Despite CEO opposition, Bay Area REI votes to unionize

Photo of Alex Shultz
The exterior of the REI store on San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley.

The exterior of the REI store on San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley.

Yelp / Saemlinh I.

A Bay Area REI store voted to unionize on Thursday by a margin of 56 in favor, 38 against, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

The REI, located at 1338 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, is the second such store in the country to unionize. The first, in March of this year, was an REI in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood.

The Berkeley REI is organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers' Local 5 chapter. Workers at the store alleged to More Perfect Union "they were perpetually understaffed and overworked, and faced racism from managers."

After the vote was announced, REI released a statement that reads, in part:

"As we have said throughout this process, REI believes in the right of every employee to vote for or against union representation. We fully supported the vote process in Berkeley and will continue to support our employees going forward."

That's a toned-down, slightly more neutral-sounding stance than what REI has previously conveyed to media outlets about local stores choosing to unionize. In February, a spokesperson at the consumer co-op wrote to Mother Jones that "the presence of union representation will impact our ability to communicate directly with those employees and resolve concerns as they arise.” 

Around the same time, REI's chief diversity and social impact officer, as well as REI CEO Eric Artz, spoke on a podcast in which they began with land acknowledgments, then proceeded to explain why a union isn't necessary for their co-op.

"We do not oppose unions," Artz said on the podcast. "It's that we don't believe, I don't believe, that introducing a union is the right thing for REI."

The full podcast transcript appears to have since been removed from the REI website, but it is still available to read here.

The Berkeley REI joins two other Bay Area Starbucks — one in San Francisco, one in Berkeley — that also voted to unionize in recent weeks.