Workers at the SoHo outdoor gear and apparel store REI voted Wednesday night to form the company’s first union in the country, organizers announced on Twitter.
Eighty-eight of the store’s 102 employees voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, an REI spokesperson confirmed. Fourteen employees voted not to join the union.
“We know we will be able to harness our collective strength to advocate for a more equitable, safe, and enriching work environment,” said Claire Chang, a retail sales specialist and union organizer at the store. “We're hopeful that REI meets us in good faith during negotiations for our first contract, while keeping our co-op values in mind and applying them to workers, so we can all demonstrate that we really do go further.”
Organizers said they wanted to address workplace safety and training concerns, scheduling and vacation time through unionization efforts
REI is modeled as a cooperative where customers are encouraged to become members to receive discounts and other perks. But organizers said they’d faced resistance from REI corporate leadership about workers forming a cooperative of their own.
“I believe the presence of union representation will impact our ability to communicate and work directly with our employees and resolve concerns at the speed the world is moving,” Artz said according to a transcript of the episode. “And that is the core of why we don't think that introducing a union is the right thing for our employees.”
The company had previously sent out statements to the press saying it didn’t think a union was the right option for the company’s SoHo workers.
Following Wednesday’s vote, a company spokesperson who declined to provide their name, said the company appreciates the hard work of its employees and respects each member’s right to choose whether or not to unionize.