One of the most challenging parts of forming a worker owned business is that there aren’t a lot of models to follow. In some parts of the United States, there are virtually no co-ops. Learning how to manage and run a successful business isn’t easy, especially when you’re trying to do it differently. So many of those co-ops that do exist feel a special responsibility—to support each other, and help grow the number of worker controlled businesses out there. One of the model co-op organizations is located in the San Francisco Bay Area—its called Arizmendi. Making Contact’s Andrew Stelzer brings us this story about how when one of the organizations bakeries fell on hard times, the other businesses pitched in both money and time to help it survive.
A new documentary of true stories of dignified jobs in democratic workplaces
Monday, October 22, 7:30pm
Local Sprouts Cafe, 649 Congress St. Portland, Maine
Special Screening with filmmakers Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young
At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks and big business, and growing inequity in our country, employee ownership offers a real solution for workers and communities. Shift Change is a new documentary that highlights worker-owned enterprises in North America and in Mondragon, Spain.The world premier of the film is Oakland, CA on October 18th.
An afternoon workshop for people interested in starting worker co-ops and for people that want to support worker co-ops
Thursday, October 25
Local Sprouts Cafe, 649 Congress St. Portland, Maine
Worker co-ops around the world are creating jobs, supporting workplace democracy, and promoting a fair economic system.Local Sprouts Cooperative is excited to share our model, about other worker co-ops and how to start worker co-ops with people in our community.This afternoon workshop will spark ideas and collaborations to create new cooperatives in Portland.
This workshop is for:
People who want to start a worker cooperative
Existing businesses that many want to convert to a worker cooperative
Economic development professionals
Small business consultants
Credit unions and local banks
Foundations & philanthropists
Students & teachers
Accountants & bookkeepers
People interested in a democratic economy
Draft Agenda (more details will be shared before the workshop):
1pm Lunch and Panel Discussion: Worker Co-ops in the Year of the Co-op
Starting Worker Co-op: visions to creation
Supporting Worker Co-ops: for economic development and business support people
4pm: Financing Worker Co-ops
Legal Support for Worker Co-ops
Democracy in Action: culture, process, and decision making in cooperatives
5:30pm: Creating Worker Co-ops in our Community:community discussion sharing ideas and support
People can either stay for the dinner or leave after 6:30pm when the discussion ends
Co-Sponsored by Local Sprouts Cooperative, the Community Building Collaborative and the Southern Maine Worker's Center
a dinner and music celebrating cooperatives, 7pm
Local Sprouts Cooperative cooks will create a delicious dinner and local musicians including Local Sprouts worker-owners will play music. People with worker cooperative ideas are encouraged to share them between (or with) music and through a creative delicious night we will support our community’s new cooperative visions.
Dinner & Music Suggestion Donation: $15-30
For planning purposes please RSVP for the Afternoon Workshop and for the Cooperative Feast.To RSVP please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Democracy at Work Network (DAWN) is a network of certified peer advisors, all with strong social and professional ties, who cooperate in training themselves and providing technical assistance services to worker cooperatives.DAWN is a project of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives.
DAWN is now accepting applications for the 2013 DAWN Peer Advisor Training.Eligibility is limited to worker cooperators - people who have worked or are working as worker-owners in a worker cooperative. It is a peer training, not intended for cooperative developers, consultants or other professionals. (For this type of training, please visit our esteemed colleagues at CooperationWorks! and enroll in their Cooperative Development Institute.) To be eligible for apprentice status, applicants must have worked for at least six months in a worker cooperative within the last five years.
DAWN apprentice training includes:
2 in-person training weekends
10 two hour-long webinars
Internship with a cooperative development organization or in a guided peer advising project
Research project to build the DAWN models library
Cost of the training is$300 (scholarship funds are available upon application) + travel (travel subsidies are available). Upon completion of the training, apprentices may become journeyperson Peer Advisors, offering peer advising to other worker cooperatives, startups, and cooperative development organizations through DAWN. Application deadline: October 22, 2012. Apply now.
The filmmakers and special guests will be joined by many of the Bay Area worker-owners who appear in the film, for this gala screening and celebration of the completion of SHIFT CHANGE. Special guests include Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor of Richmond, CA, Ted Howard, Executive Director of the Democracy Collaborative, and many more to be announced!
