Cleveland REI Workers Are Aiming to Become the Retailer’s Next Unionized Store

Employees at an REI store in Cleveland, Ohio have filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), becoming the latest REI location to embark on the unionization path.

Two other REI stores — one in Berkeley, Calif and one in New York City’s Soho neighborhood — voted to unionize their stores in 2022. 

The Cleveland store is seeking representation with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). According to a release from the union, the election filing came shortly after REI management refused to voluntarily recognize the union.

REI said in a statement that it had not been notified by the NLRB regarding a desire for Cleveland employees to vote for union representation and said the company would support the union process and vote.

“As always, the decision to be represented by a union is up to our employees — not the REI leadership team, Board of Directors or anyone else,” REI said. “Our responsibility as leaders is to put employees at the center of everything we do, and we are working to co-create — and maintain — a best-in-class experience for our hourly employees at every store across the country.”

In a letter asking for recognition from REI, workers said they began organizing out of concern for their health and safety in the earlier days of the pandemic, when management implemented new changes without consulting its workers first.

“While the roots of this effort were born from these drastic changes that excluded our input, we have heard the concerns of our peers and it is clear that there is a need for systemic change,” the organizing group wrote. REI workers in Cleveland are also asking for improved DEI efforts, more transparency with performance reviews and improved wages. If successful, the RWDSU will represent 55 workers at this Cleveland store.

“It’s time that REI practices its values,” said Cloud Schneider, a member of the REI Cleveland Organizing Committee and a visual sales lead at REI, in a statement. “At REI, we live by the phrase ‘a life outdoors is a life well lived’. Yet employees are not paid fair wages and have to deal with irregular scheduling preventing us from enjoying the great outdoors.”

The Cleveland employees said they were galvanized by the first union win for REI workers in a New York City last year. In March, 86% of workers at the REI Co-Op in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood voted to join RWDSU in a vote conducted by the NLRB. In August, an REI store in Berkeley, Calif. voted to unionize, making it the second organized REI store in the U.S.

Other retail workers across Starbucks, Target and Amazon warehouses have also joined the wave of unionization efforts across retail in the last year. In April, employees at an Amazon warehouse on New York’s Staten Island officially formed a union, becoming the first Amazon group to do so.

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