Worker-Owners In New York City Celebrate Largest Ever Co-op Development Fund

Search form

Worker-Owners In New York City Celebrate Largest Ever Co-op Development Fund

Worker-Owners In New York City Celebrate Largest Ever Co-op Development Fund
Fri, 7/11/2014 - by Rebecca Burns
This article originally appeared on In These Times

In a victory for new economy advocates, the New York City Council recently passed a budget that will create a $1.2 million fund for the growth of worker-owned cooperative businesses. The investment is the largest a municipal government in the U.S. has ever made in the sector, breaking new ground for the cooperative development movement.

Melissa Hoover, executive director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Democracy at Work Institute, hails the New York City Council’s move as “historic.” “We have seen bits and pieces here and there, but New York City is the first place to make an investment at that level,” she says.

New York’s cooperative development fund was the brainchild of a coalition of community groups—including the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives, the Democracy at Work Institute, Make the Road New York and others—that came together to stage a series of public forums and advocacy days to secure widespread support for the initiative on the City Council. Over the next year, the fund will provide financial and technical assistance in the planned launch of 28 new cooperatives and the continued growth of 20 existing cooperatives, supporting the creation of 234 jobs in total.

While this may just be a drop in the bucket when it comes to the city’s $75 billion total budget, cooperative advocates are hoping New York’s example can help turn the tide in favor of alternative strategies for urban development.

“We’d like to get to a tipping point where [cooperatives] really have a measurable impact on the local economy,” says Hilary Abell, a San Francisco-based co-op development consultant who co-founded the group Project Equity. She notes that while interest in cooperatives has surged, there are still fewer than 5,000 “worker-owners” nationwide. Nevertheless, the model of worker-owned cooperatives has captured the imaginations of many low-income communities of color hit hardest by the Great Recession, she says, creating “a window of opportunity to take this to the next level.”

Last month, Abell released a report called “Worker Cooperatives: Pathways to Scale,” which outlines a set of strategies to grow the cooperative movement nationwide. While there are several promising federal policy initiatives underway—Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for example, has introduced a bill that would create an Office of Employee Ownership and Participation within the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as another that would establish a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank—Abell believes that “advocacy for cooperatives may have the greatest momentum at the state and municipal levels.”

Across the country, similar local economic justice coalitions have been seeking to persuade municipal governments and local institutions to throw their resources behind the development of worker-owned co-ops. It’s those resources, many advocates believe, that could take co-ops from a niche movement to a broad-based strategy for creating living-wage jobs and putting economic power in the hands of workers.

To that end, Abell hopes to see more cities follow in New York’s footsteps. In the Bay Area, she tells Working In These Times, local organizers are currently reaching out to local officials for support in scaling up worker-owned cooperatives to the point that they constitute five to 10 percent of the local economy. The coalition is particularly focused on creating jobs for workers of color in the low-income areas of the East Bay, as past experiences have shown that worker-owned co-ops can be particularly effective in redressing racial inequities in the job market. For example, Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES), a network of nearly 100 worker-owned cleaning cooperatives in Oakland, has increased members’ incomes by more than 50 percent.

Other hotbeds of co-op development include Richmond, California, where the city has hired its own cooperative developer and is launching a loan fund under the leadership of Green Party Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. In Cleveland, Ohio, the city’s economic development department has worked closely with the Evergreen Cooperatives, a network of worker-owned green cleaning, farming and construction businesses; local hospitals and universities have also thrown their purchasing power behind worker-owned businesses. And as In These Times has reported previously, several unions have made a foray into the co-op business, combining place-based growth with a focus on leveraging changes across industries such as homecare.

Instead of simply appealing to local leaders for support, some activists have sought to build both political and economic power by building electoral campaigns around the issue of cooperative development. No city had secured greater local support for co-ops than Jackson, Miss., a majority African-American municipality where human rights attorney and longtime black radical activist Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor last year on a platform that included the use of public spending to promote cooperative enterprises. But following Lumumba’s sudden death in February, the movement that brought him to office has been left struggling to implement the vision it had forged.

Local activists say new Mayor Tony Yarber has been tepid in his support for the cooperative development plan developed by Lumumba’s administration, leaving them uncertain as to whether they can count, for example, on city contracts being awarded to local worker-owned businesses. According to Brandon King, a member of the group Cooperation Jackson who also worked on the Lumumba campaign, access to such contracts would have been a huge boon for nascent construction and waste-management cooperatives, as Lumumba’s campaign had estimated that the city would need to spend $1.2 billion over the next 10 to 15 years on infrastructural upgrades and repairs. What often happens, says king, is that contracts go to companies located in wealthier and majority-white suburbs outside of Jackson, with the result that “people in Jackson aren’t really engaged in building their own city.”

