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.
Stewart Perry and Raymond Russell's classic Collecting Garbage about the worker cooperative Sunset Scavenger is previewable online and available inexpensively used (especially previous editions titled San Francisco's Scavengers).Sunset Scavenger held a monopoly on the San Francisco's refuse collection for over 50 years before selling to a larger corporation in the 1970s as the industry changed from personal to automated relationships with clients.
Now, after five years of hard work, the all-female cleaning cooperative excels at operating on its own. Its members support themselves as well as an office manager - their first employee - and their co-op serves as inspiration for two other cooperatives supported by CFL: Beyond Care!, a childcare co-op, and Golden Steps, a non-medical eldercare co-op launching this month.
The impact on Si Se Puede!'s members has been profound."At first, I didn't take it that seriously because there was no assurance of success," admitted Hernandez. "[It was difficult because] when we were forming the cooperative, it took a year to start getting work. What got me through it was the women in the group and the support from CFL."Now she's seeing the fruits of her labor. "After attending meetings, meeting the women and finding out the issues, I started to become more invested," the Sunset Park mom explained. "The highlight for me is that we've gotten where we wanted to be. We're very informed on how to do quality work, to guarantee quality for the price we charge."
For single mom Irene Alcanta Gonzalez, aspiring for that success keeps her motivated through these first months of her co-op, Golden Steps, for which she was just elected secretary.
"At first, it was a really incredible feeling to be chosen out of 90 people. It gave me a feeling of value," said Gonzalez, who heard about the co-op from staff at a domestic violence support program. "I live in Brownsville [and] it's been a lot of sacrifice to balance working, taking care of my children and coming here. I want it to be successful. I believe it will work. I see everyone working hard and going to extra meetings. I hope for a good job and a just salary so that I can keep supporting my kids."
At Golden Steps we begin by getting to know about the seniors' needs. Our goal is to provide care and support to the senior so they can continue to carry on a dignified life in their home. Companions are well prepared and eager to make the senior feel as if they are with family- cared for, attended to and loved.
What is a Cooperative? It is an autonomous association of people who are united, voluntarily, to meet their necessities and aspirations; economic, social, political and cultural.The members work in common by means of a social enterprise which is controlled democratically.We are a worker cooperative. The workers set policy, make business decisions, and generally run the organization.
The American Worker Cooperative provides Janitorial services, home repair and home remodeling services. The member owners and associates have a wide range of skills to assist you with every project. We pride ourselves on attention to detail, craftmanship and quality customer service. What can we do for you?"
Beatriz Ortiz and Julio Chavez worked intently Thursday in a commercial kitchen in Richmond, preparing for the next day's farmers market near City Hall.They cooked up soups, empanadas, prepared sandwiches and tossed up their now-popular "massaged kale salad."Their new co-op, Liberty Ship Café, launched Jan. 13 and is open for business every Friday at the farmers market, giving visitors choices beyond a local fried chicken outlet and a hot dog stand. It also has a delivery business.
It's the first co-op to open in the city under the guidance of a UC Davis nonprofit that has established two "co-op business incubators," one in Richmond and the other in Lompoc, near Santa Barbara.If Richmond officials have their way, the cafe will be the first of many worker cooperatives -- in which each member has a voice and all share in the profits -- that help stimulate the local economy in the years ahead. The city has even hired a co-op coordinator to help lead the effort.
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was dazzled with the concept during a 2010 visit to the world's most famous worker cooperative in Spain."There are three benefits to co-ops," Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said. "Job creation, democracy in the workplace and local wealth building."The initial response to Liberty Ship Café has been positive, said Lexi Hudson, a co-op specialist with the Davis-based California Center for Cooperative Development.She works side-by-side with Ortiz and Chavez, and they spent a year "incubating" the concept. One key goal is keeping prices affordable, Hudson said. "We emphasize that we're here for the community, and we want to offer healthy food."
Registration for the upcoming national worker cooperative conference opens in mid-March. In the meantime, take a look at our gorgeous conference website for lots of information!
Speakers and Workshops
We have confirmed that Congressman Chaka Fattah from Philadelphia, the sponsor of the National Cooperative Development Act, will give our keynote address on Friday, June 22. In the spirit of the UN International Year of Cooperatives, we are also pleased to welcome several international guests, who will join us to share stories of their worker cooperative movements. We are still confirming final guests and will publish a full list soon. The two day-long conference will feature over 30 workshops on everything from practical sharing of skills to movement-building discussions, to opportunities to actually do business with one another. We have selected about 75% of the sessions. In the next week we will post more sessions, along with descriptions and schedules. Check back for more info!
Cooperative Development Intensive
MIT CoLab and USFWC convene an ongoing discussion about worker cooperative development. Hearing a real need for continued discussion about worker cooperative development and the explosion of new development projects, we are convening a daylong intensive discussion on Friday, June 22. This intensive will happen in addition to the main conference, for a small additional fee. It is aimed at cooperative developers, cooperative federations, community groups and individuals supporting cooperative development, and anyone who is interested in advancing the dialogue and practice of developing worker cooperatives. The Development Intensive will be hosted at MIT in conjunction with the MIT CoLab. More details to come soon.
