Employees of an REI store in Beachwood, Ohio walked out on an unfair labor practice strike on February 3, 2023.

Employees of an REI store in Beachwood, Ohio walked out on an unfair labor practice strike on February 3, 2023.

(Photo: RWDSU)

'Strikes Work': REI Agrees to March 3 Union Election After Ohio Walkout

"We are basically making demands that we have a livable wage, that we are able to live our lives outdoors, like REI's mission statement includes," said one sales associate at the Beachwood store.

After REI employees in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio walked off the job Friday morning, the recreational equipment retailer agreed to schedule a union election vote next month and stopped pushing to exclude certain workers.

Following successful union drives at two other REI stores, employees in Beachwood last month filed for a union election with National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking representation with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

John Ginter, a sales associate at the Beachwood REI, told Cleveland-based Ideastream Public Media that he and his co-workers are seeking better working conditions.

"We are basically making demands that we have a livable wage, that we are able to live our lives outdoors, like REI's mission statement includes," he said. "So having a better work-life balance, being able to care for ourselves and to increase benefits for employees across the spectrum, whether or not they are part-time, full-time, whatever that situation would be."

According to the report: "Ginter alleged REI has some 'pretty rigid stipulations' with regard to which employees are eligible for benefits and accrual of sick time. He also said he believes his REI location is 'not living up to our diversity, equity, and inclusion statement.'"

Beachwood workers launched their brief unfair labor practice (ULP) strike Friday as an NLRB hearing got underway at the federal agency's Cleveland office.

In a ULP charge that RWDSU filed Thursday with the NLRB, the union claimed REI "engaged in the unlawful surveillance of workers and/or created an impression of surveillance of the workers at the Beachwood store."

RWDSU has also accused REI of putting forth "meritless assertions to delay the election" by claiming that sales leads, bike shop workers, and "casual" employees—or those who work part-time with irregular schedules—should not vote.

"RWDSU vehemently disagrees with REI's objections," the union said in a statement. "It is especially galling because, as the company unnecessarily fights RWDSU in Ohio, it is currently bargaining contracts with workers holding these same classifications at the SoHo, New York and Berkeley, California stores. REI's hypocrisy is union-busting plain and simple and is a meek attempt to exclude more than half of the proposed bargaining unit to be eligible to vote."

REI pushed back against RWDSU's characterization of its intentions in a Thursday statement to Axios, saying that the NLRB hearing was "to ensure that all employees who hold the right to vote are included in the voting process."

The agreement reached Friday includes all eligible workers at the location, "a reversal from REI's position last week," according to RWDSU. "The union election will take place on March 3, 2023 from 12:00 pm-6:00 pm ET at the Ohio store."

New York Times labor reporter Noam Scheiber tweeted Friday evening: "One thing I've learned covering labor over the past several years: Your labor rights are typically as robust as the power you and your co-workers can muster at the workplace. This case was a perfect example."

More Perfect Union similarly said, "Strikes work."

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Congresswoman Shontel Brown, Ohio Democrats who are not related, expressed solidarity with the REI workers in their state this week.

Others, from the REI union in SoHo to UNI Commerce to the AFL-CIO, have also publicly supported the Beachwood workers this week.

If the Ohio employees vote to form REI's third union nationwide, RWDSU would represent approximately 55 workers there—though RWDSU noted that "the store currently operates at a 60% staffing level of its full capacity, potentially increasing that number to over 70."

As the Beachwood workers prepare for next month's election, contract negotiations are underway in Berkeley, and 10 fired employees—including two bargaining team members—are accusing REI of retaliation, which the company denies.

Meanwhile, in Washington state on Tuesday, REI laid off 167 people, or 8% of headquarters workers. President and CEO Eric Artz said that "in the face of increasing uncertainty, we need to sharpen our focus on the most critical investments and areas of work to best serve our members and grow the co-op over the long term."

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