Workers at the REI Co-op in the Pinecrest development in Orange Village in February. They voted March 3 to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Credit: RWDSU

Workers at the REI Co-op at the Pinecrest development in Orange Village voted Friday to join a union.

“Tonight, we can finally say that REI Cleveland is a union store,” Nick Heilgeist, a retail specialist at the store and a member of the REI Cleveland Organizing Committee, said in a news release from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “I love working at REI, and with a seat at the table, I know we can make it better for workers and customers alike.” 

The company, which sells outdoor gear and clothing, issued a statement acknowledging that employees had voted in favor of a union.

“REI believes in the right of every eligible employee to vote for or against union representation,” the statement says. “We fully supported our Cleveland employees through the vote process and we will continue to support our employees going forward as they begin to navigate the collective bargaining process.

“Together we will continue to focus on serving the Cleveland outdoor community as we have done since 2018,” it states.

The vote was 27 to 12, according to the union and the company. However, the company challenged nine ballots the union believes would have been union votes, said Chelsea Connor, director of communications for RWDSU. She said because those votes didn’t determine the election’s outcome, they weren’t counted. Signal Cleveland has contacted the National Labor Relation’s Board to confirm the vote, and will update the story with its response. The election was open to about 55 non-supervisory employees at the store.

The Cleveland area store becomes the third unionized store among the Seattle area-based specialty outdoor retailer’s 181 locations. Another store in New York City is represented by RWDSU. One in Berkeley, Calif., Is represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

“This has given momentum to the campaign,” Chelsea Connor, director of communications for RWDSU, said of the union victory at the Pinecrest store. “This will continue to grow momentum among REI workers around the country.”

She declined to say if the union was organizing other stores.

Workers voted at the store today between noon and 6 p.m. Employees filed with the NLRB in January to be represented by the union, after an organizing effort lasting more than a year.

“REI Cleveland workers will now bring their strength to the bargaining table, and we know that together they will win a strong contract,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a news release.

Economics Reporter (she/her)
Olivera, an award-winning journalist, covered labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer. She broke the story in 2013 of a food drive held for Walmart workers who made too little to afford Thanksgiving dinner. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Olivera believes the sweet spot of high-impact journalism is combining strong storytelling with data analysis.