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.
(2) develop guidelines for future support for cooperative development; and
(3) determine how best the Agency can position itself to implement these guidelines.
The review was done in partnership with the Overseas Cooperative Development Council and its member cooperative development organizations (CDOs).
History and successes
USAID's partnership with CDOs began in the early 1960s. During the last thirty years, eight CDOs have managed $1.12 billion in USAID-financed activities. This includes more than $105 million in Cooperative Development Program grants designed to accelerate and expand the CDO's reach and impact. At present CDOs manage a $160 million project portfolio in more than 60 countries. USAID-supported cooperative development has achieved notable successes. The World Council of Credit Unions has reached more than 20 million credit union members in developing and transitional economies, members who have saved $27 billion. NCBA's work with Indonesian cooperatives has helped them earn more than $600 million from exports of furniture and commodities. ACDI-VOCA has helped 166,000 Ethiopian and Malawian farmers save $4 million in input costs and earn more than $11 million on cash crops. More than 20 million rural Bangladeshis are served by rural electric cooperatives promoted and supported by NRECA. In only a decade NTCA's work in Poland resulted in 40,000 connections provided by six self-reliant rural telephone services. Over the same period, CHF has helped house three million families in nearly 100 countries.
Several important lessons have been learned from USAID's more than forty years of partnership with CDOs. Among these are:
The link between cooperative success and cooperative principles, most especially those of member centrality and control;
Cooperative autonomy is associated with success; cooperative subservience to external interests is associated with failure;
Cooperatives function best when law and regulation provide a level playing field for competition with other enterprises;
Governance structures must be strong, transparent and honest;
Cooperatives must perform: to survive, endure and thrive they must be important to their members, their community, and sector of the economy;
Support to cooperative development that creates dependency undermines the mutual self-reliance that is central to cooperation;
Cooperatives must develop professional management in order to adapt, innovate, and take rational risks to satisfy the expectations of their owners; cooperatives succeed when they consistently deliver value to their owners; and
Institution building takes time, normally more time than project cycles allow.
When you receive a massage at New Seattle Massage, the massage practitioner directly receives the money paid and contributes a portion of the price to the co-op for shared costs such as laundry, receptionists, facility rent & upkeep, administration and advertising. There is no other owner, other than each of us owning our own individual practices: no other individuals or stockholders gain profits from the work done by LMP's; no owner other than ourselves tells us how to run our business or how to give a massage.
We have created this co-op to better serve our clients and ourselves. Our facility offers clients amenities none of us could offer individually (steam room, sauna, showers), client calls are answered 84 hours/week and we are free from administrative tasks and laundry. Rather we can do what we love to do: provide massage."
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.
What is a worker co-op, how is it different from traditional business models and why is the co-op model a good fit for IT?
How does functioning as a worker co-op change your work product or affect your relationship to your clients?
What are the challenges of working in a co-op setting, and how do co-ops deal with them?
What is the state of the tech co-op nation? How many are there? How are they doing?
This workshop's aim is to engage participants in showing the common sense of horizontally organized worker cooperatives in the US as a viable economic, political and ecological alternative to the current dominant business models.
Heather Mitchell is a queer anarchist activist and co-director at Ecology Action a horizontally run worker cooperative. She has been involved in many social justice groups over the last 10 years with focuses on labor, AIDS, LGBQT and the environment. She has a Bachelors of Science in Gender Studies and Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon.
Susannah has been active in prisoner rights and support, labor and environmental justice for eight years. She is the co-director of a books to prisoners project Inside Books which has sent free books to Texas inmates for 15 years. She is also co-director of the worker cooperative Ecology Action of Texas.
scott crow is an anarchist community organizer, writer and speaker. He is the co-founder of the Common Ground Collective. He has worked for many groups, including Greenpeace and A.C.O.R.N. He was labeled a “domestic terrorist” by the FBI in the late 90’s and investigated for a decade. He has appeared in media as both a writer and a subject. He is the author of the book 'Black Flags and Windmills', travels for speaking and is co-director at an anarchist worker-run cooperative in Austin.
When times get hard, people often are forced to create their own livelihoods. The current economic crisis has seen an upsurge, especially in poor and marginalized communities, of efforts to create worker cooperatives. This workshop will explore the potential of cooperatives to not only create jobs, but also to consciously contribute to community revitalization and inform alternative strategies of community economic development. This workshop will look at examples of cooperative development in low income communities from the Jersey Shore, NYC and Springfield, MA. We'll discuss lessons about replicating these models along with the economic and community impact of this work.
