Rainbow Grocery Co-op, San Francisco, CA

As part of a worker-run cooperative, we are more than simply the labor-force of the company, we are the company. And while we have come to Rainbow for many different reasons, we all share the desire to work in a democratic place where everyone’s opinion matters. Not only do we hope to make a difference by providing healthy food and products, we believe that through our successful business model for cooperative work we have put the ideals of sustainable living into practice.

Since we moved from 15th and Mission to our new building at 13th and Folsom, we have more than doubled our workforce from about 85 people to over 200. While we add new workers every year, some of us are celebrating our 15th, 20th, even 25 year anniversaries! With such a wide range of experience and lifestyles represented among us, we offer each other many different perspectives and attitudes.


In many ways Rainbow runs as if it were a union between several smaller individual cooperatives: our departments. Membership in the department in which you work is essential for Membership in the store and most day-to-day decisions such as hiring, scheduling, buying are made at a department level. We have 14 departments, some represent sales categories such as Produce, Bulk, Cheese, Bakery and Refrigerated. Others are support departments such as Cashiers, Maintenance and the Office.

rainbow groceries

The Board of Directors

Our Board of Directors makes legal and financial decisions, which is elected annually from the Membership. Anyone who is a Corporate Member is eligible to run for the Board of Directors. Unlike traditional corporations where the Board of Directors is a compelling body of individuals who may be out of touch with the bottom rungs of the hierarchy, our Board Members can be the same people who stock shelves, clean the floors and work the registers. Our seven-member Board handles requests for large financial expenditures, reviews the department income statements, and deals with outside contracts and legal issues. The Board also has the power to create policies for the store, some of which must be ratified by the Membership at large.

Storewide Steering Committee

Another elected body, the Storewide Steering Committee, coordinates and deals with matters that cannot be handled successfully by a single department. The seven-member body meets weekly to deal with departmental conflicts, questions about floor-policy, and other day-to-day issues.

Rainbow Coop

Membership Decisions

The most important decision-making body of all is the Membership. Simply stated, anyone who is a member/owner can make decisions at our monthly Membership meetings. Certain types of policies that affect wages and benefits, major changes in store operations, and a few other issues must be voted on by the Membership. We have guidelines for the way proposals for policies must be drawn up and explained. But at a meeting that can have anywhere from 30 to 80 or more people, it’s important for the meetings to run smoothly.

Membership Requirements

We expect anyone who works at Rainbow to become a member. However, it can be a rigorous process. We require that workers complete a set amount of hours as well as attend a number of financial, historical, safety and customer service orientations. Workers must also attend meetings of decision-making bodies and pass a test in order to complete their membership requirements. Once you’ve jumped through all these hoops, bought your first share (a mere $10!) you’re a Member. You can now run for committees, vote at Membership Meetings and share in the financial surplus after taxes are paid. Despite the rigorous process, most workers become members during their first year.

The Rewards

The essence of what is so rewarding about working at Rainbow is that each member has a voice in the way we operate. We may not always agree on how to solve a problem, but everyone has the chance to formulate policies, create committees, propose new ideas or effect change. We are a constantly changing organization and are always learning new ways to do things.

Cooperative structure

Rainbow Grocery Co-op, founded as a collective in 1975, has been a worker-owned cooperative since 1993.

Self-Managed Work Teams

The majority of work is done here in what some call self-managed work teams: groups of people who agree to work together on a project or ongoing responsibility. Some duties that are not taken care of by hired positions are taken care of by other elected committees. Annually, we choose new members of our PR, Donations, Grants, Ecology, Security, and Effective Meetings Committees. These groups redefine their goals each year and request a budget from the Board. Throughout the year, they take care of various responsibilities and meet with the Board from time to time to report on their progress.

 Sometimes we have random responsibilities that are taken care of on a volunteer basis. We do most of our work with the attitude that you take on extra tasks outside of your job description because you want to. It is different from the general concept that you need supervisors to make you.

Text and photos www.rainbow.coop

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