to workers, so we can all demonstrate that we really do go further…together!”

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