Al Campbell is Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Utah and a member of the Steering Committee of the Union for Radical Political Economics. His research concerns the problems with capitalism and considerations concerning possible alternatives. One recent research topic has been the Mondragón cooperative complex, and in particular what aspects of it could be modified and used in various very different settings in the US, such as Evergreen or more traditional workers’ coops.
Fred Rose is Co-Director of the Wellspring Initiative which is developing worker cooperatives in Springfield, MA. He spent 15 years as the lead organizer of the faith based Pioneer Valley Project, in Springfield where he organized on issues of job access, neighborhood redevelopment, school reform and worker rights. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Center for Public Policy and Administration at UMass, Amherst and has a doctorate in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University.
Djar Horn, a socialist and organizer, has worked as a union organizer, a carpenter and a member of a worker coop. She completed her MSW in Internat’l and Community Dev. from Monmouth Univ. where she focused on the development of Solidarity Economy (SE) and Social Movements. She works with the American Worker Coop-NJ a housekeeping and construction coop. She continues to support the work of the Jersey Shore Neighborhood Coop and its start-ups: a Pinata and a Youth Interpreter/Translator coop.
As the capitalist economy is in a state of rapid decline, the panel examines the historic and contemporary relevance of workers cooperatives as an alternative to capitalist and private ownership of property and enterprises. The panel explores the trajectory of worker control in the comparative national contexts and its challenge to capitalist domination.
Chris Michael is the Founder and General Partner of Workers Development, a firm that is pioneering the use of innovative financing techniques with respect to the unique needs of worker cooperation. In addition, he is completing a JD/PhD (Politics) at the City University of New York with a focus on cooperative financial structures and community economic development. Chris is also very active with the Worker Cooperative Federal Credit Union (Proposed) and the NYC Network of Worker Cooperatives.
Carl Davidson is national co-chair of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, and national board member on Solidarity Economy Network.
Ethan Earle is U.S. Director of The Working World: USA, which works closely with existing cooperatives and is seeking to advance new organizations in New York City. The Working World provides support for cooperatives in Argentina, Nicaragua, and the U.S.
Peter Ranis is professor emeritus of political science at the Graduate Center, CUNY. His most recent articles on cooperatives, eminent domain and the working class in the U.S. and Argentina were published in Monthly Review, Working USA and Socialism and Democracy. He is active in the PSC/CUNY, the faculty/staff union affiliate of the AFT.
Jessica Gordon Nembhard is a professor at John Jay College / CUNY and member of the Solidarity Economy Network
This panel will involve a discussion among four grassroots organizers who will explore current successes with the worker cooperative movement as well as challenges. Jalal Sabur (confirmed) is a young African American organizer in the food justice/food sovereignty movement and will speak about his recent experience moving to a cooperative farm in upstate New York and his work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Vanessa Bransburg (Center for Family Life) will speak about her experience with immigrants and women in building worker cooperatives locally. Alex Jackimovicz is a student of the Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT) from Maine and will speak about the role of cooperatives in Prout's post-capitalist vision for a fair and balanced economy. A member of Community Voices Heard will also participate on the panel and share CVH's approach to ending poverty. The panel will be moderated by WESPAC's Executive Director, Nada Khader.
Nada Khader has been the Executive Director of WESPAC Foundation, a peace and justice action and educational network, since May 2001. She is responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the non-profit organization that has served the region since 1974. WESPAC works on a range of issues dealing with social, economic and racial justice, and is especially concerned about promoting a just resolution to the various conflicts in the Middle East.
Jalal Sabur is the founder of the Freedom Food Alliance, a network of urban and rural food justice activists. They use food as an organizing tool for environmental, food, prison and economic justice. He has recently moved to upstate New York to help start a farming cooperative as part of the Freedom Food Alliance. He works with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Southern Black Farmers in Vermont.
Vanessa Bransburg is the Coop Coordinator at the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park. She works with immigrants and women in helping them establish cooperatively owned and managed businesses in the area of childcare, cleaning services and painting.
