Workers at a REI flagship store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood voted to unionize on Wednesday, creating the first organized location among the outdoor retailer’s more than 170 stores.
The union involved in the election, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said in a statement after the vote count that workers voted 88 to 14. in favor of membership. The National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that arbitrates union elections in the private sector, has yet to certify the results to make them official.
Claire Chang, a store worker and member of the union organizing committee, said after the vote count that she was proud to be “part of this new wave of organizing efforts that is sweeping the country”.
“We know we will be able to harness our collective strength to advocate for a more equitable, safe and rewarding work environment,” Chang said in a statement released by the union.
REI acknowledged the union victory in a statement.
“As we have said throughout this process, REI firmly believes that the decision of whether or not to be represented by a union is important, and we respect the right of every employee to choose or refuse union representation,” the company said.
REI, a brand that presents itself as progressive regarding climate change, racial equity and other issues, opposed the union effort, saying it would be “impact on our ability to communicate directlywith the workers. REI is a member-owned co-op and has particular appeal among young, left-leaning outdoor enthusiasts. He was widely mocked for a podcast he produced to discourage unionization which included acknowledgments of Indigenous lands.
The organizing campaign, REI Union, accused the retailer of deploying “classic anti-union tactics”, including posting flyers in the store and holding mandatory meetings where workers heard anti-union talking points. The workers even circulated a petition calling on the retailer to “end all union-busting practices”.
As the vote approached, pro-union workers said on Twitter that they were seeking higher wages, more control over their schedules and a voice at work.
The election victory marks a significant win for RWDSU, which has about 50,000 members working in grocery stores, poultry processing plants, warehouses and other industries. The SoHo store gives the union a foothold in a major retailer, with the ability for workers at other REI stores to join the campaign and demand labor board elections.
The RWDSU has long represented workers at several Macy’s stores, but the retail business is largely non-union in the United States: 4.4% of workers in the industry are unionized, and they are more likely to work in grocery stores than in clothing and equipment stores like REI.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, said in a statement Wednesday that REI workers are “ready to negotiate a strong contract that will allow them to uphold the cooperative’s progressive values.”
Last year, the union lost a high-profile election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, but the NLRB later determined that Amazon broke the law and tainted the vote. Workers at the same facility now vote in a election to redo commissioned by the NLRB.
The REI campaign coincides with a explosion organization at Starbucks locations across the country. The Workers United union has successfully organized three Starbucks stores – two in new York and one in Arizona – and seeks elections in more than 100 others across the country.
With union density nearing an all-time low, union supporters hope such campaigns will spread to other high-profile retailers and breathe new life into the labor movement.