On July 11, 2016, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant co-hosted a town hall with REI workers to publicly discuss the workers’ demand for better workplace conditions and the right to unionize without retaliation or intimidation.
REI was founded in Seattle in 1938. Workers in Seattle, Portland, and around the country have been mobilizing for fair scheduling, stronger pay, and a union. “Last month, REI workers reached out to my office for support in their struggle for workplace rights. I have heard harrowing stories from loyal workers who have fought for years to get by, including three individuals who have struggled with severe homelessness and reduced hours, despite open scheduling availability,” Sawant said.
REI posted record revenue of $2.4 billion last year, with co-op membership expanding by at least one million. They are moving to a massive $2.3 billion campus in Bellevue.
“REI makes money off its inclusive, positive image. They pay the CEO over $3.5 million. I think they can afford to pay us living wages and benefits,” said Collin Pointon, who has been working at REI in Seattle for the last two years. “Our demands are simple and straightforward. They are basic, not lavish,” said Ash Crew, another local REI worker.
The workers circulated a letter with the following demands:
- “Access to Full-Time Hours: Existing workers must be offered available hours before new part-time workers are hired.
- The Right to Unionize with Card-Check Neutrality Agreement: If the majority of workers sign union cards, REI agrees to card check neutrality (meaning, if the majority of workers sign union cards, REI agrees to recognize that union).
- Cost of Living Adjustment Raises: All workers should get their cost of living in addition to the minimum wage increases mandated by Seattle’s law passed in 2014.”
Collin Pointon emphasized the last point in his remarks, noting that “this year, and presumably next year, REI won’t be giving me any raise… That is not acceptable.”
Ingrid Johnson, a seven-year REI veteran, stated: “I love my peer coworkers at REI. Best community I’ve ever had. I like what REI could be, what it would be if the reality matched the rhetoric, but it does not… To hear Mr. Stritzke speak, one would think that sales floor payroll were an optional and frivolous expense, and the only budget column headquarters can control.”
William Bass, who has been working for the co-op for over five years, remarked that “the conflict within REI between those who favored a more cooperative business and those who want a more capitalist business model is tragic. The great irony at REI is being a successful co-op and being a successful business are not mutually exclusive but are highly compatible. We call upon our Members to recognize the Co-op is Our REI, too.”
Councilmember Sawant will be requesting a meeting with CEO Stritzke to meet with workers outside of normal work hours, to discuss their demands and what REI can do to move things forward.