Alex Jackimoviczis a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst having studied Social Thought Political Economy and with a Bachelor's in Concepts of Identity in Social Theory. Licensed Master Electrician in Maine, and avid student of alternative economics and PROUT.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you can volunteer for a two-hour shift on Sunday the 26th of February at the Brower Center in Berkeley.
The Workers' Owned Sewing Company was, at peak, a 70-worker democratic cut-and-sew factory that operated for 21 years in Windsor, North Carolina.The company was founded in 1979 out of the bankruptcy of a 12 year-old form called Bertie Industries (after Bertie County).The manager of that firm, Tim Bazemore, reorganized the company as a democratic enterprise and helped relaunch it with the help of consultants including Frank Adams of ICA.Bazemore owned all the shares for the first two years but then began to sell them to the workers through payroll deductions.An elected 7-member board was responsible for all major business decisions, including hiring and firing the plant manager.After several years of subcontracting, the cooperative was successful enough in 1983 to sell directly to K-Mart and Sears.
The success of the cooperative helped activists to persuade Guilford College's Business Management Department to sponsor four-day summer workshops three successive summers, and contributed to the founding of the Self-Help Credit Union, which in turn helped the cooperative to expand.In 1993 Bazemore was invited by Bill Clintonto the White House to speak to bankers and community economic developers that "poor minorities could build enterprises, create jobs, and instill confidence in their future" as Clinton announced his Community Development Banking and Financial Institutions Act.
In 1992 Kathy Hoke interviewed Bazemore about his childhood, his time in and return from World War II, his activism, and his enterprises.The transcription of the interview is an inspiring read, an exceprt of which is below.
Once Again Nut Butter is a 100% employee-owned, democratic ESOP that produces peanut, almond, and cashew butters, honey, and a variety of other products from the town of Nunda in Western New York.Once Again has been democratically operated for 35 years, has 30 employee-owners,and had revenues of $14 million in 2007.The company operates on a 1 member, 1 vote sytem, distributes profit shares equally to all owners, and has a 3.5 to 1 compensation ratio of highest to lowest paid employees.
Thecooperative will install, own, and maintain the panels that they install and sell the generated power to the host institutions.As a for profit business they are entitled to government solar incentives that non-profit universities and hospitals cannot receive.Because solar installation is not a year-round business in the Ohio, the cooperative diversified with a weatherization program for the colder months in order to create full-time jobs.
CEO Steve Kiel, who says he is like an employee of the cooperative's 20 worker-owners, explains his goals include structured wealth creation for the workers' long term economic security. A share of the company's surplus is allocated to the workers but retained in the company, capitalizing the business while creating long-term individual savings.
"Over the next twenty years, the cooperative they created faced its share of organizational and financial struggles, and they made some modifications, both to Burley's original product line and to its organizational structure. Through it all, the cooperative's worker-owners made every attempt to remain true to its fundamentals — making bicycling products under conditions of equal pay, equal ownership, equal distribution of profits, and equal voice in management, while retaining a social and environmental conscience. Grounded in these fundamentals, Burley grew to become a model of successful workplace democracy and one of the United States' largest manufacturing cooperatives, with one hundred full, voting members and nearly $10 million in annual sales.
"Such prominence, however, was not Burley's goal, and it arrived surprisingly quickly. In fact, it came as such a surprise that the cooperative struggled to accommodate the growth. In that struggle, Burley failed to anticipate and understand the end of its growth spurt or the fundamental changes occurring in the surrounding economy. In 2006, after nearly thirty years of cooperative manufacturing, Burley was on the brink of collapse as its competitors moved manufacturing to unregulated and lower-cost markets overseas."
In December, rumors surfaced that Checker would stay closed permanently. A variety of sentiments developed among the strikers. Some felt guilty about getting employees into something which might cost them their livelihoods. Some were frustrated and angry because the union was unable to reach a negotiated settlement. Some began to feel that if Checker did close permanently, it would be better than working for its management again.
In January, 1979, ex-Checker workers Steve Krumrei, Jim Cooley, Dave Everitt, Jim Symon and Jim Applebaum resolved to create a worker owned company. They felt they had, amongst the membership, enough expertise to be successful in the taxi business. When it became apparent that Checker management would not reapply for taxi permits, Union Cab incorporated. Later that month, it applied for 20 permits. From March to June, Union Cab contacted lawyers, made financial projections, applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a radio license and began seeking the estimated $150,000 necessary to begin initial operations.
