New York City REI Workers Win a Union!


Written by a member of Socialist Alternative and Community Organizer at the office of Seattle City Councilman Kshama Sawant

Congratulations to the workers at REI SoHo in New York who just voted 88 to 14 to establish the first union at REI in the country and join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)! The landslide victory, which workers won despite a massive anti-union campaign by the company, will give confidence to other workers fighting to organize, including Starbucks baristas who are waging a historic organizing drive in Seattle and across all the countries.

REI workers are fighting for decent pay, reliable hours, better control over schedules, stricter COVID and other safety policies, and an expansion of health care to cover more employees sooner. The Socialist City Council Office of Kshama Sawant, and our organization Socialist Alternative, look forward to fighting alongside SoHo workers as they begin their struggle to secure these demands in their first contract negotiation. We also support REI workers in Seattle and other cities who are undoubtedly inspired by the SoHo organizing victory and want to build on it.

Despite annual revenue of $3 billion, REI requires employees to work a full year without being eligible for health insurance. Even then, the company only provides health care to those who work 20 hours a week or more. And in one of the most expensive cities in the country, amid soaring rents and rising inflation, REI is paying SoHo store workers less than $19/hour. Workers described a lack of concern from REI management regarding workplace safety, lack of worker contribution across hours and shifts, and company retaliation against workers who asked for better COVID safety precautions.

And none of this is new to the way workers have been treated at REI, belying the media image of a progressive company that cares about its workers and the wider community. In 2016 workers at the Seattle flagship store organized as the REI Workers for Real Change, requiring access to full-time hours, the right to unionize with card verification neutrality (i.e. if the majority of workers sign union cards, REI must agree to recognize that union) and urgent increases in the cost of living. Our council office was proud to have fought alongside REI workers for real change, including organizing a massive solidarity rally at Seattle City Hall, with workers from UFCW Local 21 and MLK County Labor Board who joined us. At the rally, described workers REI’s unforgiving corporate environment, and facing intimidation and retaliation for speaking out. Homelessness, hungerand other precarious living situations were not uncommon for them.

In addition to the conditions the company has imposed on its workers for years, REI management in SoHo willfully refused to recognize the union when a majority of workers signed union cards. Instead, the company forced workers to endure a week-long anti-union campaign that included captive audience meetings with management, anti-union mail delivered to workers’ homes, and messages from REI leaders urging workers to vote against the union.

In anti-union message, REI’s director of diversity began with a fundamental recognition of the Ohlone tribe before embarking on an anti-union propaganda offensive. It is a perfect example of how “woke” capitalists and their political representatives will give a semblance of favor to progressive values, and at the same time launch attacks on working people. We saw an example of this in Seattle just two weeks ago, when City Council Democrats proclaimed Black History Month and later in the same meeting voted to end the moratorium. on pandemic evictions in Seattle, which will have a disproportionate and severe impact on Black families, many of whom will face homelessness.

Starbucks workers are also facing a brutal union busting campaign from a company that calls itself “progressive”. Workers are beginning to realize that companies like REI and Starbucks, even if they use progressive rhetoric, will fight tooth and nail to defend their profits, at the expense of workers.

Workers must organize on the basis of solidarity to defend our interests. REI workers lead the way. And we need a class struggle approach, without any illusions that the bosses will act in good conscience. Socialist Alternative is urging workers at all 168 REI stores across the country to organize unions to fight for what you deserve.

Congratulations to REI workers in SoHo and solidarity to workers at Starbucks, Crossroads Trading Company in Seattle and others who are currently fighting to organize and who should be inspired by this victory.


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