Last Friday, 116 employees at the Soho store in Manhattan filed for a union election with the Retail Warehouse and Department Store Union, the first of the retailer’s 15,000 employees nationwide to seek to form a union. REI has long cultivated an image as one of the nation’s most progressive retailers, shutting down stores on Black Friday for the past seven years and offering workers annual incentives that kick in when stores hits sales targets.
But REI workers in Soho have many concerns that reflect the general precarity of working a non-union job in the retail industry. In particular, they want full-time status and benefits, COVID-19 protections, and guaranteed hours after the holiday season. Denend told Motherboard that despite working 40 hours a week, she and many of her coworkers are classified as part-time, and will not receive the healthcare benefits that come with full-time status until they’ve worked at the company for a year. She says workers at her store are frequently told “we don’t know” when they ask about how they can be converted to full-time status sooner. “There’s a lot of accountability and transparency issues,” she said. New hires at the Manhattan store start at roughly $18.90 an hour. MIT’s living wage calculator says a living wage in New York City is $21.77 an hour for someone without children.