By early June, Union Cab had only obtained enough money to put a down payment on the radios. Every day was a juggling act, as projected expenses had to be reevaluated in light of available sources of capital. Finally, a loan package was arranged: $95,000 came from the First Wisconsin Bank (Firstar), $35,000 from the Madison Development Corporation, $15,000 from Wisconsin Horizons and almost $15,000 fro the sale of preferred stock. On October 29, 1979, Union Cab of Madison Cooperative, Inc. opened for business, with 11 new cabs. It was difficult at the beginning, with no yellow pages ad and an average wage of around $0.80 per hour. The Cooperative lost $35,000 in the first three months. Losses were expected, but their magnitude concerned everyone. On February 14, 1980, the City permitted the cab companies to raise their rates. At that point, Union turned the corner."
"The Cheese Board opened in 1967, when revolution was in the air, in the slip of a space that now houses The Juice Bar Collective. On the first day of business, original owners Sahag and Elizabeth Avedisian grossed less than a hundred bucks after an initial investment of just a few hundred dollars on cheese. The couple began selling a selection of high-quality cheeses in stark contrast to the massive orange blocks wrapped in plastic that passed for American cheese then.
How times have changed. And we’re not just referring to the fact that worker-owners no longer streak naked across the median strip (as they did, legend has it, “back in the day.”) Today, the store sells 300 to 400 goat, sheep, and cow milk cheeses from all over the world, including many artisan American offerings. The store also sells its trademark sourdough baguette and baked goods, such as scones, muffins, cookies, and chocolate things, as well as focaccia, rolls, challah, and other breads.
The Avedisians, who had worked on a kibbutz in Israel, wanted to run a democratic shop where all the workers were owners and shared the wealth. So in 1971 the couple converted the business to a collective, bringing their six employees into the fold as equal partners. To this day, a new employee earns the same hourly pay as one who has been with the cooperative since the beginning. Elizabeth Avedisian, now in her 80s, still does two shifts a week at the store, without fanfare. Her ex-husband Sahag, who left the collective and the Bay Area years ago, passed away in 2007.
Submissions for the 2012 conference are invited from all relevant fields of study including comparative economic systems, industrial and labor economics, organizational studies, management studies, institutional economics, evolutionary economics, development economics, sociology, psychology, political science, law, and philosophy.Abstracts for proposed papers should be submitted by March 31st.
The IAFEP is dedicated to exploring the economics of democratic and participatory economic organizations, such as labor-managed firms, cooperatives and firms with broad-based employee share-ownership, profit-sharing and worker participation schemes, as well as democratic nonprofit, community and social enterprises.The IAFEP Conferences, which take place every two years, provide an international forum for the presentation and debate of current research and scholarship on the economics of participation.
Programs andsome papers from some of previous year's conferences are available:
A worker cooperative is an organization that is owned and managed by its worker-owners. There are two important characteristics of worker cooperatives: the workers invest in and own the business, and the decision-making is democratic, generally adhering to the principle of “one worker-one vote” since all shares of the cooperative are held by the workers, each owning one voting share.
To become an owner, the workers usually invest with a buy-in amount of money when they begin working for the cooperative. At the end of each year, the worker-owners are paid their portion of money the business makes after expenses. In most businesses this is considered profit, in cooperatives it is called surplus. Generally the surplus is distributed according to hours worked, seniority, or other criteria.
Are There Worker Cooperatives in the US?
Historically, cooperatives have a stronger and, in many cases, more developed presence in foreign countries, specifically Italy and Spain. Researchers and practitioners at the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) conservatively estimate that there are over 300 worker cooperatives (or democratic workplaces) in the US, employing over 3,500 workers and generating around $400 million in annual revenues.
The greatest concentration of worker-owned businesses is in the Northeast, the West Coast and the Upper Midwest. The vast majority of these worker cooperatives are small businesses, although there are some notable larger cooperatives. Cooperatives range across a variety of industries in the US, including retail and service sectors, and manufacturing and the skilled trades. Historically, there has been a strong existence of cooperatives in the natural foods industry. More recently, there has been an increase of worker cooperatives in the technology sector and home health care.
At this point, the USFWC is the only organization in the US that represents worker cooperatives on a national scale. In addition to the USFWC protecting cooperative interests nationally, there are also local networks and federations scattered throughout the San Francisco Bay area, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, the Boston area, and in western Massachusetts and southern Vermont. The University of Wisconsin released a study about the economic impact of the entire cooperative sector. You can access the study here.
