By Charlotte Tsui, Staff Attorney //
A Call to Action
Late last year, in response to AB 2883 and its adverse consequences on worker cooperatives, Sustainable Economies Law Center put out a call to our cooperative network in California to convene a working group whose primary objective would be to change the law to be more responsive to worker cooperatives. Worker-owners from seven different worker cooperatives responded to the announcement, including The Cheese Board, Drought Smart Cooperative, Niles Pie Company, Three Stone Hearth, Arizmendi Bakery, Home Green Home, and Echo Adventure Team.
Even with little or no experience in policy work, the worker-owners who enlisted arrived brimming with energy, ideas, and a strong desire to hit the ground running. By the end of the first meeting, participants had divided responsibilities and self-assigned to different committees.
Policy Brigade Members in front of the State Capitol.
From the Kitchen of the Cheeseboard to the Halls of the Capitol
Over the next few months, the working group, later affectionately renamed the Worker Cooperative Policy Brigade, came together to clarify goals and ultimately lobby legislators for an exemption from AB 2883 for worker cooperatives across California.
The brigade met with legislative staffers and offices in Sacramento on two different occasions. They knocked on doors of legislator’s offices, passed out fact sheets about cooperatives, and spoke to legislative staff directly to convey the importance of creating a friendly environment in which worker-owned cooperatives can flourish. As the worker-owners moved from one office to another, the Brigade’s stories, and the force behind these narratives, grew more concise, more fluid, and more persuasive.
At the last meeting in Sacramento, several worker-owners sat down with other industries also trying to influence the bill. The suited lobbyists presented an intimidating cadre to face up against, but the Brigade members held their own. The worker-owners responded to questions and critiques with ease. Even when it seemed like the conversation and energy was slipping away, Brigade members persisted in communicating their concerns to the staffers and other lobbyists. They spoke up to reinforce and reemphasize the importance of supporting worker cooperatives as a tool for empowering workers across many different industries.
Now, the Brigade has drafted and submitted language for a cooperative exemption. The language, which the Brigade made sure reflected input from cooperative stakeholders, is now sitting in legislators’ offices in Sacramento. The Brigade expects the outcome for this policy effort to reveal itself soon. The Brigade has reached a tentative agreement with the office of Senator Steven Bradford, the legislator authoring the bill, and expect an amendment to address worker cooperatives' concerns to be incorporated into the bill this month.
Regardless of outcome, the process itself was an eye-opening and empowering experience for the Brigade participants, as they learned how to harness the power of the collective voice. The Brigade’s experience demonstrated the power of standing up, in unity, to advance a common vision of change.