Richard Wolff, Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst promotes his book: Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism with the Democracy at Work project (...not to be confused with the Democracy at Work Network.)
We live in a competitive world. Yet much of our competition is team-based, requiring cooperation among team members. The biologist Edward O. Wilson describes the resulting tensions as a central dilemma facing all social species – humans as well as ants.
Economists haven’t quite caught up with the implications. Further, they haven’t quite caught on to the reality that cooperative enterprises play an enormously important role in our economic system, one that is likely to grow in decades to come.
Whether set up as worker-owned businesses, consumer memberships, financial institutions or marketing/distribution networks, co-ops pursue more complex goals than maximizing profit. They often put a high priority on democracy, education and the sustainable development of their communities. Since 1930, cooperative enthusiasts have proclaimed October National Cooperative Month to help publicize their efforts. This year, the United Nations proclaimed the International Year of Cooperatives. The month that begins today promises a grand cooperative convergence, with a number of important events scheduled worldwide.
From Oct. 6 to 11, the city of Quebec will play host to an International Summit of Cooperatives, informally described as the “Davos of the Cooperative Movement,” a reference to the annual gathering of the global elite officially known as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The Network of Bay Area Cooperatives placed this detailed 8-page insert in the current East Bay Express, including an introduction to the movement, a regional map, and ads from many NoBAWC members. Also available in a flash format.
Most experienced IT folks have faced the choice of freelancing versus working for an established business. Freelancing offers creative autonomy but not necessarily steady income. A job with a larger company provides a steady paycheck but often comes with creative and personal constraints. We are part of a growing movement among creative professionals who want an alternative to traditional business structures. The worker-cooperative business model enables IT professionals to maintain control of their work and life, produce excellent work, and retain the benefits of the value that they create, without sacrificing security. Our tech cooperatives offer the support and team approach of a firm but are entirely owned and democratically governed by the folks who work in them - us. This is a moderated panel with a focused, first-person discussion of different experiences of working in tech cooperatives. We will explain why a growing number of IT professionals prefer working in a co-op setting, the advantages and drawbacks of a democratic workplace, and the processes of starting and maintaining a worker cooperative.
Drew has been a part of C4 Tech & Design since 2008, working as a web developer and project manager for a diverse client base that includes dozens of local businesses and non-profits, as well as regional and national organizations. A native of Massachusetts and a graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia, he brings several years of web development and internet organizing experience to the web team, as well as a background in writing and editing for print publications around the country. Before joining C4, he was the lead web developer for the Public Interest Network, a national network of over 100 non-profit environmental and consumer advocacy organizations. When not behind the computer, he enjoys playing drums with his band and taking time to appreciate everything about the city, including the year-round biking weather and New Orleanians' seemingly inexhaustible joie de vivre.
Jack Aponte is a worker-owner at Palante Technology Cooperative, a NYC-based coop that helps community organizations move forward with the aid of technology. Jack specializes in building Drupal sites, technology planning, and training and documentation. Jack is an erstwhile blogger at AngryBrownButch and Feministe and is involved in organizing & movements around social, economic, and media justice and in queer, trans, and people of color communities.
Designer and web Developer, Design Action Collective — Poonam came to the U.S. in 1999 from her home in the United Arab Emirates. With a long-time commitment in social justice work, she has has contributed her skills to numerous progressive non-profit organizations and community projects. She has been at Design Action Collective since 2004 and among other things, she is currently an active participant in the worker cooperative movement in the Bay Area.
Raeanne Young is a worker-owner at Quilted, a worker-owned, cooperatively-managed web company. Quilted provides strategic consulting, graphic design, web development, as well as game design and development services to progressive arts, education, and non-profit organizations. Prior to Quilted, Raeanne worked in technology policy promoting digital rights at the Center for Democracy and Technology. She spends much of her time thinking about how to create better value-driven development processes, collaborative design projects, and business practices that support workers as whole people.
The work will focus primarily on supporting both technical and non-technical customers with their Domain, DNS, Web & Email Hosting Services. Secondary focus on administration of FreeBSD unix servers. Additional duties include participation in the development of a cooperatively owned business. Advancement based on your interest and skills in Unix system administration, web application development (ruby on rails), and/or business development. Location: Work from your own home 98% of the time (high speed internet connection required). If you live in Western Massachusetts we have a shared office space that is also available. You live in central TX, Massachusetts, So. Vermont, or So. New Hampshire.
