BERKELEY, CA (August 6, 2018) —In a milestone moment, over a dozen Berkeley worker-owners gathered Monday to testify before Berkeley City Council members during a Small Business Subcommittee meeting.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, a champion for worker cooperative businesses, presided over the meeting. In 2016, Arreguin sponsored a City Council Resolution to support worker cooperatives, and is now sponsor of a proposed ordinance that would solidify Berkeley’s place as a national leader of grassroots economic development.
“Worker cooperatives present an opportunity for upward mobility at a time when our broader economic model creates broad disparity and inequality,” said Mayor Arreguin. “This is a progressive strategy that represents our values and will make Berkeley a model.”
One worker-owner at the meeting, Chris Taruc-Myers of Alchemy Collective Cafe, described how worker cooperatives empower those who are most marginalized by our dominant economy. “We bring people in from the service industry who have never been invested in before” and get to watch them “come to life.” But he emphasized that these enterprises face a long list of barriers, including financing. “Banks don’t lend money to those without it, so we had to bootstrap with crowdfunding, kiva loans, and hard work.”
The social impact of worker cooperatives was a common theme. “People like to see their values reflected back at them at the businesses they shop at,” said Colleen Johnson of the Cheese Board Collective, a 50 year old Berkeley worker coop and local favorite pizzeria.
Worker-owners and cooperative advocates also stressed that worker cooperatives offer a solution to the increasingly urgent issue of succession planning as baby boomer small business owners retire. “Our local landscape is about to undergo a dramatic shift,” said Alison Lingane of Project Equity. That shift could take Berkeley in one of several directions: local businesses could close their doors, be sold to absentee owners, or, if coop advocates get their way, be sold to the employees who helped build the business.
Berkeley resident and worker-owner Andrea Hurd also testified to the unique needs of worker cooperatives relative to a conventional business. “I transitioned Mariposa Gardening & Design from a sole proprietorship to cooperative ownership as a way to scale my business. As a sole proprietor, SBDC helped me,” Andrea explained, “but now that the business is a worker cooperative, they no longer not meet our needs. We’re completely unique, and the City can help businesses like mine by providing more specialized business development services.”
Mayor Arreguin’s proposed ordinance would remove many of the barriers these worker cooperatives face. If adopted, the ordinance would provide worker cooperatives with technical and financial assistance and bid preferences for city contracts. It would also support Berkeley business owners with succession planning and coop conversion services.
Addressing the worker-owners who testified, Councilmember Kate Harrison said, “You all are why I live in Berkeley. What can we do to make this [ordinance] happen?”
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