Community Picnic and Party
Meet the Boston cooperative community in Jamaica Plain. Saturday night we will host a community picnic and party in Jamaica Plain. The picnic happens in the park next to the Stony Brook T stop. The party continues that night at Spontaneous Celebrations a block away, where we'll have live music, DJs, a games room for kids and adults, beverages for all ages, cupcakes, and lots more.
Sponsor the Conference!
We expect over 300 people from around the country to attend the conference. This is a great chance to get your name out there - whether you're a cooperative, a support organization, a consultant, a lender, a funder, or a friend. We depend on sponsors to keep the conference affordable and accessible to as many people as possible. Please consider sponsoring part of the conference. Your sponsorship will help:
- Provide 20-25 scholarships, focused on developing leadership in USFWC members.
- Support Spanish/English interpretation for an anticipated 30-40 primary Spanish speaking attendees
- Keep attendance affordable, with discounted registration for up to 75 Boston area community members
Ringmaster - $2000 or more.
Free conference registration for 2, large ad in the program.
High-flying trapeze artist - $1000 or more.
Free conference registration for 1, medium ad in the program.
Tightrope walker - $500 or more.
Discounted conference registration for 1, small ad in the program.
Acrobat - Any amount.
Your name on the sponsor list and signage.
All sponsors will be showered with dazzling smiles and effusive thanks, in print, in person and online. You can also choose to sponsor a speaker, a coffee break, a workshop track, or the Saturday night community picnic. In return for your event-based sponsorship, we'll post signage and include your personal or cooperative name in the promotional materials. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sponsor.
The Cooperative Teach-in allows people who are interested in a wide variety of issues to engage with the national cooperative movement and see how co-ops relate to them: from workers’ rights to economic development, democratic control, environmental justice, fair trade, community empowerment, social entrepreneurship, food justice, and small farmers. For the past few months, TESA has been piloting the program in New England. We have already organized over a dozen co-op events and three courses as a part of this initiative! This project has already connected co-ops with middle schools, high schools, after school programs, community colleges, and universities. Now, we are extremely excited for cooperatives and campuses across the United States to get involved.Here is what you can get out of this initiative and what you can do to get involved:
Sign up for our “Campus - Cooperative Connections”, which puts you on a map that you can use to connect your campus with a cooperative, or your cooperative with a campus, to set up an event, program, or project on co-ops and the co-op movement. We will also help facilitate connections between co-ops and campuses. You can read testimonials here from people who’ve taken part in this initiative.
Get in touch with us to access a team that will help you develop custom educational resources (projects, events, courses, programs, materials, and more) for free during 2012. We will also help you make connections with a campus or a co-op to set up a cooperative education experience.
In the near future, we will also have a showcase for highlighting campus projects, events, and programs on co-ops so that campuses, students, and co-ops can show off their work and make sure it’s make an impact in the world.
Stay up to date with the Cooperative Teach-In by following us on Facebook and Twitter as well as signing up for our low-traffic e-mail list. Please also help us get the word out by sharing this project via e-mail and social media!
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.
Dozens of Serious employees emerged from the Serious Materials factory building at 1333 N. Hickory Avenue last night, chanting “Si se pudo!” to cheers from a wet but excited crowd of roughly 30, many of whom had planned to spend the night in solidarity. Led by United Electrical (UE) workers union Local 1110 President Armando Robles, they exchanged hugs as Robles spoke into a camera. First in English, then in Spanish, he welcomed the result.“We got a good resolution, better than we expected,” he said, and thanked those there for their support. The main portion of the settlement was an agreement that the workers could keep their jobs for 90 days while searching for new owners for the plant, and Robles’ suggestion that the workers could run the company under their own banner was met with applause. “Give us hope, give us work! For the workers of America!” cheered someone from the crowd.
A short, conciliatory statement from a Serious Materials spokesperson followed, but minds were clearly elsewhere, elated with the victory and the future prospect of a cooperative enterprise. Robles, speaking to press in alternating English and Spanish, described events of the morning, when workers were taken to a notorious anti-union law firm and informed that their jobs would be terminated, effective immediately; though they would still receive 60 days of Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act pay, they would not be allowed to work any more. (Violation of the WARN Act was at the core of the 2008 occupation of the plant.)The company planned to begin dismantling the plant for sale, to which Robles and UE responded, “This is not acceptable.”
At the 5 p.m. shift change, workers stayed in the factory, and the rest is (newly written) history. According to organizer and journalist Micah Uetricht, who updating from the scene via Twitter: “Workers demanded chance to find buyer, save jobs… or start worker-owned cooperative. Company said no, so they occupied.”
Why did you choose a coop, as opposed to an LLC or something?
How did you write your articles of incorporation? Is someone in your business a lawyer? Did you find a model document somewhere? Or did you hire a lawyer? And do you know where I can find sample articles of incorporation for a worker owned co-op?
How are the earnings shared? Are you all paid the same or are you paid on merit. Like if someone were obviously working harder than another person, would they get paid more?