Workers Await Certification of Nation’s First Unionized Climbing Gym At Movement Crystal City

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Movement Crystal City Union

Movement Crystal City Union

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 3/21/2022
Contact: Wendy Low, wenderlah@gmail.com

Workers Await Certification of Nation’s First Unionized Climbing Gym At Movement Crystal City

NLRB Dismisses Employer Objections

Arlington, VA — Workers at Movement Crystal City are likely to become the nation’s first unionized climbing gym and will become members of Workers United.

In an election held from November 14 – 16, 2021, workers voted 28 – 14 in favor of unionization. An additional four ballots cast were challenged by the company, but they weren’t determinative and therefore were not counted. Shortly after the ballots were tallied, lawyers on behalf of El Cap, the corporate entity that owns Movement Gyms, filed three objections, claiming that the organizers interfered with the fairness of the election. After reviewing the charges, the National Labor Relations Board immediately overturned two of the three objections, and ordered a hearing to collect evidence with respect to the final objection—whether or not shift supervisors could be members of the union and if members of the organizing committee behaved in a coercive manner. The hearing took place on January 6th and 7th over Zoom. Today, the NLRB overturned the final objection and recommended certifying the union. The employer may choose to appeal the results of the hearing, which would likely serve only to stall the process.

After enduring delays and union busting tactics for months, organizers are overjoyed and excited to become certified and then begin bargaining. Organizer Wendy Low said, “As skilled employees who build the culture and member experience our gym is known for, we want a union to ensure we have a voice on decisions that impact our community. We are so excited to come to the bargaining table in good faith and use our voice.” Another organizer, Sylvain La, said, “We believe workers deserve to have an equal voice in the issues that concern them such as wages, benefits, and working conditions. El Cap must prioritize employees’ ability to work at the company while making a living wage, having health care, and maintaining good mental health.”

Workers at Movement Crystal City sent a Notice of Intent to Unionize to El Cap and its CEO Robert Cohen on June 29, 2021.  Fifteen members of the organizing committee signed the notice. On July 2nd, Stephanie Ko Pound, the Senior VP of Operations and James Weathers, the VP of Operations responded on behalf of company leadership. They wrote via email that they were “not in favor of unionizing” and scheduled individual captive audience meetings with seven of the organizers. Throughout the campaign, representatives of El Cap repeatedly made clear that they were opposed to unionizing and, in mandatory all-staff and one-on-one meetings, encouraged employees to “vote no” in a union election.

Until December of 2021, when the company rebranded, Movement Crystal City was known as Earth Treks. Earth Treks was founded by Chris Warner in 1989 as a climbing school and opened its first indoor gym in 1997. In 2017, the company was operating five facilities when they partnered with Tengram, a private equity firm. Later that year, Chris Warner announced that the company would be merging with Planet Granite, another climbing gym chain from the west coast. This merger created the largest climbing gym operator in the United States. As part of the merger, the two brands retained their identities, but formed the corporate entity El Cap, headed by Robert Cohen, a former vice president of Patagonia. In recent years, Seawall LLC, another private equity firm, has also invested in El Cap facilities. Movement currently operates twenty locations across the country in California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Virginia, and Maryland.

As the company has grown and corporatized there have been some positive changes for employees including the addition of sick leave, paid time off, and wage increases. However, not all changes have been positive. Gus Mason, an organizer, said, “With each passing year more decisions are made by senior leadership in corporate offices who are removed from local management and workers. Increasingly, there has been poor communication and decisions made rapidly without consideration for how changes will be implemented in local gyms. We don’t believe this is due to intentional oversight or malevolence, but because they are principally beholden to investors, leadership is limited in what they will do for employees at all levels. Through a union contract negotiation, the workers will decide for ourselves how we want to be represented as a group, what we want to prioritize, and what we’re willing to compromise on. The company will be required to bargain with us in good faith and will be accountable to us as well.”

Recognizing how the industry and their company has grown, especially with the inclusion of climbing in the Olympics, workers want to be compensated for the value they create for the company and the expertise they bring. In a letter about the union, organizer Laura Artesi, wrote  “Many of us have been with the company since the beginning of the gym at Crystal City. We helped lay the mats. We welcomed the first members. We have seen the company grow, merge, create corporate structure, expand, and become the largest chain of climbing gyms in the country. We, as workers, have been left behind. We have seen full time positions with salaries and benefits disappear, opportunities for advancement dwindle, and staff with experience and knowledge become disheartened and leave for better jobs elsewhere. We want the power of collective bargaining to ensure fair wages and working conditions. We want a union.”

Instagram: @movementforequalfooting
Twitter: @mvmt4eqlfooting

Contact: Wendy Low, wenderlah@gmail.com


This press release was written by the sponsor and does not represent the views of the Climbing Business Journal editorial team.

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