As REI Delays Beachwood Union Election, Disgruntled Employees Continue To Call Out Union Busting

About half of the 55 workers were excluded from a potential union vote

In a virtual panel on Tuesday evening, some members of the group attempting to unionize the REI Beachwood location lamented the company's decision to not voluntarily recognize the union and criticized REI's classification of some jobs that would exclude those positions from being part of the bargaining group.

Sales leads are "supervisors," REI told the National Labor Relations Board, which means they should be barred from voting. Shop workers aren't retail. "Casual" employees, those with irregular schedules, don't qualify.

"It cannot be clearer that REI’s motion to remove previously eligible job classifications from this election only seeks to silence workers' voices," Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said in the statement. "And these are not just any workers’ voices, these are the voices of workers with the same job classifications who are already being heard at bargaining tables on both coasts."

Before RWSDU involved itself with Cleveland's store, located in Beachwood, drives rallied for election at two other REI stories. On March 2, 2022, after two years of organizing, workers in Manhattan voted 88 to 14 to unionize. A domino effect led to workers at REI's store in Berkeley to follow suit.

Confusion as to why Cleveland was seemingly being singled out was the theme of Tuesday's meeting, hosted by RWSDU and featuring a trio of union supporters who feel REI's base pay is at least $3 to $4 under what is financially fair and that the company is engaging in union-busting techniques. Those include more frequent visits from top managers and daily talks about the downsides of unions, they said.

Rita Dexter, a retail specialist at Cleveland's store who is originally from Anchorage, Alaska, said that she had to take on a part-time bakery job to supplement REI's meager wage, all while going to school full-time. Though she's one of those currently excluded from voting, Dexter believes REI's pro-worker energy could rebound if it recognizes Cleveland's organizers.

"My coworker summarized it in the past: REI is a great company that deserves a great union," Dexter said.

click to enlarge Rita Dexter, an REI worker at Cleveland's store originally from Anchorage, expressed confusion as to why REI is stalling union election. "REI is a great company that deserves a great union," Dexter said. - RWSDU
Rita Dexter, an REI worker at Cleveland's store originally from Anchorage, expressed confusion as to why REI is stalling union election. "REI is a great company that deserves a great union," Dexter said.

It's possible that REI, as few mentioned on Tuesday, is stalling recognition of Cleveland's union—until, say, the spring—so that its younger, student workforce, who might be more inclined to support the unioin, will naturally weed itself out.

In a statement to employees on January 18, according to Justina Roberts, the company said, “REI will fully support the petition process in Cleveland with the goal that every employee has their voice heard on this important issue.”

From her vantage point in early 2020, it seemed to Lauren Sintala that she had a near ideal job.

As a then retail sales specialist at REI in her late thirties, she had grown fond of the camaraderie around selling outdoors culture, despite making $14.25/hour after three years at its Ann Arbor location. Then, that year, Sintala got a prime offer: a manager elected her to help lead REI's Mastercard sales promotion that would pay Sintala an extra $50 a pop for every card she got someone to sign up for.

"I was like, Holy moly. If I can sell x amount of credit cards, then I could make up my loss in what I feel like I should get paid," Sintala, 42, told Scene. "But that I'm not getting paid."

REI eventually scrapped the deal, opting to funnel bonuses once paid to her to charities instead, something she figured was done so that REI could collect tax breaks.

The rupture between REI's pay scale and its worker philosophy that Sintala, who ended her work with Beachwood's REI this week, is shared amongst the pro-union staff that's questioning why their seemingly kumbaya-focused corporation is contuing to stall election efforts.

The group has also filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against REI, stating "after the union filed a petition for an election, No. 08-RC-310202, the Employer engaged in unlawful surveillance of the workers at the Beachwood store. The union does NOT request that this unfair practice block the processing of the election petition."

The heated saga will continue at an official hearing at noon on Friday with the NLRB.

Coming soon: Cleveland Scene Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting Cleveland stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.

Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.