REI employees vote to unionize, becoming chain's second union store

REI employees in Berkeley made history Thursday as a majority voted in favor of unionizing, becoming the second store in REI's nationwide chain to organize.

"When we got the results, I was jumping for joy in my kitchen, and then I ran out the door cause I had to be at work," said Freddi Farias, an REI employee at the Berkeley store and one of the co-organizers who helped launched the organizing effort.

The votes were tallied by 1p.m. Thursday and showed 54 workers in favor of joining the union and 38 opposed.

It's the latest example of what labor experts say is a new wave of unionizing, driven by many young workers.

REI workers hugged and celebrated at Berkeley's Cedar Rose Park Thursday evening.

Top of the list, they say, is getting better pay. Wages currently are between $19/hour to $21/hour.

"I've been there about a year, there are people who have been there about a decade and are making about the same," said Farias.

The workers will join the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

Union staff say they think other stores could follow.

"There will be about 120 more members coming into our union and there's ten other REI stores in the Bay Area. We're actively talking to workers across the country," said Jim Araby, Director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

The UFCW staff say they saw a big increase in interest unionizing during the pandemic.

"Companies were raking in the profits and workers were putting their lives literally at risk. And even coming out of the pandemic, they felt underappreciated," said Abary, "We've seen an uptick in organizing in the Bay Area at our local. We've organized Perfect Foods, we've organized drivers, we've organized about 1,000 workers in the cannabis industry."

Labor experts say it is part of a new surge in unionizing nationwide.

"We've seen a big growing interest in unions and that's across the board, but especially among younger workers," said Ken Jacobs, Chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

"Over 200 Starbucks around the country, workers have voted to form unions. This is the second REI that's now voted to form a union," said Jacobs, ""When we look at polling data, the general public support for unions is the highest it's been since mid-1960's." 

Hannah Smith was another REI employee who founded the unionizing effort.

"I'm very excited for my coworkers and what it means for us and our store and also future employees at our store, but I'm also really excited for other REI workers across the country," said Hannah Smith, an REI Berkeley store employee, and founder of the union organizing effort.

REI CO-OP posted a response on its website.  The Seattle-based company said: "As we have said throughout this process, 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," the statement said.

Both sides have five days to file any challenges or complaints. Then the National Labor Relations Board will need to certify the results before any contract negotiations begin.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or