Labor Unions and Worker Co-ops: The Power of Collaboration

Source: Mary Hoyer, Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO), 2015

Many people, including those in the labor and worker co-op movements, think that unions and co-ops are singularly mismatched. Logic has it that worker co-ops don’t need to be unionized since workers own and manage their businesses, and that workers in labor unions just naturally aren’t entrepreneurial but rather are used to resisting “the boss.” In addition, people may be familiar with large agricultural co-ops in the Midwest that fight with unionized workers, or with food co-ops that resist worker unionization.

What many people – even people in the broad co-op movement – don’t realize is that there are basically three types of co-ops: producer (like big ag co-ops), consumer (like food co-ops), and worker. In the first two types of co-ops, workers are not empowered with ownership and management control. Only in worker co-ops are workers in full authority. (Caveat: there are some producer and consumer co-ops in which workers are unionized, as well as “hybrid” co-ops in which workers are integrated into ownership and management along with consumers and producers.)

Many people are also unaware that the labor movement has a long and committed history of involvement in co-op development. ….

The Union Co-op Model