Monday, 24 January 2022

REI, labor unions, and "The Co-op Way"

From: Edward Hasbrouck

To: board@rei.com

Subject: Request for Board action and agenda for Annual Meeting of members

Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2022 13:01:21 -0800

As a longtime member of REI [who has recommended REI in my books and on my Web site as a source of travel and bicycling gear, and who has led travel skills workshops for my fellow members at REI locations from coast to coast], I was appalled to read reports of REI opposition to unions, including copies of anti-union communications from REI stating that REI believes unions go against “The Co-op Way”.

While some consumer co-ops rely to a greater or lesser extent on member labor (I once belonged to a food co-op that required each member to provide a certain number of monthly hours of work for the co-op), that’s obviously not how REI operates. That makes it specious to claim that, because REI is a co-op, workers are “part of the co-op” and there is no need for a union. There’s a fundamental difference between members of the co-op in our role as employers, and workers as employees or contractors.

A labor union is as important for workers (both contractors and employees) who work for a co-op as for those who work for any other employer.

The values of collective action that (should) ground our actions as a co-op are the same values of collective action that ground labor unions. Nothing could be more closely aligned with “The Co-op Way” than collective action by workers and collective bargaining. REI should welcome unions and the opportunity to negotiate collectively with them.

As an REI member, I am part of REI. REI acts in my name, and its actions reflect on me. REI is — ostensibly — governed by its members.

When I saw that REI had taken a position against unionization of our workers so antithetical to my values and to those of collective action in general, I naturally looked to see whether any candidates seeking to reverse this anti-union position were, or would be, running for the REI Board of Directors, or when the next deadline for nominations was.

I was surprised to learn that our Bylaws have been amended to make only candidates nominated by the current Board of Directors eligible for election to the Board. I do not recall voting for this change, and would not have done so. This change fundamentally affects and dramatically reduces the rights of members, and should have been made only by vote of the full membership after notice and debate.

(It’s difficult to know what the Board has been up to lately, since not even summaries of any Board minutes have been posted on the REI Web site — which should be at “rei.coop”, as it used to be, not “rei.com” — since 2019.)

This change converts what was our co-op into something that isn’t really a co-op at all. It preserves only a sham election stage-managed by the incumbent Board, and makes the Board effectively self-perpetuating.

Opposition to unions is — or would be if widely known — likely to be highly controversial among REI members, and would likely be a significant issue in the next elections for the Board of Directors — if open elections for the Board were held, which they won’t be.

As an REI member, I request that you promptly and publicly repudiate the statements that have been made to REI workers and the public in opposition to unionization of REI workers, and to explicitly endorse unionization.

I also request that you propose to REI members an amendment to our Bylaws to restore open elections and eligibility of all members for the Board.

So that this issue can be properly debated by REI members, I request that you place it on the agenda of the next Annual Meeting of Members.

When you say that “REI opposes unions”, you are speaking in my name as an REI member, and you are speaking falsely. I cannot in good conscience allow this lie about my beliefs to be spoken in my name. If REI does not rescind its anti-union position, honesty will require me, with regret after many decades, to resign my REI membership. I will do so as publicly as I can, and I will encourage as many other REI members as I can, including but not limited to fellow members of my union, to do likewise.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with any members of the Board. You can reach me in San Francisco at +1-415-824-0214.

Peace,

Edward Hasbrouck

REI member 1575853 (since 1985)

member and former national officer, National Writers Union

Link | Posted by Edward on Monday, 24 January 2022, 13:31 ( 1:31 PM)
Comments

Excellent letter! Thank you for speaking out about this and sharing your words with us! I am also an REI member and have worked in the outdoors as a field ecologist for over a decade, and am so incredibly disappointed in REI for what they are doing. I’ve written to them to let them know I will no longer be a member if their partners are not able to unionize.

Posted by: Abby_P, 31 January 2022, 01:06 ( 1:06 AM)

I've received no response at all, as yet, to my e-mail message to the REI Board of Directors.

Meanwhile, REI has created a new anti-union Web site:
https://our.rei.com

This includes an anti-union webinar. Transcript:
https://our.rei.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/REI_Transcript_v02_220203.pdf

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 9 February 2022, 16:28 ( 4:28 PM)

"REI Wants You to Know They Are Busting a Union on Indigenous Land"
(by Alex N. Press, Jacobin, February 2022):
https://jacobinmag.com/2022/02/rei-union-busting-podcast-land-acknowledgment-liberals

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 12 February 2022, 11:29 (11:29 AM)
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