A Good Start: REI Announces Employee Pay Raise of Five to Fifteen Percent

Is it already time to glue this thing back together? Not so fast!

Is it already time to glue this thing back together? Not so fast!

Last week, I told you I was cutting up my REI card because the giant retailer wasn’t supporting its retail employees with adequate pay and humane scheduling practices. Yesterday, Daniel DeMay at the Seattle P-I had some good news:

In an announcement said to be shared with employees Sunday, REI announced pay hikes for employees at stores in Seattle, Portland, Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Washington D.C., the company said in a statement. Stores will see between “pay investments” between 5 and 15 percent…In Sunday’s announcement, REI also said it planned to announce an update to scheduling in October of this year.

This is obviously good news. But does it mean I’m becoming an REI member again? Nope. At least, not yet. I want to make sure the retail employees have an opportunity to freely discuss unionization, because that’s the easiest way to make sure employees have a voice in the negotiation for wages and humane scheduling practices.

Also, I’m very curious to hear about REI’s “update to scheduling.” Lots of large chains have made big promises, but few have succeeded. Starbucks, most notably, announced that it was going to improve “stability and consistency” by getting rid of clopening shifts back in 2014. Individual stores are still failing to meet that standard. A little over a year after the New York Times announced the new Starbucks scheduling initiative, the New York Times published a story headlines “Starbucks Falls Short After Pledging Better Labor Practices.”

These corporate edicts, while often made with the best of intentions, frequently fail when they’re put to the test around the country, because there are simply no repercussions for violating company policy. This is why we need laws: they reinforce our values and make it possible for employees to defend their rights. By passing a secure scheduling law in Seattle, we would be making a statement that we do not reward exploitative and/or demeaning employment practices.

But when will I know it’s okay to return to REI as a customer, if ever? When the employees say so. I don’t believe an employer who tells me their employees are happy. I don’t believe news reports quoting happy employees, because those are often coordinated with employers. REI workers sounded the alarm bells; they’re the only ones who can sound the all-clear.

Paul Constant

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