Cleveland's REI Workers Vote 'Overwhelmingly' To Unionize

The election took place Friday at the store's location in Beachwood

To cap off a months-long movement toward organizing, the 37 workers at REI's Cleveland location voted in favor of unionizing Friday evening. Their store, situated in Pinecrest, will be the third location nationwide to form a union.

Citing unfair wages and poorly structured hours, union-favoring employees filed with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union on January 11. The group soon ran into expected backlash from corporate, which told the National Labor Relations Board that half of the group's 56 workers were "ineligible" to organize
click to enlarge Ten of the 56 REI Cleveland workers who voted yes on Friday. - REI Union Cleveland
REI Union Cleveland
Ten of the 56 REI Cleveland workers who voted yes on Friday.

That changed Friday. All 56, RWDSU said in a statement, were free to vote.

"Tonight, we can finally say that REI Cleveland is a union store,” Nick Heilgeist, a member of the REI Cleveland Organizing Committee and a retail sales specialist, said in a press statement Friday evening. "We green vests are united in our desire to create more transparent and consistent policies and a workplace that will be sustainable for workers for years to come."

The election, which garnered a sizable following on and off Twitter, was publicly supported by a range of local and state politicians, including Rep. Elliot Forhan, whose 21st district covers the Pinecrest store.

"Finally, you will be able to do what your colleagues in SoHo and Berkeley have done," Forhan wrote in a letter to the organizers, "and what Americans have done for generations: secure a voice in the workplace."

Along with echoing the issues with REI's management expressed at its New York and California locations, RWDSU said they've also filed unfair labor practice charges for REI's alleged union busting, including one-on-one "intimidation" of workers and "unlawful surveillance." REI corporate denied those allegations.

For REI workers in New York's SoHo neighborhood, the vote yes—which occurred a year ago, on March 2, 2022—seems to have led to change.

Since last June, the SoHo union has met for talks with REI 17 times. In December, the group won a $2 wage increase to $21.50/hour, and shortened the greenlight date for benefits-eligible employees from one year to three months.

"We've reached many tentative agreements so far," REI Union SoHo wrote in a statement on Instagram yesterday. "These are the building blocks for a complete collective bargaining agreement.

"Contract negotiations are an ongoing effort," they added, "and we still have much more to do."

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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.
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