Feb 2, 2023 - News

Pinecrest REI employees are trying to unionize

Exterior of REI Co-op in Beachwood, Ohio with Pinecrest sign in the foreground

Worker empowerment, as contagious as COVID. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Employees at a local REI store say the outdoor retailer is opposing unionization efforts.

Catch up fast: Last week, REI refused to reach a stipulated agreement with the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) to move forward with a union election at the store's Pinecrest location in Beachwood.

  • As a result, a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will take place Friday, which union leaders say can be a "lengthy distraction and delay."

Why it matters: The Beachwood store, 55 employees strong, is the third REI location in the country to seek a union, and it joins a contagious worker empowerment movement in Northeast Ohio.

State of play: REI's objections are based on job classifications.

  • In a statement of position to the NLRB, REI asked that sales leads, bike shop workers and "casual employees" — part-time workers with irregular schedules — be excluded from the bargaining unit.

Yes, but: The union says REI has put forth these "meritless assertions" merely as delay tactics and calls them "especially galling" because those same worker classifications are part of previously unionized stores in New York City and Berkeley, California.

What they're saying: "REI's request to bar clearly eligible workers from voting for their union is union busting on its face," Stuart Applebaum, RWDSU president, said in a statement. "You cannot be in support of union elections and freedom of speech, and then bar more than half of your workers from voting."

Zoom in: On a panel call Tuesday evening, workers at the Beachwood location said REI has been engaging in union busting for several weeks.

  • Managers and "visitors from HQ" are now frequently present at the store.
  • Twice-daily team huddles now include content about the divisiveness of unions.
  • "REI has given a lot of lip service to democratic ideals for workers to have the right to organize," said Paul McClain, the Beachwood location's bike and ski shop lead. "Their actions have betrayed the underlying reality that they will stop at nothing to diffuse and bust employees' efforts to do so."

The other side: In an emailed statement to Axios, the REI Co-op disputed the characterization by the RWDSU and said the NLRB hearing was "to ensure that all employees who hold the right to vote are included in the voting process."

  • "It is not clear to us why this routine part of the process is being raised as an issue," the statement read.

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