Gaia Host Collective is a 7 year old worker-owned cooperative with owners in Southern Vermont, Austin, TX, and western Mass. We are committed to providing reliable Internet hosting services, while minimizing our environmental impact and maximizing our social benefit. Gaia Host offers Domain Registration, Managed web and e-mail Hosting for small to large traffic websites and friendly customer service for technical and non-technical customers. Our hosting server infrastructure is located primarily in two data center spaces in Somerville, MA and Bedford, NH. Currently 3 worker-owners, seeking a fourth.
Jai Jai Noire's long-awaited This Way Out: a Guide to Starting a Worker Cooperative is out! The 2-DVD set is available from the Mighty Small Films website for about $30, including shipping. One of the best parts about the project is that it is made up of interviews with many vibrant worker cooperative owners who are blazing a path with their successful businesses. The sneak peak promo shows worker-owners from Design Action, Electic Embers, Arizmendi, Heartwood, Box Dog Bikes, Biofuel Oasis, Quilted, Co-Soap, and others. A project like this only seems to come a long once per decade, so it is worth checking out. Meanwhile an impressive collection of source videos are available free on Jai Jai's youtube channel.
"The Brooklyn Yoga Cooperative, a newly formed cooperatively run studio, is looking to bring on more teachers/worker owners as we look to expand our schedule. If you or someone you know is a yoga teacher who might be interested in joining us, please check out the application on our website.
Brooklyn Yoga Cooperative is a worker owned and operated business. We are housed four days a week at LaunchPad, a community space in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Unlike many other yoga studios, BYC is owned and managed democratically by us, the teachers. We are a diverse group of yoga practitioners and educators with unique backgrounds and stylistic approaches to yoga. Our collective focus includes classical Hatha, Iyengar, and Vinyasa flow traditions. While our classes and teaching styles may vary considerably, BYC is tied together by our bold dedication to sharing the teachings and benefits of yoga in a way that is accessible to everyone."
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?
The Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy (ECWD; east.usworker.coop) is an educational non-profit dedicated to promoting worker cooperatives and the cooperative economy. We aim to make the skills, information and networks necessary to run a successful cooperative business available as widely as possible through educational events such as our bi-annual conference. Founded in 1999, the 2013 conference will be our 7th conference.
We are seeking an individual, team of two, or group to plan, organize, and implement the 2013 regional conference on worker cooperatives and workplace democracy. The conference will be held toward the end of July 2013; we have yet to determine the location. The Conference Organizer will work closely with the Eastern Coordinating Council (ECC - the conference planning committee), and focused sub-committees of the ECC. If funding is available, the Conference Organizer and ECC may also choose to hire a secondary organizer in the Fall, with whom the Conference Organizer will work.
New York City's "Workers Development is raising $500,000 for Workers Diner by means of a "direct public offering" or DPO. These funds will be employed to build the restaurant, purchase equipment, train new worker-owners, and obtain the appropriate city and state permits. Until the minimum offering amount of $450,000 is achieved, all funds will remain in an "impound" account at Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union. Workers Diner is legally qualified to accept stock investments from local supporters in New York and Connecticut. Furthermore, due to unique securities laws meant to encourage small business, we will also gain permission to advertise its stock sales by means of traditional media, such as magazines, newspapers, radio and the internet. Importantly, Workers Diner will only sell cooperative "preferred shares:" this type of share guarantees that profit and voting control remain in the hands of worker-owners. At the same time, investors can expect a fair and fixed return on their investment. In the future, worker-owners will also be required to invest in the business."
An inner-city cooperative is inviting the general public to buy investment shares as a way of promoting “economic healing”. Today Neechi Foods Co-Op launched its first Investment Share Offering. The purpose of the share offering is to help raise capital needed to complete the development of Neechi Commons Community Business Complex at 865 Main St. The Investment Shares are being sold to the general public, marking the first time that any cooperative in Manitoba has offered shares to non-members as well as to members. Residents of Manitoba will be eligible for the Province’s 30 % Community Enterprise Development Tax Credit on share purchases of up to $30,000. These Class A Shares are modestly priced at $100 per share to encourage broad public participation. Class B shares, which sell for $1,000 each, are geared to organizations and to individuals who do not qualify for the provincial tax credit.
