Flipping the Script:
A New Way to Make Policy
In 2017, the Sustainable Economies Law Center convened a group of worker owners in response to a dire situation for California worker cooperatives: A workers’ compensation bill (AB 2883) threatened to force worker cooperatives to spend thousands of dollars, and in some cases over a hundred thousand dollars more per year to comply with proposed rules that were drawn up without worker cooperatives in mind.
All we could think was:
Here was yet another uninformed policy proposal poised to harm worker cooperatives, and the most frustrating part was that the policymakers behind it weren't even intending to impact worker cooperatives.
In response to this emergency, a small group of worker owners came together to form the inaugural California Worker Cooperative Policy Brigade. They lobbied legislators to exempt worker coops from AB 2883’s onerous workers’ compensation requirement (see story here), and demonstrated loud and clear that:
“Everyone is a policymaker!” means the we are the experts we’ve been looking for. It means that those who are most affected by an issue are in the best position to create smart, sustainable, and just policy solutions.
The Worker Cooperative Policy Brigade affirmed that the most powerful policy is:
And it doesn’t look like this...
…it looks like THIS:
Policymakers can and should be everyday people, not just lawyers, policy school graduates, and elected officials.
That’s why we continue to test and promote the Policy Team model as a way to empower and engage everyone in the exciting world of policymaking.
We don’t need to wait for the experts to act, WE are the experts!
2018 Worker Cooperative Policy Brigade
Advocating for Local Worker Cooperative Development in Berkeley and Oakland
Follow this year’s Brigade by RSVP’ing on this page. You’ll receive important updates and organizing announcements about the Brigade’s work to pass a Berkeley Ordinance Supporting Worker Cooperatives! The 2018 Brigade is powered by members of the Arizmendi Cooperative, Mandela Foods Cooperative, CoLab Cooperative, DIG Coop, Mariposa Gardening, Drought Smart, and the Los Angeles Union Cooperative Initiative. Meet them at Berkeley City Hall to add your voice!
2017 Policy Team Success Story!
Worker Cooperative Policy Group Successfully Passes New Law
In November 2017, a team of worker cooperative members, stewarded by the Sustainable Economies Law Center, successfully amended California State's worker's compensation law in favor of worker cooperatives. The law, SB 189, includes a provision that allows cooperatives to claim exemption from workers' compensation requirements under certain conditions.
The cooperative exemption in SB 189 was crafted with significant input from a group of worker cooperative members who responded to a workers’ compensation campaign call put out by the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Participants of the policy working group came from seven different worker cooperatives, including The Cheese Board, Drought Smart Cooperative, Niles Pie Company, Three Stone Hearth, Arizmendi Bakery, Home Green Home, and Echo Adventure Team.
Read more details here.
Policy Teams consist of:
- 5-10 team members, a majority of whom are stakeholders directly affected by the proposed law. For example, if we are to advocate for a law affecting chicken farms, most of the team members must be chicken farmers.
- 1-3 staff or volunteers from the Law Center.
Team members commit to:
- A 12 month program.
- Attend one team meeting per month in person or virtually, in order to plan and strategize.
- A clear decision-making process.
- Respond in a timely manner to request to approve changes to the law.
- Work closely with the impacted community and incorporate input from stakeholders outside of the team.
- Travel 1-3 times to meet with legislators or attend hearings.
The Law Center provides:
- Assistance with legal research and legislative drafting.
- Project coordination, facilitation, and hosting of team meetings.
- Strategy support.
- At least 5 short trainings about "Do-It-Yourself" Policymaking Basics, Finding Policy Windows, the CA Legislative Process, and other essential topics.
By Chris Tittle, Director of Organizational Resilience //
At a recent Oakland City Council meeting, Wilson Riles, a community leader and former City Councilmember, reminded us why Wall Street is so-called: it actually had a wall built around it in the 17th century to keep out Native tribes displaced by early colonists.
It’s also worth remembering that Wall Street was the site of New York City’s first slave market, and the first modern financial instruments were developed to collateralize Black bodies in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.Read more
By Sue Bennett, Sustainable Economies Law Center staff member //
Last year, the Sustainable Economies Law Center brought together a group of five community composters from around California in a monthly phone call, creating a small, but powerful, California Community Compost Coalition. These amazing individuals are transforming the ways their communities manage food and yard waste, and they are helping California comply with a mandate to divert organic waste from landfills. Yet, these compost entrepreneurs have been encountering many frustrating legal barriers, prompting them to take action at the city and state level. Already, they are demonstrating that – even without policy advocacy experience – people can shape law and policy when they get organized and speak up!
Photo by Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self RelianceRead more
By Christina Oatfield, Policy Director //
We believe that community land trusts (CLTs) are an underrated yet critical solution to the housing crisis, not only in the Bay Area but pretty much everywhere. They need more attention, funding, and other forms of support, such as government policies and programs to nurture their development.
