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REI fostered a progressive reputation.
Then its workers began to unionize.

July 6, 2023

Aline Selyukh |

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A position at REI was the first and only retail job Claire Chang says she ever considered taking.

A shopping mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, the retailer had cultivated a progressive reputation: promoting sustainability, famously closing on Black Friday to encourage people to play outside, giving workers a paid four-week sabbatical after 15 years, and running as a co-op co-owned by its shoppers.

"I mean, we all started working at REI because of its values," says Chang, a visual presentation specialist who has been at the flagship store in New York's SoHo neighborhood for five years.

Now, she and hundreds of other REI workers find themselves at odds with their employer over their efforts to unionize.

After health and safety worries during the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by furloughs and job cuts, Chang's team in SoHo became REI's first union shop in March 2022, in a landslide vote of 88 to 14.

"Despite being a large corporation, we had hopes that REI would be a different type of company like they say they are," Chang says. "So we were hopeful that they would voluntarily recognize the union and, you know, meet us at the table and negotiate in good faith."

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