In the age of unemployment, downsizing, and outsourcing, where can a poor soul find a job? Well, maybe it’s time we create our own. Self-employment is an option and can seem to free, but it’s hard to do everything yourself and find time for a non-work life. The worker coop is an alternative to the isolation of self-employment and the exploitation of traditional jobs.
Worker coops can be more satisfying than working for the man. Worker-owners aren’t forced into a hierarchy, and they have more say over what the business does than traditional employees. You still have to be responsible for managing a coop, maybe more so, but your coworker-owners will likely be nicer and more understanding of personal needs and quirks than middle-management at any corporation. You will probably make more money by cutting out the investors and managers, unless you were one of them, in which case: welcome to egalitarianism! In typical low-paying industries, worker-owners can make several times what they were pulling in as employees.
In the United States of America cooperation exists, and “worker-owned cooperatives” existed and prospered for many years to this day, thanks also to the spirit of entrepreneurship that is widespread and to the practice of democracy, a practice that is taught at school, starting from the elementary grade.
An architecture and building co-op in Montana that uses recycled materials and builds eco-friendly buildings
Big TimberWorks Homes
Cooperatives are part of the self-help tradition of America. Cooperatives are businesses organized by people to provide needed goods and services. Cooperative businesses:
• Are owned by the people who use their services;
• Provide an economic benefit for their members;
• Are democratic organizations, controlled by their members;
• Are autonomous and independent;
• Recognize the importance of education about cooperative business and organizational practices;
• Support cooperation among cooperatives, which has resulted in the growing importance of cooperatives in today’s global economy; and,
• Exhibit concern for their communities.
Cooperative businesses provide just about any good or service their members need. Cooperatives offer credit and financial services, health care, childcare, housing, insurance, legal and professional services. Cooperatives sell food, farm supplies, hardware, and recreational equipment. They provide utilities, such as electricity, telephone, and television. And cooperatives process and market products and goods for their members.
|…I don’t know much about politics, I have been part of Union Cab of Madison Wisconsin for 21 years, I wouldn’t have stayed around so long if it wasn’t for its structure…
Fred Schepartz, taxi driver, Madison Union Cab
… I have a Ph.D. in anthropology, so I love to see people’s behavior. The first ten minutes I was in a cab I asked myself “what I have been doing wasting my life not driving a cab?”… I can expect to make between 18$ and 26$ an hour… we are the most successful cab company in Madison, and this is in part due to the fact that we don’t have to pay the CEO a six-figure salary… I think our name, Union Cab, is beautifully evocative of how we are as a company,… we have republicans, we have democrats, we have socialists, we have anarchists, well, I don’t think we have any communist…
Rebecca Kemble, Ph.D., taxi driver, Madison Union Cab
A map of the 200+ worker cooperatives in the U.S., and some other organizations
(map by Joe Marraffino)
View Worker Cooperatives in the United States in a larger map
The chart below shows the economic impact for each type of cooperative.
Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and democratically governed by their employees. They operate in numerous industries, including childcare, commercial and residential cleaning, food service, healthcare, technology, consumer retail and services, manufacturing, wholesaling and many others. Some 300 worker co-ops throughout the U.S. provide their employees with both jobs and ownership—allowing them to directly benefit from the financial success of the business. Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) are a more common form of worker ownership in the manufacture, although they often lack the democracy inherent to co-ops.
Some examples of worker Co-ops.
This dossier wants to illustrate some of the different realities of worker-owned cooperatives that are closer to the libertarian cooperative concept, realities that are often not well known and/or understood outside of North America.
From the video “The evergreen cooperatives”
Ohio Cooperative Solar
The cooperative has begun to install photovoltaic panels on the three anchor institutions that are part of Cleveland’s economic empowerment zone: Case Western University, University Hospitals, and the Cleveland Clinic.
The cooperative 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 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.
Ohio Cooperative Solar offers weatherization services and solar-panel installations — the first a 100-kW system on the roof of the Cleveland Clinic. According to Kiel, Ohio now has 2 solar megawatts of the 60 the state requires by 2012. “Most installations in Ohio are small,” he says. “One hundred kilowatts is a pretty significant system.”
Watch a short video that introduces the opening of Ohio Cooperative Solar, one of the networks of Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland Ohio.
Consumer Food Cooperatives
CNN’s “Issue #1” featuring the National Cooperative Business Association’s (NCBA) Adam Schwartz talking about the ability of food cooperatives in providing an economical food distribution alternative.
How worker cooperatives work – Joe Marraffino