So what exactly are the implications of this? To start, let's define what a worker co-op is. A worker co-op is, simply put, a business whose ownership and decision making power is shared equally amongst the workers. By "workers," we don't just mean those putting hammer to nail - it also includes those fulfilling administrative, development, or managerial roles. A worker co-op does not, as is often assumed, imply equal pay to all its members. It is entirely possible that workers could collectively decide to enact an incentive structure of some kind, or grant higher salaries to certain positions, which is indeed the case with many worker co-ops. The difference is that in a worker co-op, it is the workers themselves deciding this, rather than a detached CEO halfway across the country. In short, at a worker co-op, the cherished American act of voting isn't relegated to a booth every 2 years, nor does the ideal of freedom take a siesta when one clocks in for work.
Probably the biggest concern defenders of the status quo bring up about the worker co-op concept is the question of incentive. If employees are all seen as equals, without the gross variance of compensation seen in traditional companies, what incentive would one have to do anything but the bare minimum? Humans are greedy, we are told. Thus, we must have an economic system which rewards this greed and allows us to act on this natural impulse. Of course, the justification for this view comes by way of collectivist reasoning. The reason we should accept this system, its proponents argue, is because it will lead to the greatest level of prosperity for the greatest number of people. If it didn't, surely we wouldn't accept it, right?
Very soon we'll be notifying hundreds of supporters about the new 6 minute preview for Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work, about worker owned enterprises in North America and in Mondragon, Spain. But before that happens, we'd like to invite you to be among the first to see the new preview. It's our way of saying thanks for helping to make this project possible with your valuable ideas.Please take a look at the preview by clicking the thumbnail below or by visiting our page on Vimeo. We welcome your comments and feedback.
At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks, big business, and growing inequity in our country, employee ownership offers a real solution for workers and communities. Shift Change will help publicize these efforts--and encourage more--during the United Nation's-declared International Year of the Cooperative, 2012. Already, people are contacting us, eager to screen Shift Change in their cities!
P.S. Stay tuned for announcement of our Kickstarter campaign, which will launch soon to raise much-needed funds for the film's completion and distribution. We hope you'll forward that notice to interested friends and to organizational newsletters and websites.
Asheville's Cooperatively-owned "Firestorm Cafe and Books announces the launch of a new partnership with fellow worker-cooperative Equal Exchange, the oldest and largest Fair Trade coffee company in the U.S. On Monday, Feb. 27, the café will celebrate the joint venture with free coffee all day and more. Here's the press release:
"We've been told for years that we serve some of the best coffee and espresso in town, so we don't take a change in beans lightly (no pun intended). Although Equal Exchange, a company firmly rooted in social movement, seemed like a natural choice for us philosophically, we spent nearly twelve months exploring the potential partnership, during which time we researched their business practices, sampled over a wide array of their roasts and twice met with representatives from their cooperative. What we found was extremely exciting.
"Founded with the goal of fostering a Fair Trade movement with teeth, Equal Exchange has been an unwavering ally of small farmer co-operatives and sustainable farming around the world. Our new cooperative partners operate a market network of over two million producers, workers, investors, merchants, activists and consumers. Over the years they have used this standing to publicly speak out against agricultural child trafficking, push back against attacks on the organic certification standard and, most recently, take a lead role in opposing the dilution of the Fair Trade standard by domestic certifier Fair Trade USA…
"Equal Exchange was recently named one of the world's "Most Democratic Workplaces" by WorldBlu and, like us, has publicly supported the Occupy movement. It seems only fitting then that we should announce this partnership in 2012, a year that is being promoted by the United Nations and major cooperative federations as the International Year of the Cooperative.Please join us on Monday, Feb. 27 to sample our new roasts and join the conversation!
In 2006, Teresa Perez and 14 other immigrant women began meeting at the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park to launch an employee-owned housecleaning business. Together, they called it Sí Se Puede. The name was a nod to immigration reform protests then popping up across the country but in Brooklyn, it doubled as a sales pitch to flush homeowners in neighboring Park Slope: We Can Do It!Within four years, Sí Se Puede’s worker-owners, many of whom did not speak fluent English, tripled their wages to as much as $25-an-hour. Last year's open house to recruit new members drew over 90 applications for 13 spots. The company, now with 37 worker-owners, has grossed $1.6 million.So, can Sí Se Puede's success be replicated? City Council Speaker Christine Quinn hopes so.
