Following Mass Layoffs at REI, Workers Demand Hazard Pay and Better Safety Precautions

A coalition of REI workers are demanding hazard pay and stronger safety precautions at stores following mass layoffs at the retail chain amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a campaign launched on Coworker.org and led by former sales specialists Caleb Lawson and Devin Hilla, the group urged CEO Eric Artz and the company’s board of directors to provide additional pay for employees who continued to work during the health crisis. They also demanded that the brand rehire employees who were laid off or “pressured to resign” due to shutdowns and asked that those who hadn’t been called back to work be granted an extended furlough or paid leave.

“Recent ex-workers [should] be offered a sufficient amount of time to make their decision on whether to return to REI,” the petition added, “based on the implementation and success of new safety precautions and procedures, as well as the developing situation with COVID-19 across all stores.”

The petition — which has received 1,441 of 2,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning — also brought up purported lack of safety precautions at REI locations: Workers challenged the company to form a COVID-19 committee to encourage transparency about positive cases at its outposts, enact stringent safety measures and enforce such procedures on the sales floor. (Reports have indicated there have been confirmed COVID-19 infections at REI units in Tucson, Az., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Atlanta.)

“We, the workers, will continue to advocate for our own health and safety,” they added. “However, it must also be the duty of management to actively alleviate the discomfort and health risks of REI retail workers who are faced with customers refusing to abide by the safety precautions and procedures.”

Almost all of REI’s 160 stores have reopened to the public. Some units are operating with curbside pickup and other contactless services, while others are back in business with limitations on the number of customers allowed inside as well as abbreviated schedules that vary by location.

In a statement to FN, REI wrote that all of its open units have a “focus on health and safety standards for employees and customers” and that it’s “been able to bring the majority of those employees back from furlough.”

A spokesperson added, “We also continue to educate all our employees on our contact tracing process. Actions by store managers and teams always balance transparency as well as honor privacy and confidentiality.”

Yesterday, REI — which announced widespread furloughs in early April — confirmed to FN its plans to eliminate 400 store employees by Wednesday as the coronavirus continues to plague its business. The layoffs impact about 5% of its total retail staff of 13,000 workers.

The latest job cuts come three months after REI eliminated about a quarter of roles — or roughly 300 employees — at its headquarters in Kent, Wash. At the time, Artz announced that he would give up 100% of his base salary for the next six months, while the REI senior leadership team took a 20% pay reduction during the same period. (Members of the board of directors also forfeited their fees for that time frame.)

This story has been updated with a statement from REI.

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