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REI Workers Say Union Effort Has Prompted A Disciplinary Crackdown

Sean Barnes has often shown up a little late to work at their REI store in Austin, Texas, over the last four and a half years. The 31-year-old says managers never hassled them about the tardiness ― until workers started chattering about forming a union last year.

All of the sudden, clocking in late a few times seemed like a sure way to end up on the dreaded “performance improvement plan,” according to Barnes. PIPs, as they’re called, are formal reprimands: If workers who get them don’t change their behavior in the coming weeks, employers proceed with termination.

“Most people at our store who came from other [REI] stores over the last nine months had never heard of a PIP before,” said Barnes, a union supporter. “They didn’t know they existed.”

Employers are free to punish workers for violating company policy, but not with the intention of ousting organizers or chilling a union drive. Whether such discipline is legal often boils down to whether or not it was meted out consistently to other workers in the past.

REI denies it’s trying to snuff out a labor campaign that has organized 10 of its 181 stores over the past two years. But the Washington-based retailer declined to share any data that would show whether or not PIPs have increased amid the union campaign, or at stores where union organizing has taken hold.

“Our approach to performance management ― including potential disciplinary action ― is consistent across all our stores and is not influenced by union activities,” the company, which is known for its progressive image, said in a statement. It called PIPs “a standard management tool utilized to support employees in achieving their performance goals.”

Barnes has been on an improvement plan since February after

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