Neechi is hoping to tap into the growing public interest in socially responsible investment (SRI), whereby monetary returns are balanced with social and environmental benefits. Neechi’s president, Louise Champagne, emphasized that, “investing in Neechi Commons is not about chasing speculative cash gains”. “Instead, it is about investing in a down-to-earth business that projects large community benefits alongside relatively modest financial returns. It is hoped that Neechi Commons will open in June, helping to bring badly needed revitalization to Main Street north of the CPR tracks and to adjoining north-end neighbourhoods. It will feature a neighbourhood supermarket, a fruit and vegetable courtyard and farmers’ market, cafeteria restaurant, specialty boutiques, a bakery and an Aboriginal arts centre. About 60 jobs will be created, drawing heavily on local area residents in a part of town that has one of the highest urban unemployment rates in Canada. Many of the jobs will go to youth. “It is high time that dignified and meaningful jobs start replacing street gangs”, says Champagne. “Economic balance and self-reliance in Aboriginal communities have been undermined for a very long time. We hope that Neechi Commons will be part of the economic healing that is needed to support personal and social healing.”
The Neechi Commons facility is a make-over and expansion of the old California Fruit Market premises. Now close to 90 per cent complete, it includes geo-thermal heating and cooling and already has been awarded Green Globes certification for its high environmental standards. Project costs for Neechi Commons include property acquisition, construction and opening costs totaling over $7 million. Neechi’s business plan projects $1.5 million in share capital. Both the provincial and federal governments have provided substantial capital grants to help cover construction costs and Assiniboine Credit Union, The Jubilee fund, the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation, co-op members and other individuals have provided credit to advance the construction. “Now we need public support to complete the long-term financing required to make the Commons a success”, says Champagne. “Neechi” (often spelled “Nijii”) is an Ojibwa and Cree term for friend, or sister or brother.
The components of the Investment Share Offering Package can be opened in the following pfd files:
It’s not so far-fetched. In fact, it’s already happened.The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in the Basque region of Spain did just that in the 50s. After the Spanish Civil War, Father Jose Maria Arizmendiarriata organized impoverished Basque peasants into a coop that manufactured paraffin stoves. Mondragon has since grown to include 120 workplaces, a bank, a chain of supermarkets and a university – all cooperatively owned and run by employees. The MCC is now considered the most successful example of worker-owned enterprise in the world and is mentoring projects like the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry in Cleveland, Ohio. The laundry co-op is 100%-owned by 50 workers who, after seven years on the job, will have each built an ownership stake of as much as $65,000.The Evergreen Laundry Cooperative and similar projects are all part of a growing effort to transform the quality of life for low- and moderate-income communities across the country.
It’s the reason Omar Freilla returned to his old neighborhood in the South Bronx in the 90s. He wanted to create a South Bronx that is greener, healthier and more economically empowered than the South Bronx he grew up in.To do that, he established Green Worker Cooperatives – an organization that provides training and support to residents starting worker-owned green businesses. The South Bronx, in addition to being one of New York’s working class communities, has also become a dumping ground for all types of dirty industry and infrastructure — coal plants, landfills and hazardous waste treatment facilities. Because it is located along a heavily trafficked highway, asthma rates in the South Bronx are twelve times the national average. Moreover, access to healthy food, quality education and affordable health care is limited. The Green Worker Cooperatives model says that if you establish more worker-owned green businesses in areas like the South Bronx, then you can build a strong local economy and break the cycle of poverty by keeping community money within the community. And by establishing worker-owned health co-ops or businesses that do things like turning trash into valuable compost for resale, you create wealth and wellness that doesn’t depend on resources from outside of the community.
But if worker-owned cooperatives can create jobs and pave the way to a truly democratic economy, why aren’t there more of them? According to Quentin Sankofa of the Mandela Food Cooperative it comes down to money.“It is not an easy thing for low income people of color to start a business, let alone a cooperative.” Sankofa says, “No banks or credit unions wanted to lend us money.”Sankofa is one of seven members of the Mandela Food Cooperative which is the only grocery store in West Oakland, CA. Because of the lack of access to fresh food and produce, West Oakland is classified as an urban food desert. But thanks to funding and support from the non-profit Mandela Marketplace, the co-op is now providing fresh fruit and vegetables which are delivered daily by youth to small grocery and liquor stores in the area.
