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REI Union Chicago Workers Walk Out on ULP Strike

by Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
REI UNION CHICAGO WORKERS WALK OUT ON ULP STRIKE & RALLY WITH LABOR GROUPS & CO-OP MEMBERS OUTSIDE LINCOLN PARK STORE DEMANDING THAT REI REACH A UNION CONTRACT BY END OF 2024 AMID COMPANY’S LARGEST ANNUAL SALE
REI UNION CHICAGO WORKERS WALK OUT ON ULP STRIKE & RALLY WITH LABOR GROUPS & CO-OP MEMBERS OUTSIDE LINCOLN PARK STORE DEMANDING T...
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, May 18, 2024 – Today, during the middle of REI’s annual Anniversary Sale, members of REI Union Chicago, represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), stopped work and walked off the job in an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) strike to protest REI’s failure to bargain a contract in good faith. Joined by fellow union members, elected officials including State Senators Robert Peters and Lakesia Collins, Don Villar, Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, and other leaders and workers from across Chicago’s labor movement, they rallied and demanded REI agree to reach a fair contract by the end of 2024. Photos and videos from today’s strike action and rally are available for media use here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1UblIFh3WOHW0nEmKfsDuY5Osv2mCI9SL

REI’s highly profitable annual Anniversary Sale lasts from May 17-27, 2024. While the company stands to potentially bring in millions if not hundreds of millions, their workers will continue to struggle to make rent, buy groceries, and commute to their low paying, sometimes unsafe jobs. Workers face a litany of other issues at the Chicago store they’re hoping to remedy in contract negotiations, which have been underway since September 2023, and have only met six times with the company’s attorneys from their notoriously anti-union law firm, Morgan Lewis, LLP. Workers at REI Union Chicago who were recently withheld routine merit and other pay increases by the company, are one of ten unionized stores across the country, where contract negotiations remain similarly stalled.

Today’s ULP strike action taken in Chicago, Illinois is the first of the REI Anniversary Sale actions by the REI Union, but it is far from the only action that will be taken by workers during the sale period. As details become available they will be shared with the media and on the union’s social media accounts; all ten unionized stores will be participating in various ways during the sale in continued support of the national demand that REI commit to reaching a contract by the end of 2024.

“When a group of REI workers from across the country marched on headquarters on March 7th to demand a contract by the end of 2024, we left chanting ‘WE’LL BE BACK.’ This is what we meant. We’re not gonna back down until this company meets us at the table. 80+ ULPs is egregious. When their union busting campaign runs out of money, we will be ready, waiting at the table. It’s no secret that REI is nothing like the Co-Op our older members joined several decades ago. They can see quite clearly when they come into the store. They see my union button and glance around, telling me ‘this place isn’t what it used to be’ with a knowing look. They see right through the greenwashed ‘Co-Op’ facade. I look forward to the day when the workers and the company can make a cooperative agreement. Until then, we will continue to leverage our worker power to loudly and publicly demand a fair contract,” said Maj Seckler (They/Them), Stock and Frontline at the REI Chicago Lincoln Park store.

“Six bargaining sessions in a year is a deliberate insult. When they tell you they’re bargaining in good faith, please ask them to define that term. We’re the workers of REI Lincoln Park, out here on ULP strike AGAIN because our union won’t wait on the company to live its progressive values. Bargain NOW. Chicago labor is with us, and we’re proud to be in such good company!” said Andy Trebing (He/Him), Stock worker at the REI Chicago Lincoln Park store, and member of the worker-led Union Bargaining Committee.

“REI’s behavior continues to be in direct violation of the law and we will not back down until they are held accountable for these and their numerous other abuses of the law. REI cannot hire the most notoriously anti-union law firm, fail to comply with basic federal labor law, and then turn around and call themselves progressive and preach progressive values. Co-Op members, by the tens of thousands, support the REI Union, and united we are demanding REI come out from behind its false progressive green halo and commit to bargaining in good faith and reaching a fair contract,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

“Nearly every move REI management has made has been right out of the union-busting playbook,” said Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter. “From standard delay tactics to hiring union-busting lawyers, it’s clear the company is not serious about negotiating a fair contract. But these workers are serious, and they will hold strong until management gives in to their demands. You saw it today, as REI Union members walked out of their store and union members from across Chicago’s labor movement were there to stand with them and amplify their voice demanding a fair contract by the end of 2024.”

“Empowered workers hold the key to unlocking a brighter future for all, and their collective voice is the driving force behind creating safe and equitable workplaces. With our collective voices, workers can ensure transformative changes and better life for themselves and their families,” said Illinois State Senator Lakesia Collins.

Earlier this month, just ahead of the Anniversary Sale actions, the REI Union National Steering Committee, comprised of workers who have unionized with both the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), held a “board meeting” with workers from all ten unionized stores across the country. This open union “board meeting” came on the heels of REI’s annual privately held corporate board meeting, which excludes co-op members and workers from participating in a real way. During the call workers reviewed the company’s union busting practices, and gave a status update on the glacial pace of union contract negotiations.

The REI Union National Steering Committee also called on the company’s Board of Directors to hold the company accountable to the countless voices they failed to hear during their closed board meeting and demanded the company send decision makers back to the table and commit to bargaining a contract in good faith by 2024. This demand was delivered to the company by workers in March and has yet to be countersigned; it was also a question asked by thousands of co-op members during the open write-in question period ahead of the board meeting, which went unanswered, yet again, by the company during their meeting.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND:

Workers who won at the first organized REI store over two years ago in New York have been bargaining with the company without reaching a first union contract for almost two years, while others including Chicago, which won their union election over a year ago, have similarly been left to languish at the table for months. Exactly a year into contract negotiations at the first store, in SoHo, New York, REI announced it was changing its legal representation across all of its stores to Morgan Lewis, a notoriously, vehemently anti-union law firm. This led REI to cancel all bargaining sessions in the immediate weeks, and roll back an agreement to give the first unionized store the same increased pay scale it offered other non-unionized stores the day after their election, meaning workers have been working with less pay at that store than all of the other stores for almost a year. When negotiations resumed later in the summer, the move forced the worker-led bargaining committees at many stores to waste time recapitulating proposals that have been on the table for months, derailing and delaying bargaining.

For a company that purports to have so-called progressive values, it has only conducted itself with an anti-union animus, leading to 80+ unfair labor practice charges levied against the company, with many more on the way. In early May, the union petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a 10J injunction against the company for its failure to to bargain over unilateral changes it made to working conditions of REI’s employees, including laying off numerous workers. The evidence shows that REI announced that it was making these changes and then denied the demands of the unions to bargain over the changes before unlawfully implementing them.

For over nine months, only REI’s attorneys have been appearing at bargaining sessions, further delaying the process of getting to a contract. Company management and decision makers have continually failed to attend sessions and negotiate with workers directly.

On March 7, 2024, workers from all of the unionized stores across the country literally brought the bargaining tables to the company and demanded they come out and bargain in good faith. Union Representatives from all, then nine (now ten), Bargaining Committees co-signed a letter of commitment to reach a contract by the end of 2024, which workers also delivered to REI Headquarters; the union is still awaiting response from the company.

REI may think if they stay in their Washington treehouse, the movement to unionize REI will shrink, but in fact, the REI Union is only growing, as a ninth store in Castleton, Indiana joined their fellow unionized workers in early 2024, and workers in Santa Cruz, California just won their union election days ago, becoming the 10th unionized store at the company.

###

Learn more about the growing REI unionization movement here:
https://twitter.com/reiunion

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at http://www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.


https://www.rwdsu.org/news/rei-chicago-a-sale-strike-2024
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