Despite the change of course in city government, king says Cooperation Jackson “is still working on building co-ops that are large-scale, and getting as many people engaged in economic democracy as possible.” The movement has a history of black community participation in cooperative enterprises to draw from, king notes. Meanwhile, adds Cooperation Jackson member Iya'Falola Omobola, while the group works to get childcare and urban farming cooperatives off the ground, with or without city support, “We’re going to be ready to mobilize around an appropriate candidate in the next [mayoral] election.”

Noting the particular conditions that have helped secure local support for cooperatives in New York City and Jackson, the Democracy at Work Institute’s Hoover acknowledges that activists are still exploring how these can be replicated elsewhere. But if these cities are successful in retaining long-term support for cooperative growth, they can serve as a jumping-off point for other areas. “Our hope is that these won’t be one-off examples,” Hoover says. “What we need ultimately is a shift among those doing local development: from, ‘Quick, let’s get a Home Depot to come in and create jobs, but they’re low-wage and low-skilled,’ to a deeper and more patient strategy. These places could really start that shift.”

Originally published by In These Times

Article Tabs

Studies show that debts prevent former misdemeanants and felons from escaping poverty and moving on with their lives – not only because of what’s owed but also because of the accompanying stress and surveillance.

The rules are expected to trigger a “tsunami” of legal opposition from states and utilities who oppose the plans, which will significantly boost wind and solar power generation and force a switch away from coal power.

Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, revolving door, money in politics, golden parachutes, Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act, Robert Hormats, Thomas Nides, Goldman Sachs, Project on Government Oversight, Enron scan

Cozy with Wall Street, Hillary hasn't endorsed the Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting government officials from accepting “golden parachutes” from their former employers for entering public service.

presidential candidates, corporate tax breaks, corporate welfare

From terrible company management to supporting the Iraq war to giving away astronomical sums to corporations, here's a cast of candidates who should be dropped from the ledgers.

Activists dangling by ropes from the city's tallest bridge, and kayakers on the water below, blocked the icebreaker from heading to the Arctic for a drill operation.

Frackanpada, anti-fracking movement, fracking bans, anti-fracking camp, fracking resistance, Fracking Ez, Basque anti-fracking movement

“This is the first time fracking activists have got together on this scale internationally – from Kurdistan to Brazil, from Ukraine to Portugal and Algeria," says Catriona of Ireland, who attended the recent Frackanpada.

Posted 5 days 11 hours ago
tar sands, tar sands bikeride, carbon emissions, bitumen, The Road to Athabasca, Trans Mountain Pipeline

Through discovery of place, through story, and through personal connection with people along the way, we are journeying 1,100 miles to the tar sands of Alberta – and are asking for your support in our venture.

Posted 4 days 11 hours ago

Being sick and having nowhere to turn is terrorizing far too many Americans – as medical fraud, huge price markups and pharmaceutical copyright laws are contributing to growing illnesses and early death.

Posted 6 days 11 hours ago

This week, Aaron Draper invites you to see the humanity in the homeless via external flashes and light boxes. Next, Congress is peddling poison and wants to keep you in the DARK.

Posted 6 days 11 hours ago
non-violent drug offenses, Million Dollar Blocks

"I tell you what, I wish instead of spending so much money on [incarcerating people], they'd come fill some of these crater holes behind my house."

Posted 5 days 10 hours ago

Being sick and having nowhere to turn is terrorizing far too many Americans – as medical fraud, huge price markups and pharmaceutical copyright laws are contributing to growing illnesses and early death.

non-violent drug offenses, Million Dollar Blocks

"I tell you what, I wish instead of spending so much money on [incarcerating people], they'd come fill some of these crater holes behind my house."

drone warfare, drone attacks, drone industry, BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, Blackwater, Zel Technologies, Air Force Special Operations Command, AFSOC

America's overstretched military has hired hundreds of private-sector contractors to analyze top-secret video feeds and help track suspected terrorist leaders – a secretive industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza, Troika, Greek debt crisis, Greek bailout, Grexit, Bank for International Settlements, bank liquidity, parallel liquidity, alternative currencies

"Politicians and parties whom the electorate condemned for their efforts to turn Greece into a protectorate are now persecuting me. I wear their accusations as badges of honor."

Greek debt crisis, Troika, Greek anti-austerity movement, IMF, austerity policies

Having spent the last week in Athens talking to ordinary citizens, young and old, as well as current and past officials, I’ve come to the view that this is about far more than just Greece and the euro.

Sign Up