The plight of restaurant workers—many of them immigrants—was especially noticeable after 9/11, according to The Huffington Post: Mamdouh was realizing they had no safety net, and few opportunities to find one, due to the transitory nature of the restaurant industry. And that industry, like many other components of the city’s economy, was having troubles of its own during the fall of 2001. More than 12,000 restaurant jobs in New York vanished after the attacks, and by December, almost two-thirds of them still hadn’t come back. Together with a mix of restaurant workers that included former colleagues at Windows on the World, Mamdouh formed an organization to advocate for restaurant worker rights, and to help train workers in an industry where career advancement can range from difficult to nonexistent. With that, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) was formed.
You spoke of emerging co-ops. What kinds of ideas are being attempted? Can you talk a little more about the lessons coming out of these efforts?
The emerging co-ops include a copy shop, a screenprinting business, a tech support firm, and a worker-owned restaurant. Most of them are directly related to operations that were put into place during the occupation of Zuccotti Park last fall. OccuCopy provides flyers, stickers, buttons, and posters to working groups within Occupy Wall Street in addition to outside orders. The screenprinting co-op is emerging from a guild of dedicated volunteers who produced t-shirts and posters at large mobilizations and on site at the park for anyone who wanted on a donation basis. The tech support firm is emerging from the work of several talented web developers who have been behind the many websites and applications we've used at OWS. The worker-owner restaurant folks also want to develop a community supported kitchen as part of their model, and they're all folks who were involved in the OWS Kitchen that at one point fed more people each day than any of the largest soup kitchens in NYC. All of them have representatives who meet regularly to discuss our projects and our shared vision for co-op development in our city.
A few of the lessons learned have been specific to OWS and our relationship to General Assembly, which I won't go into, but suffice to say we learned pretty early that not every self-identified radical supports co-ops as anti-capitalist economic development. I think that came as a bit of a shock and made us aware that there is a lot of misunderstandings about how co-ops work and what their role has been in social movements. We also all felt somewhat uneasy about incorporation--should we be nonprofits, LLCs, co-ops under NY state law, B corporations, etc.? What we learned from the wonderful folks at the Urban Justice Center is that incorporation doesn't really matter that much, actually, and it's really about how you write your by-laws and structure your practices that matters.
A worker co-operative is an employee-owned business which is run according to theco-operative principles, such as democratic member control and concern for community. There are tens, even hundreds of thousands of people employed in worker co-ops in places including Mondragon (Spain), northern Italy, Argentina and Quebec. Jobs tend to be stable with less income inequality and more job satisfaction than in other business forms. Unfortunately, in most of Canada the model is not well known – yet! (This is true even in places where the other co-op models are very common, which includes most of Canada.) The Canadian Worker Co-op Federation seeks to change that. We have chosen 2012, the UN International Year of Co-ops, as the right moment to launch this Resource Guide as part of our efforts to promote worker co-ops.
At a time when people from the Occupiers to the leadership of the Davos World Economic Forum point out that there are serious flaws in the dominant economic model, we believe that it is time for the worker co-operative approach to be more frequently used by individuals and organizations seeking to build a stronger and more sustainable economy. We believe it is the approach that many people are looking for: one based not on greed but on meeting human need - for sustainable and fair employment. It is very effective in cases of succession for small business where an owner is retiring yet has no appropriate family members or others, besides employees, who might wish to take over or buy the business.
This Guide, in the form of web links to practical documents, is designed to be used as a reference guide by people considering the start-up of a worker co-op and organizations that support business development of various types, as well as by worker co-ops that are operating.
Topics included range from worker co-op basics, financing a worker co-op, governance including model worker co-op bylaws, employment law, where to turn for support when needed, and also some information on the movement – in Canada and in selected other parts of the world. The sections which cover new worker co-op development are divided into a general section on start-up / basics, and a section on conversion from other business forms, “Successions and Worker Buy-outs”. Lastly, there is a section called “special topics” for those resource materials which did not naturally group with any others: worker co-ops in immigrant communities, our “Quebec Declaration” regarding worker co-op public policy, and a brief history of CWCF. The documents have been written by CWCF, except as noted.