News & Commentary

February 18, 2022

Hannah Finnie

Hannah Finnie is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

Retail workers at an REI location in New York announced their plans to unionize earlier this month. REI, an outdoor adventure company, has generally cast itself as a progressive company. It uses a co-op model where customers can become co-op members and then share in the profits of the company, and frequently took stands against the Trump administration on public lands issues. However, workers at the New York store moved to organize a union in light of what they described as low wages, poor benefits, poor COVID-19 safety protocols, and more. REI management responded by releasing a recorded conversation between its CEO and its chief diversity and social impact manager that was generally anti-union. Many have criticized the conversation for co-opting progressive language while taking a regressive stance against the unionization efforts.

The organization has also said it will not voluntarily recognize the union because “it would be unfair to those employees to recognize the union immediately, and take away their right to a secret vote to express their true wishes on something that will impact their jobs and lives.”

REI has around 15,000 employees across the United States. Should the New York store’s efforts succeed, it would be the first unionized REI location in the country.

In other union news, Starbucks workers across the country continue an impressive organizing sweep. Eighty-two locations are waiting on a vote to unionize, though some have said the number is up to 93 locations.  

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