In an October speech widely reported as a balancing act between business interests and the then-ascendant Occupy Wall Street movement, Quinn, a likely mayoral candidate in 2013, pledged funding to the Center for Family Life to incubate three new worker cooperatives per year in low-income neighborhoods. It is welcome support; there are fewer than 20 such co-ops in the city.Organizers say there should be more. Worker coops, they maintain, create living wage jobs and, in partnership with food, housing and credit union cooperatives, have the potential to transform high-poverty neighborhoods.
For that to happen, though, significant barriers, not least, access to capital, must be overcome. Lack of information is another huge problem, says attorney Ted De Barbieri, who advocates for community development organizations through the Urban Justice Center. Supporters readily admit the average straphanger does not have a clue about what a worker cooperative is or how it functions, much less that employee-ownership can raise wages.
We've organized a cool bike tour of Berkeley worker coops to coincide with the Progressive Opportunities Conference. Bike tour on Saturday, the conference on Sunday. Check out the details on our Facebook page rr go straight here to register for the bike tour and/or the conference.
Be a sport and help us spread the word about the conference! NoBAWC is doing a worker coop panel and another session has the organizer of the worker coop credit union, Mike Leung, as one of the presenters. Plus, NoBAWC will be selling food and drinks at the conference to showcase our delicious food coops: Arizmendi, Cheeseboard, and Nabolom Bakery. We also need volunteers to work the registration table and help out selling food throughout the day. Please e-mail email@example.com if you can volunteer for a two-hour shift on Sunday the 26th of February at the Brower Center in Berkeley.
Protesters flood the street, chants and song punctuated by drumming and the low, steady honk of a tuba. Sign after sign decries the attack against nurses, teachers and sanitation workers; others demand a living wage in bold letters. A man stands before a podium addressing the masses, crying, "Those who need the increases least get most, and those that need them most get least!" The crowd erupts in response. Sound familiar?
But this isn't Madison in February 2011. This is grainy footage of 1980s Britain in the throes of worker unrest, from the opening scenes of a BBC documentary on the Mondragon Corporation in Spain.
In the 1940s, the civil-war-ravaged Basque region of Spain had 40% to 50% unemployment. Today, a transformed Mondragon is a federation of worker-owned cooperatives, responsible for some 80,000 jobs across more than 250 finance, industrial, retail and knowledge-based companies. It is also the model upon which an increasing number of Madison-area worker co-ops are based, and some say it's the solution to our current capitalist-fueled quagmire.
"The nature of the local economy and the creation of jobs seems to be the most important issue on everyone's mind," says Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. "It seems to me that if we're talking about a robust economy, we need to discuss the role of co-ops in that economy."
This might sound like the start of a lusty, utopian love letter for hippie socialist Madisonians, but it's not. Worker cooperatives are a viable, valuable economic tool used worldwide to create jobs and sustainable communities, and despite the existence of several successful worker co-ops here in Madison, they still fly well below the radar. The good news: Although the United States is behind the curve, Madison is actually ahead of it.
It's not that we don't get cooperatives. Many of us have a membership to a consumer cooperative like Willy Street Co-op or REI, and the tapestry of Wisconsin is thickly threaded with agricultural and utility cooperatives. There are housing and marketing cooperatives throughout the state, and according to the UW Center for Cooperatives, Wisconsin boasts about 844 co-ops representing 2.7 million members, contributing $5.6 billion in gross sales to the state economy.
Occupy Salem Free University will host the forum “Building a Cooperative Economy: From Mondragon to Massachusetts” on Monday, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m. at 217 Essex St. (The Gathering).Tony Dunn, a longtime labor activist, who is starting a worker-owned business in Lynn, will talk about his recent trip to Mondragon in Spain. He will be joined by Eric Johnson, an active member of the U.S. Federation of Cooperatives, who works at Red Sun Press, a unionized worker-owned business in Boston.
While unemployment reaches Depression-era levels, the politicians talk about cutting deficits, ignoring the needs of the 99 percent. How do we build a new economy based on the needs of the people? Mondragon is a network of worker-owned co-ops that is Spain’s seventh-largest corporation. The Mondragon cooperatives employ more than 80,000 people and virtually never lay anyone off.
Flashback 2004, many customers to Blue Scorcher will remember The Bread Collective, the more humble beginnings of the busy bakery/café — about 5 folks gathered together in the back of a former restaurant, to bake good organic bread together and tasty cookies, and make it available to desiring consumers. What seemed rather experimental at the time has since evolved into one of Astoria’s most popular community gathering places. On a recent stormy weekday afternoon, there was a substantial crowd both at the bakery takeout counter and at the restaurant tables, where patrons enjoyed a daily special of fragrant garbanzo tangine soup served of course, with a gargantuan chunk of bread hand made in the bread oven a few feet away. Unlike most restaurants, here one of numerous chef/cooks delivers your meal to you, a touch that seems especially homey. The Blue Scorcher has also long been a large part of both the social and philanthropic scene in Astoria, hosting the late summer Lughnasa Fest, celebrating local growers and sustainability practices, Full Moon monthly dinner gatherings, making the dining area available to numerous types of events and bread donations to community organizations.
