All about worker-owned cooperatives

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Day 2 Afternoon Session: Worker Owned Co-ops

Find tech co-ops to hire: techworker.coop

  • It’s also a network for tech co-ops to join/share resources


Co-ops are businesses. Not non-profit. Owned by workers. Vote on management. Pay vs investment. LA Coop Lab teaches in LA. Your introduction point depends on where you are in co-op organizing. El Centro promote co-ops. Business trainings. Different little co-ops sitting each other now. El Markedito Carousel. Cooperacion Central. Land Trust forming. Getting access to a public lot for community land trust. City is pro-gentrification, pro-police, anti-people.

Lots of people like having idea of no boss. Community is collective boss -- collaboration is imperative. Member vesting. Patronage and vote come after this meeting period. Vote in new members. Some majority vote, some consensus (like new member acceptance). It's really hard to fire an owner. Owners have different rights than workers. Smaller is easier.

Wanted infrastructure to have more employees. Hired too many people -- big mistake. New hires displaced earlier members. Trickier politics. Didn't have capacity to build proper relationships with so many new workers. Power dynamics and rifts exploded due to conflict avoidance. Hard to ease new people into old conversations.


Zingerman’s

  • Books on co-ops

Andrea from Design Action Collective -- web development/design worker owned co-op

  • Established “points of unity”
  • Only works with social justice and environmental justice organizations
  • Design Action Collective is happy to share experiences and tools with folks who want to start co-ops (e.g. bylaws etc)
  • Design Action Collective is a part of a union.
  • Design Action Collective. 40 years. Spin-off 3 years ago. Inherited bylaws, structure, added as new people come on. Cultural not just paper. Web development and tech harder to standardize than print. Co-ops are path to liberation. Point of reference to start thinking about own co-op business.
  • Goal to share learning experience about Co-op organization.


The Working World is a radical lender that brought together co-op developers across the country who then developed a national financial co-operative called Seed Commons

  • L.A. Co-op Lab is a member of the financial co-operative and can help folks apply for financing (patient/non-extractive lending)


What to do if you want to start a co-op?

  • Find a co-op developer in your city
    • In L.A.? → go to L.A. Co-op Lab
    • Santa Ana → Cooperación Santa Ana (part of a larger movement resisting gentrification in Santa Ana that also recently formed a land trust)


What have you done to spread the word about co-ops?

  • Have parties, build the network
  • Hire co-ops for things and tell people about them (bookkeeping etc)


Decision making process

  • At Design Action Collective: Processes to become a worker owner is 9 months as a regular employee. All worker owners have to be on board in order to vote in a new member.
  • In regular meetings DAC uses 1 person 1 vote decision making, simple majority. Certain decisions require quorum.
  • DAC is 6 owner members and 4 workers in the membership track
  • Approval voting and score voting are other options for decision making


Challenges:

  • Health care plans / retirement plans / Mental health plan
  • Taking on new worker owners (don’t hire too many people at once)
  • Power dynamics that develop over the years → people have internalized racism/misogyny etc./ work patterns → at some point it might blow up


Advantages

  • Book, “Lost Connections” By Johan Hari on social determinants of depression:
    • Mental health tied to work environment
    • Co-op as an anecdote to depression meaningless work