Chicago REI store workers vote to join union

The store at 905 W. Eastman St. becomes the outdoors retailer’s fourth with a unionized staff.

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REI store at 905 W Eastman St., Chicago

Workers at the REI store on the Near North Side have voted to unionize.

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Workers at the Near North Side store of REI have voted to unionize, part of a nationwide push to organize at the outdoors retailer.

Employees at the 905 W. Eastman St. store voted to affiliate with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The proposed bargaining unit will cover about 64 employees.

Organizers cited a “living wage” and more predictable hours as key goals for collective bargaining. They also cited a pattern of unfair treatment by REI, a company based near Seattle that is organized as a co-op.

“This is a win for the people who REI has unfairly fired, denied transfers and promotions to, denied the opportunity to flourish in the proper department and so many other grievances,” said employee Sarah Diefenbach, a member of the store’s organizing committee, in a statement provided by the union.

“We want the co-op to be successful, and we want to truly share in that success,” Diefenbach said.

The secret-ballot election certifying union membership took place at the store Thursday. The National Labor Relations Board said the tally was 41-8 favoring the union. The NLRB, which supervises union elections, said five challenged ballots were not counted because they would not affect the outcome.

The store becomes the third REI store in the U.S. whose workers have affiliated with the RWDSU, the others being in New York City and outside Cleveland. Employees at a store in Berkeley, California, have joined the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

REI issued a statement saying it supports workers’ right to vote on unionization “and we will continue to support our employees going forward as they begin to navigate the collective bargaining process.” The company has 181 stores, with other Chicago-area locations in Vernon Hills, Northbrook, Oakbrook Terrace and Orland Park.

The employer has five business days to object to the election process. If there is no objection, federal law requires it to start bargaining in good faith.

The NLRB said it has logged petitions for union elections at four more REI stores in the U.S. It also said it is reviewing 17 charges of unfair labor practices against the company resulting from the organizing drives, none of them tied to the Chicago store.

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