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Employees at REI’s SoHo flagship store in Manhattan last Friday began the process of forming a union. The workers filed a request with the National Labor Relations Board for an election that would involve about 115 employees.
If the effort is successful and the vote passed, the affected employees would be represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.
REI employs more than 15,000 people across more than 160 stores in the United States. At present, none of its employees are unionized. This latest move from workers comes partially in response to what one of the organizers calls “a tangible shift in the culture at work that doesn’t seem to align with the values that brought most of us here,” according to reporting from The New York Times.
That shift in culture, the Times reported, partly involves “the new struggle of facing unsafe working conditions during a global pandemic,” and how REI has handled that challenge.
Read more: Is REI too big?
REI did not respond to OBJ’s request for comment. In a statement to the Times, however, the company said it respects its employees’ right to unionize, but doesn’t agree that doing so is a productive move.
“We respect the rights of our employees to speak and act for what they believe—and that includes the rights of employees to choose or refuse union representation,” the company said in a statement. “However, we do not believe placing a union between the co-op and its employees is needed or beneficial.”
In addition to filing for an election with the labor board, the employees at REI SoHo have also asked the retailer to recognize their union voluntarily, which would negate the need for a vote.