Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Worker Co-op 101

Last week we attended a workshop called Worker Co-op 101. It was presented by Stacey Cordeiro, a co-op organizer from the Boston Center for Community Ownership in partnership with the Worker-Owned and Run Cooperative Network of Greater Boston. About a dozen attendees gathered around the large kitchen table at Red Sun Press on Green Street in Jamaica Plain to listen and learn as Stacey gave us an introduction to doing business as a cooperative. Some of us were farther along in our coop journeys than others. One of the attendees was Michael Monroe from Great Sky Solar, a new employee-owned social benefit company located in Boston. 

To start off: what makes a business a coop? And is it co-op with the dash in the middle, or not, like coop? I’m going to use them interchangeably according to whether or not I feel dash-y because it seems like either is fine, as far as I can see. Perhaps someone will set me straight on this.

First, to be a co-op, it must be jointly-owned by its workers. It must also be democratically-controlled. It also operates according to the 7 Cooperative Principles which were adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance in 1995. 

What kinds of coops are there? 
There are three main kinds: Vendor (or Producer/Supplier), Worker, and Customer

Some examples of existing Vendor coops are Ocean Spray, Land O’Lakes and Florida’s Natural. In these, individual growers or producers pool together their products and share costs and profits. 

Here are a few Massachusetts-based Worker coops: Gaia Host Collective in Greenfield, Equal Exchange in West Bridgewater, and Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge. In these businesses, the worker-owners share in the profits and have a say in how the company is run. Typically new workers come on board on a trial basis and then are voted in to become worker-owners, at which point they put in money as Member Equity. The amount can vary, but as Stacey put it, the idea is that it should be significant, but not inaccessible - like a good used-car price. 

Two Customer coop examples are REI, and Harvest Co-op Markets. Customers pay to become members and get a patronage rebate or dividend refund according to how much they purchased over time and how well the company is doing. There are also housing co-ops that fall under this category. 

There are hybrid coops, like the in-progress Dorchester Community Food Coop and the Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery in Austin, TX. Black Star has both worker-owners and member-owners. Check out the history of how the brewery started. I found it inspirational. Road trip, anyone?

There are numerous organizations and people who are ready and willing to help folks start co-ops. The US Federation of Worker Cooperatives is the big one. They are holding their Worker Coop National Conference in Chicago at the end of May. 

Last Chance for Book Giveaway
To be entered into our drawing for a free book, subscribe to my blog in the box on the right. We’re giving away a copy of Owning Our Future by Marjorie Kelly and Locavesting by Amy Cortese to lucky subscribers. Both of these books inspired our “community cafe” idea. We’ll hold the drawing on February 28th. What’s the significance of that date? It’s when we’re screening the documentary Shift Change at the Unitarian Church of Sharon at 7pm. After the film, we’ll have a discussion with special guests Rink Dickinson, a co-founder and CEO of Equal Exchange, and Susan Sklar EE’s Interfaith and Community Sales Manager, and Stacey Cordeiro from Boston Center for Community Ownership. Join us if you’re in the area. 

Here’s Where I Make a Sales Pitch for a Local Co-op

If you are a New Englander considering solar for your home or business, I recommend contacting Great Sky Solar for a free site visit. Not only are they employee-owned, but because they are a social benefit company, or B-corp for short, they must consider society and the environment in addition to profit in their decision making process. If you tell them I sent you, I stand to earn a referral fee if you hire them. But I would have told you to contact them anyway, given their coop credentials!

I'd love to hear from you. You can use the comment box below!

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Want a Third Place, Too

My father sent me a link to an article today, Froma Harrop's Losing Our Third Places. It echoes the conversation a break-out group "village" in which I participated had at a Community Speak-Out hosted by the Sharon Pluralism Network (SPN) recently. And that is: we seek more opportunities to interact with people in our community whom we might not otherwise encounter. If you don't go to my place of worship, if your children are not going to the same school as mine, where might we meet? Where is the place where some mixing can happen? Harrop uses the term "third place" and references the sociologist who came up with the term, Ray Oldenburg. I enjoyed a YouTube video of Oldenburg explaining all the benefits "third places" provide. If you have 18 minutes to spare, I encourage you to watch it here.

While Harrop specifically mentions the elderly and telecommuters who need a break from their home office, I believe we would all benefit from having an inexpensive place where we could go frequently, some neutral territory, where no one is burdened with hosting (with the exception of those worker-owners, of course!).

I'm going to check out Ray Oldenburg's book, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. I just wish you could find me reading it at our local third place!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Building Community

The Sharon Pluralism Network (SPN) held an event last weekend called a Community Speak-out. The mission of SPN is “to create a positive and sustainable culture of pluralism in the town of Sharon. SPN envisions a community where people from diverse groups: live together in peace and mutual respect; feel safe and valued; retain their group identity while also being part of a larger community; learn about, interact with, and stand up for each other; and work collaboratively with the community at large for the common good.” 

“Where do I sign up?” I asked.

Approximately 60 adults from Sharon and surrounding communities attended the Speak-out which was held at the Sharon High School library. SPN’s Executive Director, Beth Hoke, along with several co-facilitators, led the group in activities to promote understanding, and explore our differences and similarities. 

I attended the event wanting to meet more people in my community and to perhaps talk about the “community cafe” idea. 

The whole group did some ice breaker exercises, then we were separated into smaller “villages”. We introduced ourselves and shared our experiences of living and/or working in Sharon. My village was blessed with a member who was born and raised in Sharon who now works on the police force. He gave us an interesting perspective on how the community has changed since the 1970s when he was growing up here. Back then the divide was perhaps more along economic lines, not so much ethnic or religious ones. We also had three Muslim members who shared how safe they feel here and how they were welcomed. I had to admit to myself that I took safety for granted when my family considered moving here. One participant brought up the challenge of welcoming a person whose cultural traditions might not mesh well with ours. We also talked about wanting more ways to interact with diverse people in our town, people we may not worship with, or whose children don’t go to our children’s school. How does one meet up with other adults if one is not a member of a religious community, nor has school-aged children? We have the town library, which is great, and the Adult Center, which has numerous events open to all adults in town, not just the elderly. And yet, we wondered if there could be something more?

Everyone who subscribes to this blog will be entered into a drawing. For what, you ask? We will be giving away a copy of Owning Our Future by Marjorie Kelly and one copy of Locavesting by Amy Cortese. Both of these books inspired the worker-owned cooperative “community cafe” idea. So please sign up in the box on the right before February 28th to be entered. (Don’t worry, we won’t share your address with anyone else!) 

What’s the significance of February 28th? It just so happens that is when we are holding a screening of a documentary. Read on!

Join us on Friday, February 28 for a screening of the documentary Shift Change at the Unitarian Church of Sharon (UCS), 4 N. Main Street, at 7pm, followed by a discussion. This film focuses on employee-owned businesses in the US, including Equal Exchange in West Bridgewater, and Mondragon, Spain. Why should you care about employee-owned businesses? They offer an alternative to “business as usual” in which few people share the profits. We believe it takes “locally owned” much further. We’re still educating ourselves on the subject, and we invite you to join us! The screening is sponsored by the Social Justice Committee of UCS, for which we are so grateful. Hope to see you there!

Do you have comments, suggestions, ideas relating to a "Sharon Community Cafe"? Let us hear from you by filling out the form below.