Reflections on the 2018 Worker Cooperative National Conference
By Ricardo Samir Nuñez, Director of Economic Democracy
This September we hit a milestone: the ten year anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis that crippled the global economy. Institutions of international capital crumbled while the housing market collapsed. We had come as close as ever to proving that “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” The systems that extract wealth from our communities proved incredibly resilient. It is only now, ten years on, that people are starting to see what a world beyond capitalism could look like.
That’s why spaces like the Worker Cooperative National Conference (WCNC) are so critical: they help expand the frontiers of our collective imagination and show us the future of work in action. These spaces show us the many paths being forged for a future where workers are compensated fairly and encouraged to show up as their fulls selves at work. The voices and stories I heard at the Worker Cooperative National Conference provided a radical vision of a future of de-commodified labor and comfort that we are a strong and growing movement.
|NoBAWC members representing at the Conference!|
By Simon Mont, Organizational Design Fellow //
How can nonprofits and movement workers committed to social transformation embody the change we want to see and become more effective, accountable, and equitable as we do it? In late September 2017, thirty-eight people from eighteen different organizations based in ten different states came together to answer this question and learn how to effectively govern, manage, and coordinate their organizations. Over three days, the gathered organizations each contributed to training, knowledge sharing, and relationship building to prepare the soil for a vibrant community of support for these organizations and more long into the future: it was the beginning of the Nonprofit Democracy Network (NPDN).Read more
As nonprofits and movement workers committed to social transformation, how can we embody the change we want to see and become more effective, accountable, and equitable as we do it? The Nonprofit Democracy Network is a community of practice, organizational development training program, and peer support network for nonprofit organizations that want to deepen democracy within their organizations and make our movements for justice more participatory, responsive, and leaderful.
We launched the network at our inaugural gathering in fall of 2017 (read more about it below). At our second gathering, March 27-29, 2019, we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of co-creating forms of collective self-governance, taking on topics like compensation, inclusive decision-making, the impact of identity and culture on participation, coordination and accountability, and collective budgeting of time and money.
Through our own experiences practicing participatory governance and working with dozens of other organizations, we’ve learned that decentralized governance can create organizations that are more effective at advancing their mission, more adaptable and responsive to complex systems, more accountable to their communities, and more equitable and fun places to work!
We’ve also learned that self-governance takes practice, training, and a good support network. Starting with a three-day in-person intensive, we are providing training from a variety of methodologies, creating opportunities for structured peer support, and cultivating a network of people from worker self-directed nonprofits with a shared commitment to embodying our visionary politics.
About the 2017 Nonprofit Democracy Network gathering
On September 25-27, 2017, we convened a cohort of people from nonprofit organizations committed to implementing or deepening decentralized and participatory organizational practices.
The initial cohort included:
Participatory Training: An in-person intensive gathering to build community and learn about topics such as peer accountability, the role of a board of directors, fundraising, staff pay, participatory culture, decentralized decision making, meeting facilitation, conflict engagement, history and current political context of the nonprofit sector, and more! Some modules will be customized to address specific needs of participants.
Peer Support: After the in-person gathering, we are co-facilitating monthly peer support and mentoring check-ins to deepen practice and integrate learning over time.
Ongoing Network Building: Co-creation of a library of resources, and opportunities to identify and create appropriate infrastructure for ongoing collaboration and mutual support, rooted in the missions and capacities of cohort members. Examples could be co-writing and publishing a book on nonprofit democracy, organizing and anchoring regional cohorts, policy campaigns to remove barriers to nonprofit democracy, collaborative funding efforts, etc.
The content of the three day training focused on how to create, care for, and increase the impact of deeply democratic organizations. We began by situating ourselves within our current political-historical moment and exploring how self-governance and nonprofits relate to our work and our collective liberation. Within this context, we taught each about how to design systems, implement specific practices, solve sticky problems, and strategize for long-term resilience and effectiveness. We supported each other in making specific plans about how to take learning back into our organizations.
We learned primarily through story and experience. Every participant has experiences attempting to embody their political visions. Every participant has learning to share. No participant (including the Sustainable Economies Law Center) is an expert. We curated and organized stories, exercises, and experiments to help us establish a personal and embodied understanding. Certain topics (like what employment laws to look out for and what the legal constraints are for structuring a board of directors) were taught through direct presentation.
Participants dove deep into particularly sticky issues. Many groups struggle with a common set of issues that includes: determining pay, onboarding staff, hiring/firing, conflict engagement, counter-oppression, decision making, and agenda setting. We paid specific attention to these issues to ensure that groups walked away more empowered to design systems that work for them.
Participants will supported to see the forest through the trees. In addition to learning specific policies and practices, participants explored how those parts hang together to create a coherent whole organization.
We are building connections for an intersectional movement for social, economic, racial, gender, and ecological justice, rooted in a shared commitment to deep democracy. Sign up here to get more information about upcoming Network activities.
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
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.
By Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) Community Renewable Energy Intern, Adrien Salazar
I arrive on a day when the kids are learning about the Filipina revolutionary hero Gabriela Silang, making pinakbet, a vegetable stew, and getting familiar with the Tagalog words for emotions and feelings. I come to the Lakeshore United Methodist Church community center to find a group of kids chopping up vegetables with their instructor, chef and farmer Aileen Suzara.Read more
By Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) Director of Economic Democracy, Ricardo Nuñez
There has been a constant stream of depressing and demoralizing news this summer. A dysfunctional political system, continuing police violence against our black and brown brothers and sisters, and an economic system that continues to exacerbate income inequality. At times like these, we only need to look within our own communities to find hope and renewal. SELC Summer Institute interns teamed up with interns from Project Equity and the Community Economic Justice Clinic at EBCLC to take a day to visit spaces of an economy that redirects wealth and control back to communities; an economy based on solidarity. Below, our summer interns share their reflections on the spaces we visited, spaces where individuals are taking collective action to live out the solidarity economy SELC and our allies are working to build.
Thank you to Design Action Collective, the Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives, Mandela Food Cooperative, Arizmendi Lakeshore Cooperative, the Addison Court Housing Cooperative and land trust, and Phat Beets for sharing your stories of resilience and solidarity!Read more
By Sustainable Economies Law Center Executive Director, Janelle Orsi
Imagine that a group of people works hard to fill their neighborhood with urban farms, bike lanes, parks, murals, community services, and education programs. Next, imagine that those same people are forced to move away. Ouch, that bites.
Sadly, this is real: Improving the livability of a previously disinvested neighborhood creates opportunities for speculators, landlords, and developers to increase rents and drive up the cost of property, often causing displacement of the very people who made the neighborhood livable to begin with.Read more
By Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) Summer Intern, Adrien Salazar
Communities of color have played and continue to play a pivotal role in realizing alternative economies in response to chronic economic exclusion in the United States. The history of civil rights is entwined with the history of cooperative economics in the United States. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, in her book Collective Courage, demonstrates this history in her account of black cooperatives and collectives in the United States. Nembhard documents the many black communities that organized cooperatives by necessity to build economic power in marginalized communities.Read more
By Sara Stephens, Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) Housing and Cooperatives Attorney
We want to create a worker cooperative…what legal entity should we form?
This is probably the most common question I hear at our Resilient Communities Legal Cafes. Lots of entrepreneurs come to us wanting to form a worker-owned business, but they are unsure what legal structure will work best for them. Are they required to form as a cooperative corporation? What if they’re not ready to incorporate yet? Can they form as an LLC or some other entity and still be a cooperative? What are the benefits and drawbacks of the entity options?Read more