What is a CLT and why are these organizations so great? Here’s an excerpt from an op-ed I wrote about CLTs last year:Read more
Anyone can make policy.
Do you have an idea to change your community for the better? Do you have questions about policymaking on a local or state level? Do you want to explore your inner policymaker?
Come get answers, ideas, and strategies from our center's staff, experienced attorneys and policymakers!
This is a two-part event (You can come to both, or either!)
1. From 5:00PM - 5:45PM, there will be a DIY Policymaking teach-in facilitated by Sustainable Economies Law Center's Policy Director, Yassi Eskandari, and Executive Director, Janelle Orsi. They'll present best practices for engaging in local and state-level policy issues.
2. From 5:45PM to 7:30PM, we'll be hosting a Policy Cafe and offering individualized consultations for folks who want to discuss their specific ideas and get advice on questions such as:
- What are the next steps after I have come up with my policy idea?
- How do I draft a policy proposal?
- How do I approach council members, county supervisors, or other legislators about my idea?
- How do I navigate the legislative process?
- In what ways can my nonprofit participate in policy advocacy?
The Policy Cafe will provide direct support to individuals and groups who are working to create new solutions for resilient local economies through policymaking and is part of our Transformative Policymakers project. It's modeled after our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe, which provides donation-based legal advice for the community.
For questions, please contact our Director of Community Engagement, Eunice Kwon, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DATE: Tuesday, August 22, 2017.
TIME: 5:00PM - 7:30PM.
LOCATION: Sustainable Economies Law Center, 1428 Franklin St. Oakland, CA 94612.Sign up
Because of a new California law that passed last year, starting January 1, 2017, any worker cooperative corporation with seven or more members must now obtain workers compensation insurance for its worker-owners, even when everyone serves on the Board of Directors.
Although Assembly Bill (AB) 2883 was framed as a bill to clean up ambiguities in the code, it failed to take into account its impact on Cooperative Corporations. Many worker cooperatives are now being hit with enormous insurance bills costing worker-owners as much as 20% of their income. Prior to AB 2883, worker-owners had a choice in how this money was spent, sometimes setting it aside instead for higher wages that are paid directly to workers, or using it to provide comprehensive medical insurance. AB 2883 effectively takes this decision-making power away from worker-owners, undermining worker self-determination.
This article provides background, steps that cooperatives can take to respond, and information about the worker cooperative community’s current efforts to change the law.Read more
The legal life of compost is far more complex than you might imagine. The Sustainable Economies Law Center began to learn this five years ago when someone came to us for advice about her idea to collect vegetable scraps from restaurants for a fee, compost the material in distributed locations throughout her city, and sell the resulting rich soil to area gardeners. It seemed like a great idea until we discovered how many legal barriers she would have to overcome: compost facility permitting, zoning approval, labeling laws, transport laws, and one insurmountable barrier: the fact that her city prohibits anyone but one large corporate contractor from collecting vegetable scraps from businesses. Since then, similar community-based, small scale compost organizations and enterprises have sought legal support from the Law Center, demonstrating that the practice of community-scale composting is accelerating. We decided that it is time to look closely at the legal issues.
Now, we have a short window of time in which to influence the shape of the compost industry. The State of California, for example, recently adopted ambitious mandate to divert 75% of waste from landfills by 2020, a goal that will be impossible to meet without rapid scaling of composting capacity. That mandate, along with other recent compost legislation, is expected to create as many as 14,000 jobs in the California compost industry. We need to carve out a legally viable space for diverse, small-scale, distributed, community-based compost organizations.
Community composting can act as a powerful lever for economic justice and ecological resilience. Application of compost to range lands has recently been shown to sequester enormous amounts of carbon. Compost creates rich soil, which supports food security and enhances opportunities to grow food in urban areas. If we do not give communities the ability to organize themselves and create their own compost, then we’re missing a critical opportunity for communities to become more self-reliant, grow fresh produce, create good jobs, improve urban air quality, and build rich learning communities around a growing community compost movement.
The Law Center is supporting the community compost movement through:
Local coalition building: We are co-convening a group of community compost groups in California to address local and state policy concerns.
Legal research and policy analysis: We hope to collaborate with community compost organizations to create a thorough policy analysis for a national audience. See our draft policy guide for California below.
Educational resources: Provide legal guides to community composters to assist them in navigating complex legal terrain.
- Policy advocacy: We aim to introduce a bill in California in 2017 to remove a few of the key barriers to community composting. The anticipated legislation would:
(1) Establish a definition of Community Micro-Composting Organization in the California Code,
(2) Require CalRecycle to publish best management practices for small scale composting,
(3) Require that cities and counties include consideration of Community Micro-Composting Organizations in their waste management plans,
(4) Give households and businesses the right to give a small amount of feedstock (compostable material) to Community Micro-Composting Organizations, and
(5) Diversify the allowable feedstocks for farm-based composting to include manure, vegetable scraps, food material, and green material brought from off-site.
