REI Workers At Berkeley Store Vote To Unionize In Another Win For Labor

REI employees in Berkeley, California, have formed the outdoor retailer’s second union, extending a winning streak for organized labor at largely non-union companies.

Workers at the Berkeley store voted 56 to 38 in favor of joining the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union in a mail-in election this month, according to a vote count held Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board. Employees at REI’s store in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City were the first to unionize earlier this year.

“As we have said throughout this process, REI believes in the right of every employee to vote for or against union representation,” the company said in a statement following the vote count. “We fully supported the vote process in Berkeley and will continue to support our employees going forward.”

The organizing success at REI follows other recent, notable labor victories at Amazon, Starbucks, Apple and Trader Joe’s, all of which have seen their workers unionize for the first time in recent months. Labor officials have reported a surge in election petitions this year as more workers try to come together to bargain collectively.

Bloomberg Law reported new data earlier this week showing that unions won 639 elections between January and June of this year, labor’s best showing for the first half of the year in almost two decades. However, union membership is still hovering near a historic low, with a mere one in ten workers belonging to a union last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

REI, which is structured as a customer cooperative, has more than 170 stores around the country, many of them in liberal urban centers where union support would be high. Given the success of the first two campaigns, the company may well face organizing efforts at other stores in the near future.

REI’s SoHo store in New York City was the first to unionize.

Spencer Platt via Getty Images

The workers in SoHo organized with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, an affiliate of the UFCW, which will represent the workers in Berkeley. Both unions have a long history of representing workers in the retail, grocery and meatpacking industries.

Having won their elections, the SoHo and Berkeley workers now face the more daunting task of trying to bargain a first contract. It can take years for workers to secure a collective bargaining agreement after successfully unionizing, and some never manage to do so. Although they are separate unions, the two groups may coordinate their strategies and demands with the company at the bargaining table.

Most companies have been fighting these new organizing efforts, and REI has been no different, despite its progressive reputation. The company produced a widely mocked podcast earlier this year aimed at discouraging employees from unionizing (the episode began with Indigenous land acknowledgments by the speakers).

The Berkeley employees created a petition calling on the company to “stop the union-busting,” saying REI was using “textbook” tactics to “scare” them.

“They’ve told us our relationship with management will have to change, our existing benefits and retirement will go away, and a union representative will be required to attend our reviews,” the petition read. “They even told someone that they would need the union’s approval to go on vacation.”