When news hit yesterday that Canada's largest consumer co-operative, Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) was almost certainly being acquired by a US private investment firm, a howl went out across the internet. “How can this happen? Why didn't the members get a say?”

Chances are good that more than a few of our readers were among the co-op's 5 million members (sales on-line and in their 22 stores are exclusively to those who have bought a $5 lifetime membership, some dating back to 1971). You may not have voted for the takeover, but did you vote in the annual elections?

A post by Niv Froehlich in a Facebook group called “MEC Members for a Democratic Co-op” is a cautionary tale about the consequences of voting without researching, or not bothering to vote at all.

On May 17, four days before the voting for the co-op's board closed, Froelich posted the following details  (shared with permission).

“While REI [another outdoor equipment co-operative] posted 15 straight years of record profits, MEC moved from profitability to some losses, then to staggering losses and now is barely able to keep the lights on;

We spend millions on highly-paid executives but their salaries are a well-guarded secret, from us, the collective owners;

We have a new highly paid CEO from Best Buy (of course, also with a secret salary). That CEO, Phil Arrata, couldn't get re-elected back on to the Board. Arrata sat on the Board during MEC's accelerating financial losses, but decided to run again for another 3 year term. Despite having every advantage in our rigged election system, Phil Arrata lost his bid for re-election based on member votes. When it came to Arrata, the members had spoken.
So what did the Board do despite the members vote of non-confidence in the director from Best Buy? They ignored the members' vote and made him the new CEO instead.”

    Before Covid-19 was on the horizon, MEC was already restructuring in the face of an $11.5 million net loss in the previous fiscal year. An undisclosed number of the co-op's 2400 staff were let go in a cross-Canada all-staff meeting in January 2020. The CEO spoke of making other casual staff permanent; Froelich and others saw it differently.

“Once the new CEO was hired, the next step was to go after staffers.
On January 19, in a nationwide surprise attack on #MEStaffers, tons of MEC Staffers across the country were terminated, Best Buy - Future Shop style: terminated without cause, given a tote bag for their belongings and escorted out by security. (An employee's post, in French, on the experience)

Those were dedicated employees, by the way, many of whom vested years at MEC.
Instead of dedicated and knowledgeable employees, MEC will now bring in low-paid temporary seasonal retail staff - so good luck getting informed advice on anything. But that makes labour cheaper so your purchase at MEC support poverty wages, right here in Canada.

But it doesn't end there. When employees sought to unionize in an effort to get livable wages, our highly paid CEO and Executive, acted in the ugliest ways possible. Our once socially responsible co-op, thanks to practices of "Recommended" directors that we elected in, now has MEC being cited in the press for using 'scare tactics' against its own workers”.

     Many people are members of MEC because of their environmental reputation. The post continues:

“Oh, and what about the "eco-friendly" image of MEC? At least we are model for environmental stewardship, aren't we?
Think again.
Last year, MEC dropped its support for 1% For The Planet.
No longer does the co-op donate 1% of sales. Instead, our co-op has started asking you, the member, to personally donate 1% of your own salary to the cause.

“As for the Climate Action strike that MEC got all that good press about? We are still trying to get MEC's new very highly paid CEO, Phil Arrata, to donate one day of his pay to the cause because it shouldn't be just the lowest paid #MECStaffers that make all the sacrifices (see Donate a Day's Pay, MEC CEO).

“And check out MEC's latest supplier list. That's public information and it is shocking. You can see for yourself where MEC products are made

mecgarbageBut MEC is not just an environmental nightmare in poor countries or countries known to exploit cheap labour, our own stores contribute to the environmental damage locally, as well.

This is a picture of the MEC dumpster behind the Toronto Flagship store on Queen St., right by the employee entrance.

When I worked there and saw that dumpster being filled up fresh everyday with landfill bound single-use petroleum-based plastic, plastic from product wrapping on items made in China, Taiwan, India, Cambodia, etc. Yup, made where labour is cheap and environmental protections are lax, my soul bled.

This is not what I had signed up for when I went to work for the co-op.
This is not what Mountain Equipment Co-op was supposed to be about.

But you still feel good about shopping at MEC, because we're not the bad guys, right?
That nice green logo and all the virtue-signaling actually makes you think you are shopping at an environmentally responsible retailer, but just take a walk around the back of MEC's flagship store in Toronto and you'll see the real story.

And for what? MEC still loses millions.
Voting in "Recommended" Directors at our co-op has resulted in our co-op losing millions, trashing the environment and mistreating our valued staff.”

More depth on democracy, boards and co-ops in this article by Mark Latham.   



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