We, the green vests of REI Cleveland, ask REI Coop to voluntarily recognize our Union and begin bargaining a Collective Agreement in good faith. If REI refuses, we will file for an election with the NLRB. We are organizing a union with RWDSU because we believe it is the most meaningful and effective way to ensure all voices are heard, and all employees supported. Organizing efforts at REI Cleveland began out of concern for our own health and safety during the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when REI initiated drastic new guidelines without any input from green vests in the stores. Masking guidelines were effectively eliminated as were other safety measures without our knowledge. As this pandemic has continued to teach us, our safety concerns must include concerns for the health and safety of our friends and family members that we must care for.
While the roots of this effort were born from these drastic changes that excluded our input, we have heard the concerns of our peers and it is clear that there is a need for systemic change. The following timely priorities are not exhaustive, all inclusive, or permanent:
Staff and management are mostly homogenous at REI Cleveland which does not represent the communities in which we live or the diversity that surrounds us. REI continues to name Racial Equity Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) and racial justice as guiding principles, yet fails to support the recruitment and retention of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), or their growth at our store. We have lost peers and failed to recruit new green vests due to disappointing pay and poor scheduling.
During the busiest season for retail, November and December, we had only 55 workers employed at our store, leaving us understaffed by over 1/3rd. With management giving no guarantee of hours, we were all scheduled at the bare minimum. Many of us green vests at the REI Cleveland location are working under 20 hours a week despite having provided REI with open availability. We have consistently been denied cross-training, which would help workers to fill in across departments when we’re understaffed.
Green vests working in frontline bear the brunt of customer frustration from a lack of workers to assist them on the floor. Overall, this chronic understaffing creates a less productive and more chaotic store environment for workers and customers alike. We were told that REI’s projected unprofitability was the reason for the reduction in hours which belies their rhetoric about placing employees first and underscores why it’s important that employees be at the table when business decisions are made.
Until the recent “Way Forward” initiative was introduced, REI did not offer part-time employees health coverage until they had been on staff for 1 year, and only if they averaged 20 hours per week.
The new health insurance option now offered to all employees who are under the 20 hours/week threshold is not as robust as the full-time health plan. But since REI gives no guarantee for hours, there is no clear
path to becoming a full-time status staff person in order to receive those benefits. It is unclear what metric is used to evaluate our work performance. Management seems to rely heavily on membership conversions, but workers in back-of-house positions don’t have an equal opportunity to convert customers to members as staff on the sales floor.
We strongly believe that all workers at REI Cleveland deserve not only a living wage, but a wage that recognizes and values the level of technical expertise green vests are expected to have. On top of the usual duties of a retail employee, green vests need to be able to offer members and customers gea complete outfitting for their upcoming excursions, complete a pack fit, make gear suggestions, recommendations of outdoor locations, provide detailed specific product knowledge, and the ability to troubleshoot gear all while ensuring helping the the customer to be safe and comfortable during their trip. When workers began organizing in February 2022 and brought a letter raising our concerns to management, we all received raises bringing us to $15/hr - but this was at the same time that the Co-oOp slashed payroll budgets, leading to reduced hours and loss of income. Recently, as a result of REI workers organizing in the SoHo flagship location, REI unveiled "The Way Forward," enacting pay raises bringing us to $16.65/hr. The initiative also promised that pay raises would be discussed quarterly, but so far this has not happened in our store. Around the same time that REI touted its “The Way Forward” benefits, our bonuses were cut, apparently due to revenue shortfalls. Despite the fact that REI Cleveland outperformed our revised revenue goal, we’ve heard no promise that our full bonuses would be reinstated.
Much of what we described points to a lack of transparency since opening in 2018. We are looking for more clearly defined systems and expectations within performance reviews, health and safety protocols, and accountability for our peers and managers. We deserve to be informed about how decisions affecting our work and our livelihoods are made, and believe that our voices should be heard, recognized and valued. Green vests are facing ongoing issues in the store, such as our recurring plumbing problem at the REI Cleveland location, without any clear path to solving them. With a union, we can sit down with management and address these issues head-on.
We love what we do. We love working with the members and customers who walk into REI Cleveland every day. With consistency in pay and benefits and a union voice, we’ll be able to better support our members and customers. REI believes that “A Life Outdoors is a Life Well Lived” and as green vests in REI Cleveland, we believe it’s made better with a union. Unionizing is a part of a healthy lifestyle.
We at REI Cleveland ask REI to courageously embrace change, and voluntarily recognize our efforts to form a union at REI store #168 when we file with the National Labor Relations Board. We also call on REI to cease and desist from union busting techniques. We reject the now-defunct website used to spread lies to green vests at SoHo and Berkeley, and the intimidation tactics deployed by management at REI Cleveland when we initially raised our concerns last year. Here at the Co-op we always come from a place of respect and we ask that you do the same. We are united and join in the words of REI Union SoHo: “We are united in change—fighting for better working conditions and a life outside!”