Cleveland REI workers form a union, adding fuel to the labor effort End-shutdown

Workers at an REI store near Cleveland voted 27-12 to unionize Friday, adding more fuel to a labor organizing drive at the national outdoor retailer.

The Union of Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores said it prevailed in the vote after a recount by the National Labor Relations Board. The company has one week to file objections to the results.

The Ohio election marks the third union victory at an REI outpost in the past year, following other votes in New York City and Berkeley, California. The Cleveland store, which is in suburban Orange, employs about 55 workers who would be part of the union.

REI said in a statement that it “believes in the right of every eligible employee to vote for or against union representation.”

“We fully support our Cleveland employees through the voting process and will continue to support our employees going forward as they begin to navigate the collective bargaining process,” the company said.

RWDSU, however, said pro-union workers had endured “intimidating one-on-one meetings” with managers.

“They have stuck together through a horrendous, relentless and illegal anti-union campaign and have come out stronger on the other side,” union president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement.

The union said its margin of victory in the election was higher than suggested results, as the company questioned the eligibility of nine workers to vote. Those ballots were not counted, but would likely have favored the union, a spokesman said.

REI, which is structured as a customer-owned cooperative, is one of a number of high-profile retailers whose workers have recently chosen to unionize amid a spate of organizing. Since late 2021, employees have formed the first US unions at Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and Trader Joe’s and are now trying to negotiate their first contracts with those companies.

As with those other organizing drives, the portion of the REI workforce that has formed unions thus far remains small. The Kent, Washington-based retailer has more than 160 locations and nearly 15,000 employees across the US.

Despite its progressive image on climate change and other issues, REI hasn’t exactly rolled out a welcome mat for the union. When the New York organizing drive went underground, the retailer launched a widely shared campaign podcast which warned that a union could “affect our ability to communicate and work directly with our employees.”

In February, REI workers in Ohio he left work in a strike over “unfair labor practices”, accusing the company of trying to delay the upcoming elections and of policing pro-union workers. REI soon agreed to the terms for a vote and the workers returned to their jobs.

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