Belabored: Retail Organizing at REI

Belabored: Retail Organizing at REI

Retail has historically been one of the hardest sectors to organize, but workers at REI are bucking that trend.

Outside REI's flagship store in New York City (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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Retail has historically been one of the hardest sectors to organize, with its high turnover, precarious workforce, and big employers that can invest time and money in crushing union drives. The workers at REI, a retail chain and consumer co-op that specializes in outdoor gear and sportswear, have been bucking that trend. Earlier this month, they voted overwhelmingly to form a union at one of the brand’s flagship stores in Downtown Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. During their campaign, they cited concerns about training, safety and scheduling issues, and a lack of worker input in workplace decision-making.

Just as Starbucks, Amazon, and other large companies have done when with faced unionization efforts in recent months, REI tried to deter workers from organizing with heaps of anti-union propaganda, while also trying to frame itself as a friendly, progressive employer that didn’t want a union interfering with its special relationship with its workforce. We spoke with Steven Buckley, a retail sales specialist and member of the REI SoHo Organizing Committee (now a member of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, or RWDSU), about how the store’s workers dealt with anti-union resistance, and how they managed to turn the crisis of the pandemic into an organizing opportunity.

In other news, we look at the ongoing Minnesota teachers’ strike, the struggles of maritime workers off the British coast (with Laleh Khalili, professor of international politics at Queen Mary University of London), new legislation to decriminalize massage workers in New York City (with Esther Kao of Red Canary Song and Jared Trujillo of the NYCLU), and research on which workers are still making less than $15 an hour, with recommended reading on the unappreciated labor of paraeducators and the corporate exploitation of the cost of living crisis.

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Steven Buckley (Retail Sales Specialist, member of the REI Union Soho Organizing Committee, RWDSU member)


Noam Scheiber, REI Workers in New York Vote to UnionizeNew York Times


Argh, I wish I’d written that!

Sarah: Christine Berry, Who’s profiting from the cost of living crisis? Right now, it’s big business ownersGuardian

Michelle: Nora De La Cour, Paraeducators Are Critical to the Classroom — and They Make Poverty WagesJacobin