REI workers say unpredictable scheduling makes it hard for them to live off a job at the store or get another job to supplement their income.
REI workers say unpredictable scheduling makes it hard for them to live off a job at the store or get another job to supplement their income. REI Employees for Real Change Facebook

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After weeks of online organizing, talk of unionization, and a signal boost from Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, Seattle REI workers got some good news last week: They're getting a raise.

Hourly workers at the Seattle-based outdoor store say they have trouble making ends meet as they work for the minimum wage but have unpredictable schedules. Some say they have become homeless while working at REI.

Now, the company has announced that on August 21, it will raise wages by 5 to 15 percent at stores in expensive cities including Seattle, Portland, San Francisco. In a statement, a spokesperson for REI said "every employee in these markets will receive an increase, and increases will vary by employee." Local REI employees say managers told them any Seattle worker making less than $15 an hour will be raised to $15 on August 21 instead of January 2017, when it would be required under Seattle's minimum wage law. REI is also promising another announcement in October to deal with scheduling, though it has not offered more details about that plan.

After news of the raises, workers and Sawant declared victory as the company tried to downplay their organizing. REI says these changes were already in the works before recent media coverage of Seattle workers and Sawant's involvement. "This was a proactive, not reactive, effort," the company said in a statement.

Sawant points to a May membership meeting, at which the company's CEO said REI couldn't afford to raise all employees to "something close to" $15 an hour. She says that's evidence that workers' efforts changed minds in company leadership.

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"What has really happened is what always happens," Sawant said at a celebration of the raises: "The bosses don't respond until workers start speaking out."

Workers are praising the raises as a first step, but continue to push for more concrete scheduling changes, including a guaranteed minimum number of hours per week.

"Wage increases are fantastic, but we also currently have no guarantees as workers for [the] minimum number of hours that we can work in a week," said Collin Pointon, a Seattle REI employee. "Our hours might be zero next week—we don't know. So that's really the root of the problem. And we hope that REI does include minimum hours and access to full-time hours for workers across the nation, not just here in Seattle."