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REI Accused of Widespread Labour Law Violations at Unionised US Stores

Workers at stores in New York, California, Chicago and Boston, among others, filed a total of 80 complaints with the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) seeking to force the company to bargain with their unions.
The REI store in the SoHo neighbourhood of New York City.
Workers at stores across the US filed a total of 80 complaints with the National Labour Relations Board seeking to force the company to bargain with their unions. (SOPA Images)

REI, the camping and outdoor sports equipment retailer, was accused on Wednesday of dozens of violations of US labour law at eight retail stores that have unionised since last year.

Workers at stores in New York, California, Chicago and Boston, among others, filed a total of 80 complaints with the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) seeking to force the company to bargain with their unions.

The complaints claim that REI has retaliated against pro-union workers, restructured jobs and changed working conditions without input from the unions, as well as stalled bargaining with unions that won elections at the stores.

The labour board investigates worker complaints before deciding whether to pursue formal cases against employers. Those charges are heard by administrative judges, whose decisions can be appealed to the five-member NLRB and then to federal appeals courts.

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Sumner, Washington-based REI, also known by its full name Recreational Equipment, said in a statement that it disagrees with the claims in the complaints.

“We are committed and engaged in good-faith bargaining with stores that have chosen union representation and will continue to participate fully in the negotiating process,” the company said.

The company, which has about 180 stores and 15,000 employees nationwide, has said that recent changes to job titles and workers’ schedules were unrelated to union organising.

The union campaign at REI is part of a nationwide wave of labour organizing that began during the Covid-19 pandemic and has included Starbucks baristas, Amazon warehouse workers, employees of several video game makers and Apple retail workers, among others.

The unionised stores are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. In statements provided by the unions, several REI employees said the company’s actions have infringed on their rights to freely choose union representation.

“Instead of acknowledging our collective voice and our right to form a union, we faced strong opposition from management in the form of retaliation, misinformation, and disregard for basic labor law,” said Anni Saludo, a sales specialist at an REI store in Durham, North Carolina.

The complaints come after employees at REI stores in Chicago, Boston and Minnesota staged walkouts last month to protest layoffs and changes to working conditions.

By Daniel Wiessner

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