‘Fighting for more accountability’: Berkeley REI workers seek union representation

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Nick Quinlan/Senior Staff
Seeking to foster a more inclusive and ethical work environment, Berkeley REI employees are pursuing unionization.

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Berkeley REI employees have begun to seek union representation, hopeful that their efforts will spark what they believe to be necessary changes in their workplace.

Unionizing efforts came in response to REI employees in New York successfully voting to unionize their SoHo location. Twelve Berkeley workers signed and sent a letter to management requesting approval for a union.

“We have short term (asks) for the first round of contract negotiations, but the one and only ask is to be a part of the union,” said REI sales specialist and founding member of the union committee, Hannah Smith.

After garnering more support for unionization, Jim Araby, director of strategic commands at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, or UFCW5, said the committee contacted the UFCW5 for support and guidance through the process.

Araby said he believed the SoHo location’s unionization was an inspiration for Berkeley REI, allowing employees to “see what’s possible.”

According to multiple employees, the committee is seeking various changes to improve the workplace conditions of the store. These changes include higher wages, improved hours, increased payroll transparency and a more efficient human resources department. 

Marcos Santos, a UC Berkeley student and REI employee, alleged instances of racism, misogyny, homophobia and sexual assault have been “brushed” off by management. Santos said they believe an in-store human resources staffer would help alleviate issues and make reporting allegations to HR more efficient.

“They kind of just say sorry and then nothing really happens. Things tend to happen again and again,” Santos alleged. “We are definitely fighting for more accountability.”

While in-store management has declined to comment on the unionization effort or the allegations, REI public affairs noted that they respect the rights of employees to vote for or against unionization.

As of press time, REI public affairs has yet to comment on specific allegations raised by Berkeley REI employees.

“We will fully support the petition process in Berkeley, including the right of every employee to vote for or against union representation,” REI public affairs said in an email.

While she began working at REI for a leisurely job, Smith said she almost immediately found herself wondering why there wasn’t a union.

As Smith and other co-workers wait on an impending vote for union representation, she believes they are influencing REI to be the progressive workplace “they know they want to be.”

“Just to be super clear, (these) aren’t demands at all,” Smith said. “Even if the company were to meet them, we would still unionize.”

Check back for updates.

Contact Sienna Reinders at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @siennareinders.