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Berkeley REI employees vote to unionize

Berkeley REI employees vote to unionize
Berkeley REI employees vote to unionize 02:33

BERKELEY (KPIX) -- Workers at another big name store have voted to unionize, this time at REI in Berkeley with employees voting Thursday 56 to 38 to join the local United Food and Commercial Workers union. It's the latest retail store where workers have joined the labor movement.

This is the second REI location in the country where workers have unionized, the other is the SoHo location in New York City. 

"We realized once we'd organized we can ask for better working conditions overall, better benefits, better pay," said Freddi Farias, a Berkeley REI employee and union organizer.

Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe's, Apple Store and Chipotle workers have voted to unionize in recent months.

"Large companies need to understand they can't mistreat their workers. They can't just use them as cogs. They actually have to listen to them and the only way they're going to be able to listen to them is workers are going to start organizing unions and start demanding respect on the job," said Jim Araby, representative for UFCW 5.

Academics who study labor movements say this recent trend of retail unionization probably started with the success of young people organizing during social justice movements like Black Lives Matter.

"They got a taste of what it's like to organize. Organizing brings power to everyday people and there's no better place to do that than at work," said Robert Ovetz, a lecturer at San Jose State University. He says many workers are feeling taken advantage of in the post-COVID world.

"We're seeing companies that are making record profits even though the wages of their employees are the same,"  Ovetz said.

Employees at REI say one of the major issues at the store is the relatively low pay versus the cost of living.

"Based on the level of expertise we expect our staff to have, they deserve a higher level of base pay," said Julian Geritz, a 9-year employee at the Berkeley REI store.

REI released a statement about the unionization vote in Berkeley saying "REI believes in the right of every employee to vote for or against union representation. We fully supported the vote process in Berkeley and will continue to support our employees going forward."

Union representatives say they do not expect this to be the only unionized REI store in the Bay Area. They say workers from other stores have already asked them about unionizing opportunities.

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