The union representing employees at REI’s SoHo store in New York City said this week that REI had notified the Union, Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), through its new legal counsel that many workers at the SoHo, New York store would be receiving pay cuts in their next paycheck amid a shakeup of the company’s legal representation at the bargaining table. The change would revert pay for many ReI employees to pre “The Way Forward” levels, which were reportedly won by workers late last year.

The union said in a statement that REI had switched representation to a notorious union-busting firm and setting negotiations back months.
The union wrote in a release, “Last summer, as a result of workers organizing the flagship store, REI introduced ‘The Way Forward,’ a new package of pay and benefits that was extended to workers at every REI store across the country except for the SoHo, New York store. Workers at the store were able to win back the pay raise and improved benefits after they engaged in a walk-out in November. They did so in exchange for an agreement not to strike through June 1, 2023. Despite management’s promise to the unionized workers that the agreement would herald a more productive and harmonious negotiation process, REI went back to their long-held anti-union strategy of glacial bargaining and delayed tactics no sooner than the ink on the agreement had dried. Management has continued to stonewall workers on even relatively simple requests, such as including workers’ pronouns on their name tags.”

The union said that a few weeks ago, REI announced it was changing its legal representation to Morgan Lewis, “a notoriously, vehemently anti-union law firm.” The union claims that the move led REI to cancel all bargaining sessions in the latter half of May. When negotiations resume later this month, the union suggested that the move would “also force the worker-led bargaining committee to waste time recapitulating proposals that have been on the table for months, derailing and delaying bargaining.”

According to the union’s statement, REI’s new legal counsel notified the union this week of pay cuts to many SoHo workers despite the workers not being engaged in the newly- restored right to strike.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, issued the following statement in response to REI’s actions:

“History was made when REI workers at the SoHo flagship store unionized, but the truth is from the moment workers went public with their organizing efforts, the company has ostracized them and done everything in its power to not just delay their union forming, but getting to a first union contract.

“Workers have been bargaining with REI for almost a year, accomplishing a great deal. But, just as workers were getting down to pay and other economics, the company pulled the rug out from under them. It is inexcusable. But, workers at REI have faced aggressive union busting from the very start. That animus led them to be left out of a critical wage and benefits increase this fall. Workers fought back and won, and now REI is bringing in some of the most anti-union attorneys in the country to pull back on the wages many workers have had for the better part of seven months. It’s loose change to REI but a great deal to workers who supported the company through a global pandemic, risking their own safety to do so in REI’s stores, which were deemed essential due to their bike shops. It’s how workers have survived amid astronomical inflation increases and it is unacceptable for REI’s new representation to reduce workers’ pay and conveniently so only at their first unionized store.

“The workers of REI SoHo are ready to negotiate a strong contract that will allow them to uphold the co-op’s professed, but not often practiced, progressive values while providing the top-notch service REI customers have come to expect. The company just has to treat them with dignity and respect, and that means leaving their pay and benefits alone amid these final days of negotiations. It also means bargaining fairly, not rehashing the arguments already made at the table just because they’ve hired new representation. REI, now is not the time to set back your unionized workers, now is the time to finish bargaining and get to a contract with fair wages, stop delaying, stop hurting your workers, and stop the union busting.”