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Unionizing REI Workers Launch Petition to Combat Company’s Intimidation Campaign

The company has been sending executives to hold captive anti-union meetings with unionizing workers.

REI's flagship New York store stands in Lower Manhattan on January 25, 2022 in New York City.

Unionizing REI workers in Manhattan have launched a petition requesting that the outdoor equipment company stop its union busting campaign.

REI retail workers in SoHo filed to unionize last month after the company refused to voluntarily recognize the union. Even though the company consistently touts its supposed progressive values and cooperative working environment, the company has pulled out intimidation tactics and other anti-union moves in recent weeks.

In the petition, REI Union SoHo says that their employer has been forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings with company executives as well as one-on-one meetings with management. Management has posted “an excessive amount” of anti-union flyers to crowd out the union’s flyers, and has evidently suspended promotion opportunities, according to the union.

“Despite all of these scare tactics, we are more united than ever in our belief that a union is the best way forward for all of us,” the workers wrote to REI CEO Eric Artz. “We, the workers of REI Union SoHo, deserve a free and fair union election. We are calling on REI to immediately halt all union-busting practices, and to remain neutral as workers vote on union representation.”

The workers have filed for representation with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). If they are successful, the REI workers will form the company’s first union.

Though the company touts that it’s a “Co-Op” between workers and customers, employees say management often doesn’t hold true to its purported values.

Workers say that they need union representation due to unsafe working conditions during the pandemic and “a tangible shift in the culture at work that doesn’t seem to align with the values that brought most of us here,” organizer Graham Gale said in a statement last month.

Much like Starbucks organizers have done, REI Union SoHo has quoted the company’s own supposed values against it as executives attempt to union bust.

“We believe a union will benefit us for several familiar reasons. First, *we go further together*. To us, that means employees need a seat at the table to collaboratively develop our agreements with you,” the workers wrote in a Twitter thread last month. “We know that with a union, we’ll all be able to *hold ourselves to a higher standard* by continuing to set an example for the rest of the retail industry as a company that respects the voices of its staff at all levels.”

“Frankly, we love REI,” the workers said. “Collectively, we have decided that a union is the best way to guarantee that REI continues to be a workplace we love.”

Progressive customers have been frustrated with the company’s union busting — frustration that intensified last week when the company released a 25-minute podcast on its anti-union website in which Artz co-opted the language of Indigenous and LGBTQ social movements to argue against unionization. Like many union busters before him, Artz insists that the company is pro-union — just not for its own employees.

Similarly to Starbucks’s anti-union website, REI’s site is chock full of misinformation about unions and contains vague threats about how any union contract resulting from negotiations might end up cutting hours or benefits for employees – which would likely only happen because the company didn’t offer a fair contract.

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