- Legal support: We will continue to provide legal advice to California community compost groups through our walk-in legal advice clinics.
Resources and invitation for feedback:
We recently worked with Berkeley Law School's Environmental Law Clinic to produce a brief for policymakers on ways to advocate for community composting.
Click here to read the DRAFT Policy Brief and to provide feedback.
Photos by Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self Reliance
Worker cooperatives around California are being impacted by a new law requiring worker-owners to purchase workers compensation insurance. As a result, many cooperatives will have to cut worker pay and benefits. Will you join us in the effort to change the law?
Background on the Current Workers Compensation Legislation
In 2016, the California Legislature passed AB 2883, making changes to the workers compensation law that failed to take into account and will have an adverse impact on cooperatives. Previously, workers compensation insurance was not required for managing owners of businesses. This is still true for LLCs and partnerships, but AB 2883 made a very significant change for corporations, requiring that an owner hold at least 15% of the shares in order to waive workers compensation coverage. AB 2883 failed to consider the impact on cooperatives where members manage an enterprise collectively.
Previously, some worker cooperatives in California chose not to obtain workers compensation insurance for managing owners, opting instead to apply those funds toward health insurance, long-term disability insurance, or higher wages. In some industries, such as in food businesses, the cost of workers comp insurance will reduce workers’ take-home pay by as much as 15%. One worker-owned cafe has reported that AB 2883 will cause the cooperative to lose $200,000 in 2017. This is a substantial setback for the worker cooperative movement at a time when worker-ownership has been recognized as a path to better and more stable livelihoods in California. The new Labor Code laws as passed under AB 2883 have major implications. Read our guide on how to navigate the new worker's comp law on our blog here!
Worker-owners of a handful of cooperatives, including The Cheese Board Collective, Three Stone Hearth, Home Green Home, Drought Smart, Arizmendi Bakery, and Echo Adventures Team, have convened to form a campaign working group to change the law. Right now, we are gathering support from other cooperatives and organizations impacted by AB 2883.
Sign the Petition
This petition will call on California legislators to pass a bill that would give cooperatives the right to opt out of the workers compensation requirement. The bill would essentially restore the previous provisions of the law in its application to Cooperative Corporations: In cooperatives where all members serve as officers or directors, those members will be allowed to waive workers compensation coverage.
By adding your name to the petition, you are indicating your support for a bill that would allow cooperatives to opt out of the workers compensation requirement.
Anyone can make policy.
Transformative Policymakers wield policy advocacy as a tool to create economic democracy. Want to explore your inner policymaker?
We want to live in a world where everyone can directly participate in decisions that shape their economic wellbeing: where everyone has the option to work in a worker-owned business, to live in democratically-controlled housing, to be a member of solar cooperatives, food cooperatives, and cooperative banks.
To create such a world, we must not only reshape policy to prioritize democratic economies; we must also change the very means by which policy is made. More than ever, when massive corporations wield incredible power to craft policy for their own benefit, we urgently need to put everyday people back into the driver’s seat of policymaking. But how?
The Law Center's Story
Oakland City Council passes our Worker Cooperative Resolution.
Beginning in 2009, as a group of volunteers and students with limited experience in legislative advocacy, we learned a powerful lesson: EVERYONE can help make policy.
When we take the initiative to visit legislators and express our genuine needs and hopes, our human voices can carry above the din of partisan politics and hot-button issues. When an immigrant entrepreneur tells her story of the empowerment and stability she has cultivated through her home-based food business, legislators across the political spectrum can hear something real and compelling.
Thus, when the law center advocated for legalizing home-based food businesses in California, we got bipartisan support, in spite of roadblocks created by corporate food retailers. The Law Center has since written and passed laws and regulations to support worker cooperatives, housing cooperatives, energy cooperatives, urban agriculture, home-based food business, seed libraries, and other practices that put economic power in the hands of communities.
It turns out that great power lies in NOT being a professional lobbyist, NOT being a lawyer, and NOT being a “usual suspect” at the capitol building. The two youngest members of our staff, neither of whom are lawyers, have had the greatest impact in our state capitol and city hall. Putting everyday people into policymaking is not only possible -- it’s powerful, and it’s the only true chance we have to reorient US politics and economics to the thriving of real people and communities.
Decentralizing policy advocacy is critical to realizing our vision of EVERY person having equitable means and power to influence the production, quality, and supply of jobs, food, energy, water, and housing in their own communities.
Change the world. Be a Transformative Policymaker.
By Sustainable Economies Law Center Executive Director, Janelle Orsi
So often, it comes back to money. Questions of finance are tethered to nearly every issue we work on at the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Efforts to build sustainable systems for food, housing, energy, water, and jobs rely on a community’s ability to access and transact with dollars.Read more