What every REI Co-Op member should know

There’s a grassroots movement of REI employees pushing for better schedules and higher wages at the outdoor retailer

MAY 3, 2019 | COWORKER.ORG

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In November 2015, an REI employee — unhappy with the wage levels and scheduling practices for store workers — created a Facebook page called “REI Employees for Real Change.”

Slowly, over time, other REI employees began finding the page, following it, and contributing their own stories and comments.

After it became clear that more was needed, REI employees launched a Coworker.org effort to raise the company’s wages and improve its scheduling practices. Our team at Coworker.org provided promotional assistance to the employees, boosting the petition on social media to recruit support from REI coworkers across the country — including REI’s flagship Seattle store. Employees used the petition to share stories of how the company’s hourly wages made it difficult to cover basic living costs like rent, car payments, and food. Some even shared that they had recently quit REI to work for competitors who paid a higher hourly wage.

Tia Kennedy spoke about how she became homeless while working at an REI store. Photo by Kelsey Hamlin, South Seattle Emerald

As the petition spread in Seattle, employees garnered support from Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and UFCW Local 21. In July of 2016, City Councilmember Sawant hosted an REI worker forum, where employees came together to share their experiences with the public. Seattle resident Tia Kennedy spoke about how she — along with her infant daughter — became homeless while working for REI. 27-year-old Ash Crew spoke to the press about being unable to afford rent while working at REI, becoming homeless and sleeping in her car before her shifts.

Daniel Robinson, explained how his weekly schedule at REI was cut from 40 hours a week to 24 hours without explanation. Seattle news outlets provided extensive coverage of the REI worker forum, detailing accounts of how employees were struggling to make ends meet on their hourly wages.

In the weeks following the REI worker forum, the retailer announced a wage increase of up to 15% for stores in seven cities, including Seattle and Washington, DC. The employees behind the Coworker.org effort celebrated their “resounding victory” with a press conference outside the company’s headquarters, but continued to press for more changes.

REI worker Collin Pointon speaking outside REI headquarters in Seattle during the REI campaign’s “victory” press conference celebrating the wage hike

But these REI employees were just getting started. After the victory celebration concluded, they set out to push for a base $15 minimum wage and more opportunities to work full-time schedules.

REI employees used the peer network that had grown on Coworker.org to survey staff around the country. The responses they received were included in a pamphlet the workers created and distributed at the annual 2017 REI Member Co-Op Meeting.

You can view the entire REI employee pamphlet here.

The following year, a former REI employee — who uses the pseudonym Alpine Anderson — attended the 2018 annual company meeting and publicly asked REI CEO Jerry Stritzke a question about retail staff concerns. With a mic in her hand, she asked Stritzke, “With years of record profits and tax savings, why hasn’t REI started giving back to its retail employees in the form of a living wage, reliable hours, and FT opportunities outside of management, especially in light of its core values of integrity, authenticity, and respect?”

A graphic created by “REI Employees for Real Change” that shows how REI’s hourly pay scale compares to other retailers.

Throughout this time, REI employees continued making connections with one another, publicizing their wages and educating customers on the issue. They created social media graphics, Facebook posts, spoke on radio programs, and more. The group endorsed candidates for the member co-op’s board of directors.

In late 2017, a petition launched on Coworker.org that calls for a $15 minimum wage at REI. Thousands of people have joined the effort, including many REI Co-Op members expressing concern about the company’s wages.

What’s next for these current and former REI employees?

On May 6, 2019, REI will hold its Annual Member Meeting in Washington, DC. Will the employees’ Coworker.org petition be discussed? Will the company announce its raising wages to $15/hour? We’ll update our Medium post with news and stories from workers at the meeting.

A representative from REI Employees for Real Change attended the 2019 Annual Member Meeting, but unlike meetings in previous years, the company’s leadership did not have a Q&A session where employees and members would have a chance to ask about the issues raised by REI retail and distribution workers. At the meeting, it was announced that the REI’s interim CEO, Eric Artz, will take the role permanently.

Find out more about what happened at the Annual Member Meeting and hear a message from REI Employees for Real Change to the company’s new CEO in the video below.

“2019 REI Annual Member Meeting: Sasquatch Joins Our Fight for $15”

Coworker.org is a global platform to advance change in the workplace. Our platform makes it easy for individuals or groups of employees to launch, join, and win campaigns to improve their jobs and workplaces. You can start your own campaign for changes you want to see in your workplace here at Coworker.org, or contact us at info@coworker.org if you would like to discuss a workplace issue with our team.

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