Jeanette Monsalve and three friends — all but one mothers — started making empanadas to raise money for a project. And when orders for their pastries kept coming in after their fundraising stopped, they knew they had the makings of a business.They also knew they didn’t want the typical business model, so they decided to create their catering company as a worker cooperative — aptly named Yo Mamas Catering Cooperative…
Yo Mamas’ founders had good timing in that they benefited from the efforts of an upstart nonprofit with a new program focused on helping people start worker co-ops.Third Coast Workers for Cooperation is aimed at developing, promoting and supporting worker co-ops through educational and outreach programs, including its Cooperative Business Institute, said Carlos Perez de Alejo, community outreach coordinator for Third Coast. The Cooperative Business Institute is a 16-week program that takes participants through the nuts and bolts of starting all types of worker cooperatives, everything from writing a business plan to decision making.
ReBuilders Source, the Bronx's 2-year old worker-owned, materials re-use cooperative, has closed for financial reasons.At the 2010 USFWC conference organizer Omar Freilla noted that the cooperative's business plan was ill-timed; the store opened to sell building materials in 2008 just as the recession was devastating the construction industry.Green Worker Cooperatives, the organization that developed and supported ReBuilders Source, has reinvigorated their Co-op Academy and has 6 new cooperatives in development:
As a result of the new format for our Co-op Academy, in 2009 we graduated six new co-ops in development that cover a wide range of industries: two healthy green caterers (Sabor Latino & B-Blossom); a green diner (The Worker’s Diner); a solar thermal products manufacturer (Aquatecture); a furniture renovator & re-designer (ReFab); and a green community youth center owned and governed by both workers and the young people served.
Rose Aguilar hosted an interview show on worker cooperatives on KALW in advance of the 2010 conference.The guests are Dan Thomases, worker/owner of Box Dog Bikes and board member of Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives, John Kusakabe, worker/owner of Arizmendi Bakery,Hilary Abell, executive director of Women's Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES).
The Association of Cooperative Educators is a membership organization that brings together educators, researchers, cooperative members, and cooperative developers from across cooperative sectors and national borders to enhance cooperative development, strengthen cooperatives, promote professionalism and improve public understanding.Presentations from their 2009 ACE Institute are available online including:
Is Policy Helping or Hindering?
Tom Webb of St. Mary’s University Master in Management -- Co-operatives and Credit Unions says there is an “enormous suspension of common sense” in the economy today. He prescribes several policy changes to free cooperatives to help create change: appreciation of the model by governments; equitable, not equal treatment of businesses; balanced education about business models, and the removal of barriers to co-op development. Community developer Margaret Lund of Minneapolis recommends building a broad recognition of the fundamental public purpose of cooperatives, and encouraging governments to recognize retained earnings and further co-op/community development through tax advantages. Webb and Lund are introduced by Rizick Rosario Peña of the ACE board of directors and Cooperativa de Seguros Múltiples de Puerto Rico.Listen to the audio recording / see Tom Webb's presentation
Melissa Hoover, executive director, United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and agricultural economist Bruce Reynolds of USDA discuss their work with worker cooperatives. Hoover introduces a technical assistance program for a new generation of worker cooperatives. Reynolds explains USDA programs related to worker ownership, the sustainability of co-ops and the challenge of demutualization. James Wadsworth of USDA Rural Development's Cooperative Programs and ACE board secretary introduces the session.Listen to the audio recording / see Bruce Reynolds' presentation / see Melissa Hoover's presentation
Aboriginal / First Nations Cooperative Growth
Louise Champagne, president of Neechi Foods Co-op Ltd. of Manitoba, Canada, describes her cooperative, its mandate, collaborations, recent expansion, and successes to assist inner city Winnipeg. Manley Begay, Jr., faculty chair of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy in Arizona, discusses the cultural differences among First Nations, and suggests that Aboriginal and First Nations people look at cooperatives as an option for their enterprises. CHS Foundation President William J. Nelson introduces the session.Listen to the audio recording / see Manley Begay's presentation / see Louise Champagne's presentation
Developing Cooperative Leaders at Universities
Denyse Guy (Ontario Co-operative Association), Christina Clamp (Southern New Hampshire University) and Tom Webb (St. Mary’s University) describe their challenges and wishes for their respective new university programs on co-operatives and credit unions.
We've realized that blazing a trail requires openness to experimentation, a willingness to learn from mistakes, and a fascination with possibilities. These are the qualities that made it possible for us to get through 2009, the year we faced our toughest challenge yet.
At the beginning of 2009 our first and only cooperative, ReBuilders Source, was threatened with having to close its doors because of insufficient sales. Its original members could no longer afford to continue to pay themselves. The worker co-op we had worked so hard on for so many years was in critical condition, and lying with it was our dream for a South Bronx incubator for worker-owned green businesses. In response, the staff at Green Worker Cooperatives met the challenge head on. We put on boots and coveralls and helped restructure operations, dug up financial support; and trained a new team of Co-op Academy graduates to further transform ReBuilders Source’s operations. We partnered with Arbor Education & Training to expand staffing at ReBuilders Source while providing work opportunities for members of our community who’d been formerly incarcerated.
What started out the year for us as a life threatening challenge motivated us to do some serious reflection on what was missing in our work. It became the catalyst for a series of transitions that have since unveiled a treasure of opportunity.
Jessica Gordon Nembhard has written extensively on "community- and asset-based economic development and democratic community economics, cooperative economics and worker ownership, alternative urban economic and educational development strategies, racial wealth inequality and wealth accumulation in communities of color, and popular economic literacy." Here is a sampling of her works available online.
The organizers of the 2008 National Worker Cooperative Conference deftly delegated note-taking responsibilities to volunteers and ended up with a treasure trove of documentation. If you want to refresh your memory of where we left off, or are eager to get a jump start on the 2010 conference so you can ask informed questions, the archive of conference workshop notes from New Orleans (also listed below) is full of information.
Be sure to also read up on the work done since then in the USFWC's April_2009, July 2009, and November 2009 newsletters. The July 2009 edition has a report from the Madison members' meeting which outlines priorities for the near future.
40 people gathered together on the 12th floor in a mid-Manhattan building to see how much interest and energy there was for starting a worker cooperative network in the Big Apple. They came on that Dec. 18 morning representing functioning worker co-ops, groups in the process of starting worker co-ops, non-profit incubators of worker co-ops, and support organizations. They came from all over New York City and Long Island. And most represented low-income, immigrant-driven projects.
The Center for Family Life, Inc., a United Neighborhood House community center in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn used their annual city-wide symposium to call this cooperative forum. Participants produced more than enough interest and energy to launch the beginnings of a "NYC-Co-operative Network" that held its first follow-up meeting on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010 in the offices of the Urban Justice Center in lower Manhattan.
The Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy has been held roughly every two years since 2002. It started during the organizing drive for a national federation in the early 2000s and has become one of the primary assemblies of worker cooperative members, supporters, and new recruits to the movement. Here are some reports from the conference's board, staff and attendees from over the years.