Associates at a Berkeley, Calif., REI store have voted to form a union in a 56-38 vote, marking the second successful unionization effort at the retailer. The store’s workers will be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.
The first successful REI unionization vote was at a Manhattan location, where workers chose to organize in March 2022. At the time, the associates accessed REI of using “union-busting tactics” including posting anti-union flyers near pro-union flyers, removing opportunities for promotion and sharing misinformation about unionizing.
“REI has been using textbook union-busting tactics meant to scare us out of voting Union Yes,” said the REI Union in a petition. “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. They even told someone that they would need the union’s approval to go on vacation.”
However, REI has denied being opposed to the unionization effort at the Berkeley store. “As we have said throughout this process, REI believes in the right of every employee to vote for or against union representation,” said REI in a statement. “We fully supported the vote process in Berkeley and will continue to support our employees going forward.”
The Starbucks Workers United union has had a more antagonistic relationship with Starbucks. The union has filed official complaints against the retailer, while Starbucks has reportedly considered introducing new benefits that union members wouldn’t be eligible to receive.
Both retailers face a unique challenge when it comes to their relationship with unions, one that isn’t shared by Amazon or Target: the potential for backlash if their actions toward unionizing workers don’t match what shoppers expect of these companies.
“It’s not just Starbucks — look at Apple, REI, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and more,” said Nick Kalm, Founder and CEO of Reputation Partners in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “They all struggle to develop and articulate anti-union messaging with their everyday progressive values messaging.”