Cooperatives are a type of company in which control is on a one person/one vote basis. Cooperatives can be set up as partnerships or corporations, and in some states, there are worker cooperative statutes. Whatever form a cooperative takes (most are set up as corporations), they qualify for special federal tax benefits. Cooperatives are the oldest form of employee ownership in the United States, dating from the early 1800s. Although they are not common in larger businesses, they make up a large portion of small employee-owned businesses.
Formal voting control must be on a one-person/one-vote basis. Usually most employees must be shareholders, although as many as half can sometimes be excluded. Generally, a cooperative cannot pay dividends, and must pay out any excess earnings not held in the company to employee shareholders based on salary, time worked, or some other work-related basis. However, if non-employee owners have a small percentage equity share and return on investment is limited, these owners can still be rewarded through dividends.
Persons who sell shares to a worker cooperative are exempt from capital gains taxes if the gain is reinvested in U.S. securities. Cooperatives are exempt from double taxation on dividends to employees that are based on time worked or salary rather than equity. Most small businesses will not need to pay out dividends anyway (see discussion in Financial Benefits in a Corporation), but this exemption gives cooperatives more flexible tax planning options than other corporations, letting them treat profits like either an "S" or a "C" corporation without changing their legal structure.
Set-up costs for cooperatives are even cheaper than direct ownership plans for two reasons: worker cooperative laws in many states make it simple to incorporate and qualify as a cooperative; and, there are professionals and organizations offering inexpensive services or financial support for cooperatives.
Typically, a worker cooperative makes employees owners after a probation period. Employees than either buy shares of stock that have real equity value that fluctuates with the company's value or they purchase a membership share, which has a fixed value that may or may not have interest added on to it as the employee accumulates seniority. When an employee leaves, either the cooperative or another employee buys the share (if it is real equity), or (if it is a membership share), the cooperative pays off the employee and a new employee buys a share at the base price.
Most cooperatives establish an internal account to which profits are allocated, usually to all cooperative members based on hours worked or some other equitable measurement of their contribution. These profits are deductible to the company, but taxable to the employee. When employees leave, they are paid out their account balances, usually with interest. In the interim, cooperatives may also pass some of the profits directly through to members, perhaps to help them pay taxes they owe on the profits allocated to their accounts.
Hands on experience working in co-ops and social justice organizations.
Consensus decision-making training & facilitation.
Policy Governance experience from conception, development to day to day practice.
Working understanding of Collective Management and models.
Open Space Technology trainer and facilitator.
Participant in the Democracy At Work Network peer training program sponsored by the United States Federation of Worker Co-ops.
Current Projects: Member and Staff Engagement process to determine the strategic vision of Olympia Food Co-op into the future. Developing a Co-op think tank to advance a co-op economy in the Portland region.
The process really started to snow ball when we discovered that an old friend of from the Bay Area, a coop founder himself, had begun coaching other organizations on the process. Shawn Berry (along with Tom Clossey) formally organized their wood shop, Woodshanti into a worker-owned cooperative in 2002. Since that time they have become a model for progressive business development, joining other long standing coops in Northern California like Rainbow Grocery and CELLspace. You can read more about Woodshanti and coops in general at www.go.coop.
The opening session will introduce the cooperative model and discuss how it can be used to preserve existing firms and develop new ones with a cooperative business model. There will be two speakers:
Newell Lessell, executive director of the ICA Group, will discuss the merits of the co-op model in retiring owner succession planning and conversions as well as in startups of new firms.
Jonathan Halle (SNHU ’93) is the managing member of the Cooperative and an Architect with Warrenstreet Architects in Concord NH, an employee owned cooperative.
Wednesday, March 14
This session will have two speakers from prominent New England cooperatives:
Howard Brodsky, Co-Founder, Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer of CCA Global and an SNHU trustee will discuss how he and his co-founder decided that a shared services cooperative of small business owners would be a better model than the franchise model.
Roberta MacDonald, Sr Vice President of Marketing for Cabot Creamery will speak about Cabot’s cooperative advantage in marketing and the Cabot experience of cooperative ownership.
Wednesday, April 11
The final session will examine the experience of consumer ownership of cooperatives with two speakers from two of the finest national examples of consumer ownership in the US: