Photo courtesy of the REI Union

Resolved in their unionization effort and unwilling to back down in the face of alleged retaliation from their employer, workers at REI in Durham did not mince words at a demonstration they staged in front of the outdoor gear store Tuesday afternoon. They called on company officials to cut the crap, address long-standing concerns over wages, scheduling, and workplace safety, and to give them a seat at the table.

The demonstration came two weeks after Durham REI workers filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Durham location is the eighth in the country to file for union representation and the first in the South, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Workers at three of the eight stores have voted in favor of unionization. The other five stores filed for NLRB elections last month and have not yet voted.

“We’ve seen our hours being cut, our healthcare at risk, our friends having to quit because they can’t afford to work here any longer,” said Megan Shan, a retail sales specialist and organizing committee member at Durham REI. “We’ve comforted each other through these challenges and we’ve also come together to form solutions.”

Workers have spent the past six months organizing and enumerating their demands. At the demonstration, they emphasized a need for wages that keep pace with rising costs of living; adequate sick leave and affordable healthcare deductibles; ongoing paid training to improve product knowledge; and consistent scheduling and better retention systems so that stores aren’t plagued with high turnover. 

They also called on management to resolve specific safety issues like overcrowded storage rooms and out-of-order HVAC systems.

“We’ve brought concerns to management regarding our safety and our livelihoods, but we’ve been ignored,” Shan said.

Shortly after workers filed for a union election, management placed one organizing committee member on administrative leave, which Shan described as “clear retaliation for their organizing efforts. The company is also “dragging its feet in giving us an election date,” she said.

This isn’t the first time REI has been accused of union-busting. In 2021, after REI workers at a Manhattan store filed for an election with the NLRB, management reportedly began giving anti-union speeches during mandatory employee meetings and posting anti-union flyers on the wall, among other intimidation tactics.

Durham city council member Jillian Johnson, who attended the demonstration alongside Durham county commissioner Nida Allam and Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston, said the company’s alleged retaliation toward Durham workers was “really serious.”

“That’s unethical, it’s illegal, and we cannot tolerate that in the city of Durham,” Johnson said.

In a statement, REI said it is “fully supporting the petition process and working closely with the NLRB and the UFCW to ensure every eligible employee has the opportunity to vote for or against union representation.”

“The co-op is not delaying an election,” an REI spokesperson wrote in an email to the INDY. “Early next week there is a hearing scheduled to discuss the election, which is part of the normal election process. Determining an election date is part of a specific legal process between the co-op, the union and the NLRB. REI’s lawyers are working in good faith with the Union and the NLRB to set an election date, which will be in the coming weeks.”

Workers stressed that the push for unionization is rooted not just in their needs as workers but in a desire to see REI thrive.

“We want to steer the company back towards values that have made REI the co-op that we all know and love,” Shan said.

“People who hate their jobs don’t unionize,” said Alice Bennett, another retail sales specialist and organizing committee member. “People who love their jobs form a union.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from REI. Additionally, it has been corrected to reflect the fact that eight REI stores, not seven, has so far filed for union representation.

Follow Staff Writer Lena Geller on Twitter or send an email to on this story at

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