As the Blue Scorcher has curbed some if its own community productions, the focus now has turned to the work of creating cooperative bylaws, and membership agreements as six worker members step up to the cooperative plate with earnest monies. And while a worker-cooperative model serves a practical economic approach, Iris Sullivan Daire speaks passionately to the humanistic qualities that the coop structure allows, “When you have a voice, you are more fully human. When you are separate from what you do [in your place of employment] it becomes enslavement.” The cooperative environment, as the Blue Scorcher proves too, is creating space for people to transition in life and in their relationship to work.
...Prosser was intent upon operating a business in which the workers were the owners when he bought Terranova Catering three years ago. He was buoyed by the availability of top-notch staff with whom he had worked at the Paramount Grill and other restaurants.There was a catch. Most of the workers he started with didn’t get it, Prosser says. “They couldn’t get used to a different way of doing things. Democracy can be frustrating.”
Fortunately, Prosser and his wife, Ann Murray, have found an ample supply of workers, many of them artists, who embrace the idea of becoming part of a worker-owned cooperative as he expanded Terranova and started Civilization restaurant, Prosser says.In addition to the 10 owners-workers, Civilization has 15 other workers, most of whom are interested in making the $1,000 commitment—which can be paid over time—to become owners, Murray says.Among those involved is Caroline Hines, one of the few original staff who has remained with the business. Hines, who manages the catering business, says being an owner makes people like their jobs better“It makes you responsible and aware of what needs to be done,” she says. “If I see that the plants need to be watered, I water them. If I see that the mat needs to be swept, I sweep it.”
Inspired by Mondragón’s example, Isthmus Engineering was founded 25 years ago. The cooperative designs and builds state of the art automation systems for a broad range of industries. With 50 employees, the majority worker owners, Isthmus is highly project oriented. Self-directed teams of mechanical and controls engineers, plus highly skilled electricians and machinists, collaborate to design, build, and test equipment that meets their customers’ needs. “The core principle is one worker one vote, not each dollar one vote,” says founder John Kessler. “We’re not giving up anything by being a worker cooperative. It’s an excellent way to run a business.”
As the Women of Color Policy Network discussed in our First to Fall, Last to Climb Policy Brief, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to currently be represented in low-wage and service jobs. The face of worker-owned co-operatives in America is shifting to reflect more women, communities of color and multilingual populations. These innovative business structures provide an innovative path to wealth accumulation. They also often recognize the need for childcare and health benefits of their workers-- essential components of occupational support for families and many women workers. Greater emergence of co-operatives also creates a need for banking arrangements that can accommodate and support businesses with many owners. Many co-operatives turn to credit unions for their banking needs. As American cities strive to overcome the residual impacts of the recession, worker-owned co-operatives present an attractive alternative to conventional top-down models of job growth and business development.
The four members of Liberty Ship Café will launch their cooperative business in January and fulfill a self-pledge for autonomy. When sisters Gloria and Rosa Menjivar came to the Bay Area six years ago, supporting family back in their native El Salvador was top priority. Since then, their focus has shifted to raising family here and working to empower their East Bay community in volunteering at the Richmond Latina Center. For Rosa, shared ownership of the Liberty Ship Café is key: "This is not just about making money," says Rosa. "This cooperative is the chance to be empowered in our life choices and to give good food to our community." Still, as single mothers whose English is at base-level, this journey is a struggle; for them, the success of this business in which they set the rules is essential.
Co-op members have been preparing for business start-up for over a year by engaging in small business and food service trainings and cooperative education sessions. Members meet weekly to develop their business plan and test recipes.
The members of Liberty Ship Café are giving their all to developing the business that will best serve the needs of their community, but raising enough money by selling in a low-income food desert area is a challenging process. Unless the project receives outside funding, it is unlikely that the café will be able to purchase the truck in the near future. Your donation will go directly towards the down payment on the mobile food truck that will allow the members to serve their community and have sufficient income to support themselves and their families with dignity. Any amount helps!
Liberty Ship Café is part of a worker co-op incubator project that CCCD is developing in Richmond. The city has an unemployment rate more than 17 percent; the incubator will develop worker cooperatives to create employment, job security, and improved livelihoods.