A small group of REI employees are calling for a boycott of their own company, demanding that the outdoor co-op pay workers at least $15 an hour and provide better schedules. An REI spokesperson, however, says that the boycott effort is not what it seems.
Alpine Anderson says she is a former REI employee who is organizing the boycott. The effort comes shortly after Amazon (also based in Seattle) committed to a $15 minimum wage — which includes its Whole Foods operation. Target has made a similar move. Despite the minimum wage in Seattle already set at $15, Anderson argues that the “petition’s mission is to shed light on the hardships employees are experiencing.”
In response to the boycott, an REI spokesperson provided this statement:
The petition you reference was started by someone who is not an REI employee. Over the past two years we’ve been working directly with our employees and studying this matter. We have made a substantial investment in retail pay, and we’re proud to say we target retail hourly pay above the majority of retailers in every market we operate in.
REI further states that the full picture is not being represented by the petition organizer. The company says it welcomes “open, constructive dialogue with our employees,” and that REI offers “both part-time and full-time retail staff one of the best combinations of pay and benefits in the industry.”
Anderson says her employment at REI in Portland was terminated in 2015 when she began organizing for higher pay and better scheduling (an REI spokesperson said that they cannot discuss Anderson’s employment, but would say this claim not accurate). Anderson says that she believes customers “will support a living wage store-wide … Seattle is REI’s hometown. Co-op membership is strong there. The folks are progressive and they will be outraged to learn about employees’ struggles. We believe that REI’s Seattle members will support boycotting REI for the greater good and welfare of the cooperative’s workforce.”
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In lieu of a strike, the employees aim to hit the company through its customers via a boycott. REI contends that employees are not asking for a boycott. Anderson says more than 200 employees from across the company are part of the boycott request. That’s about 1.67 percent of REI’s 12,000-employee workforce. Participating employees plan on maintaining their campaign until their employer commits to the base pay of $15 and better scheduling practices.
The boycott comes at the same time REI is promoting its #OptOutside campaign, encouraging its customers to get outside instead of shopping on Black Friday. It is the fourth year the outdoor store will close its doors the day after Thanksgiving. A total of 153 stores will be closed, and no online payments will be processed. REI will also pay all its 12,000 employees for working that day.
“The best data we have says that, in any given year, 150 million Americans don’t spend any time outside. That’s half the country. Day in, day out, we’re looking down instead of up, looking at our phones instead of the world around us,’” REI CEO Jerry Stritzke said. “We’re asking people this year to reevaluate that picture of themselves. To see technology as the starting point to a journey outside, not the destination. And to go explore the world with someone they love – on Black Friday and every day.”
REI is also donating $1 million to support the launch of a study at the University of Washington that will research the link between health and time spent outdoors.
“We know there is a link between time spent in nature and our health and well-being. We are working to close the knowledge gap so we fully understand the benefits,” said Joshua J. Lawler, head of Nature for Health and the Denman Professor of Sustainable Resource Sciences at the University of Washington. “We’ll then work in close partnership with practitioners and decision-makers to use this information to do things like lower health care costs, design better schools and hospitals, and reduce disparities in health and well-being.”
According to an online petition for the boycott:
REI’s CEO, Jerry Stritzke, and the Board of Directors are well aware of our hardships, which we have voiced as loud as we can. Collectively, we have faced: homelessness, medical debt, having to rely on food stamps to feed ourselves, even selling our plasma so we can pay the rent, and living off of credit cards. REI’s leadership has known about our struggles for years, and yet they have no plans to make any meaningful investments in their dedicated retail workforce, also known as REI’s Green Vests.
The minimum wage in Seattle, where REI has its flagship store, is already $15. But Anderson argues that the boycott is about more than just the wage. Employees are demanding more hours and better scheduling.
“Even Seattle’s secure scheduling law is not working as it was intended at the flagship location,” Anderson said. “The employees at these stores do not expect additional pay increases, however they do want REI’s leadership to commit to a $15 store-wide wage.”
An ongoing University of Washington study on Seattle’s $15 minimum wage states that the pay hike has had mixed results. Younger workers have struggled as employers favor employees with more experience. The study has also concluded that Seattle employers responded to the higher wage by hiring less, or keeping fewer workers on staff. There were about 5,000 fewer low-paying jobs in town after the minimum wage rose. Employers tended to give a handful of workers more hours, or just cut hours in general.
It is not the first time REI employees have spoken out about objections to their employer. In 2016, a group of employees demanded higher pay and better scheduling practices. They organized rallies at Seattle City Hall with the help of City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Anderson was a part of the effort that led to those demands, which included a move to unionize.
REI is an outdoor store that is run as a co-op. It was founded in Seattle in 1938, and is currently headquartered in Kent. MyNorthwest reached out to REI for a comment on the boycott. The company’s revenue in 2015 was $2.4 billion.