Union-busting at REI?

The beatings will stop when morale improves the union organizers leave.

Employees bitterly mutter that old joke about morale when heavy-handed management gets on their nerves.

When many people think about REI, they think of a laid-back outdoorsy company reminiscent of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s slogan, “Let my people go surfing.” (That’s also the title of a book he wrote.)

That was in the old days. Today’s REI is Big Business in nearly every way.

REI is still member-owned, but members ceased to have any say when the board changed the rules so only it can nominate or appoint board members (read the ugly details here, scrolling down to “Governance”). That turned the “Co-Op” into a banana republic (not to be confused with Banana Republic).

Ruled by a self-selecting board of business types (see their credentials here), the Co-Op now acts like any other big corporation. By the way, the Seattle Times reported in April 2024 that REI is on track to lose money for three straight years, which has the C-suite thinking “we need more efficiency around here” (see story here).

It’s not a cool place to work for outdoorsy folks anymore. They’ve been voting for union representation. Ten stores so far. And REI is looking more every day like a union-busting employer that’s retaliating against pro-union employees (see story here).

REI isn’t what it used to be. The last time I visited one of their Seattle-area stores, the climbing gear section was about as big as it was when the REI store was a shelf in a farmer’s market near the Pike Place Market (see REI history here). It’s not a climbing shop anymore.

I’ve been an REI member for three-fourths of its existence, longer than 99.85% of all the members it’s ever had. I’ve watched it grow. And I didn’t like what I saw. There’s such a thing as being too big, but no such thing as too big to fail. Once the employees who work for the Co-Op because it’s the Co-Op are driven off, its last vestige of personal touch will be gone.

Lloyd Anderson must be rolling over in his grave.

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