Workers at an REI store in Manhattan on Wednesday voted by an 86% majority in favor of unionizing, according to an emailed press release from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Once the election is certified by the National Labor Relations Board, the RWDSU will represent 116 REI workers (including full- and part-time employees in various roles) in contract negotiations starting this year, the union said.
In an emailed statement, REI acknowledged the vote tally of 88 to 14 in favor of the union. "REI firmly believes that the decision of whether or not to be represented by a union is an important one, and we respect each employee’s right to choose or refuse union representation," the retailer said.
The lopsided vote, held in the break room of REI's New York City flagship, is the latest sign of the newfound strength of labor organization in the U.S.
The pandemic has been a factor spurring union activity at this REI store and elsewhere. Store workers nationwide have complained about a lack of transparency around COVID-19 breakouts, inadequate protection from the disease and insufficient pay rates at a time of added stress and vulnerability.
"I am proud to be here in this moment with my coworkers at REI SoHo as a part of this new wave of unionization efforts that is sweeping the nation," Claire Chang, an REI SoHo employee and a member of the store's union organizing committee, said in a statement, calling a union "necessary for many of us to achieve more stability and security in our lives."
The retailer attempted to walk a fine line, going so far as to produce a podcast where CEO Eric Artz said the company "does not oppose unions," while also saying it was not "the right thing for our employees." This disappointed some customers who took to social media to slam what they saw as a disconnect between the retailer's professed progressive values and its anti-union stance.
The victory follows successful union votes at Starbucks locations, amid a wave of organizing efforts throughout the coffee chain. Amazon warehouse employees in Bessemer, Alabama, are in the midst of a union election, a re-vote after the NLRB ruled that the e-commerce giant's anti-union activities during an election there last year broke the law. An Amazon warehouse in Staten Island has also been given the green light to pursue a union.