Berkeley REI Workers Win Election to Join Local 5

Workers at the Recreational Equipment Inc (REI) store in Berkeley have successfully won the right to union representation by UFCW Local 5. A tally of votes in a mail-in ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board in August resulted in a 56 to 38 vote victory for the union. The Berkeley store employees join those at a New York City store who voted for UFCW representation earlier this year.

The Berkeley workers began to organize earlier this year seeking better wages, benefits and hours protections in addition to a demand that REI live up to “its creed”, according to Local 5 Strategic Campaigns Director Jim Araby.

“REI claims to be company that cares about the environment and sustainability, but its workers believe that a company that wants to build a business model that highlights such issues should include those workers as part of that consideration,” he said.

Organizing Committee member Samuel Wirt summed up the general sentiment of the store’s employees:

“The lack of organization among workers is precisely what keeps us isolated and competing among ourselves, rather than united and cooperating toward better compensation, the enforcement of worker rights, and control over working conditions. I truly believe in and trust the people I work with day in and day out. Who else could possibly do those jobs better than the dedicated and capable people that do them every single day? We deserve control over our economic lives and I supported the effort because no one is going to hand us that control on a silver platter; it can only be won through hard work and organizing along a mutual and cooperative basis.

We need a union because change isn’t something that’s gifted to us from on high. I believe REI can become the company it purports to be, but that co-op can only be built by workers coming together to support one another for the betterment of all.”

Once the election results are certified by the NLRB, Local 5 looks to begin the bargaining process, possibly in concert with the Manhattan workers whose negotiations are already underway.

REI has about 170 stores and 15,000 employees nationwide and is structured as a cooperative owned by customers who buy lifetime memberships. Local 5 is already fielding inquiries about organizing from other Bay Area locations.