This past December, worker owners from across the Bay Area gathered together to celebrate a year of transformative policymaking together through the Sustainable Economies Law Center’s Worker Cooperative Policy Brigade project.
The Policy Brigade was founded on the idea that everyday citizens can also be policymakers. The Brigade first launched in 2017. That year, members of the worker cooperative community came together to address a change in California workers’ compensation law which adversely affected cooperatives.
In 2018, the Worker Cooperative Policy Brigade began anew—with new participants, new cooperatives represented, and new policy issues. This past year, seven individuals from across California joined the brigade for a 12-month policy immersion experience comprised of monthly policy trainings and meetings. The 2018 Policy Brigade members included: Paul Ahrens (Los Angeles Union Cooperative Initiative), Lilly Alvarez (DIG Coop), Julie Chen (Mandela Foods), Aysha Massell (Drought Smart), Allie Wilson Plasek (Mariposa Gardening), Danny Spitzberg (CoLab), Zen Trenholm (Democracy at Work Institute), and Quia White (Arizmendi Bakery). Law Center staff facilitated the Policy Brigade meetings with support from local interns Jay Cumberland and Emily Hill.
Besides providing policy advocacy training for community members, one of the underpinning goals of the Worker Cooperative Policy Brigade program is to give voice to the political power of cooperatives across the region.
“I joined to learn about how policy affects cooperatives, what is currently being done, and what I can do to support," Lilly explained. "I think there are several other opportunities to be involved, such as conferences and attending NoBAWC [Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperative] meetings, but I feel like it's rare to find something like [the Policy Brigade] that is more long term where we have structure and an opportunity to really get to know each other and feel more connected. We need more things like this for the co-op community.”
Participants of the 2018 Cooperative Policy Brigade spent much of the year learning about the municipal policymaking process and advocating for a comprehensive worker cooperative development ordinance in the City of Berkeley. As a result of that meeting and the advocacy that continued after it, Berkeley's Office of Economic Development is putting the final touches on its plan to provide incentives and support programs for worker cooperatives in Berkeley. The City Council is slated to hear and approve of this plan in the first quarter of this year.
The Policy Brigade program underscores the role that policy advocacy plays in advancing the cooperative movement. As Lilly put it,”I think it’s important to engage in policy advocacy because we have the power to make a difference and the more we are involved, the more cooperative recognition we will see and I hope this inspires many others to start cooperatives.”
Lilly concluded that “[a] lot of cooperative members joined a co-op because they believe the model is a tool to fight against social inequalities, and being engaged in policy work is a big part of that.”