Category Archives: Worker Cooperatives

Union Co-Ops and the Revival of Labor Law

Source: Ariana R. Levinson, Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, Forthcoming, 2018, Date Written: March 16, 2018

From the abstract:
Union worker-owned cooperatives (union co-ops) offer a means to combat growing income and wealth inequality, create jobs, and recirculate money in the communities in which they are located. This article contributes to the academic literature about cooperative economics, worker ownership, and labor relations in two distinct ways. First, it relies on original author-collected data from interviews of those involved in establishing Our Harvest, an urban farm in Cincinnati, to discuss the issues involved in establishing a union co-op. Our Harvest was the first union co-op created because of a 2009 partnership to foster union co-ops in the United States. Second, the article addresses the labor law issues involved in establishing a union co-op. The issues include whether worker-owners are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, whether a co-op is required to bargain about worker ownership with the union representing its employees, whether a union co-op can require its employees to join a union, and how union co-ops can use interest-based collective bargaining. The article suggests ways that unions can legally support and finance union co-ops, provides an appendix of legal services, and includes tables to simply complex legal issues. At its best, the article will contribute to the scaling up of union co-ops and a concurrent revival of labor law that enables a more equitable economy for all.

Toward a 21st-Century Labor Movement

Source: David Rolf, American Prospect, April 18, 2016

The old model of collective bargaining can’t be resurrected. Herewith, some new models of how workers can win and wield power. ….

…..Borrowing from labor law in other countries, from U.S. history, and from promising experiments happening in the United States today, there are several potential overlapping strategies for how future forms of worker power might operate and that suggest what U.S. labor policy might eventually look like. • Geographic and/or sectoral bargaining. …..
• Worker ownership. …..
• Control of work-distribution platforms. …..
• Labor standards enforcement. …..
• Certification and labeling. …..
• Benefits administration. …..

Worker-Owned and Unionized Worker-Owned Cooperatives: Two Tools to Address Income Inequality

Source: Carmen Huertas-Noble, Clinical Law Review, Vol. 22 no. 2, 2016

From the abstract:
This article evaluates worker-owned and unionized worker-owned cooperatives as alternatives to the conventional corporate structures for businesses in the United States. With their focus on democratic governance and shared ownership, worker-owned cooperatives offer an antidote to the extreme inequality of income and deterioration of working conditions that workers are experiencing. These are inequities for which corporate prioritization of executive compensation and shareholder enrichment are at least partly responsible. While questions have been raised concerning the sustainability of the cooperative form, two examples of large, well established cooperatives – Mondragon and Cooperative Home Care Associates – demonstrate how capitalization strategies, cooperative ecosystems, and strategic affiliations with unions can leverage resources to start and keep cooperative businesses functioning. The article also documents the growth of municipal and institutional support for the cooperative form of business ownership, and the role that the City University of New York’s Community Economic Development Law Clinic (CEDC) has played in supporting that movement domestically and internationally. That support has included developing curricula to build the capacity of worker cooperatives, participating in creating and sustaining the creation of a city-wide advocacy coalition, organizing annual conferences, and successfully working with local legislatures to increase funding for cooperatives. Law students in CEDC have gained skills of transactional lawyering, movement lawyering and coalition-building through their representation of individual worker cooperatives and their work with a city-wide advocacy coalition for cooperatives. Of particular note in the pedagogy of this representation are the advanced skills of integrative counseling and inclusive problem solving that assistance for complex actors requires.

Worker Cooperatives Are More Productive Than Normal Companies

Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, March 28, 2016
(subscription required)

When maximizing profits isn’t the only goal, companies can actually work better. …. By prioritizing worker autonomy, co-ops provide more sustainable long-term employment, but not only because worker-owners seek to protect their own livelihoods. If a company runs into economic distress, Perotin says, co-ops are generally more adept at preserving jobs while planning longer-term adjustments to the firm’s operations, such as slowing down expansion to maintain current assets—whereas traditional corporations may pay less attention to strategic planning and simply shed jobs to tighten budgets….

What do we really know about worker co-operatives?
Source: Virginie Pérotin, Co-operatives UK, 2016
From the abstract:
This new piece of research by Professor Virginie Pérotin of Leeds University Business School looks at two decades’ worth of international data on worker owned co-operatives.It confirms that worker co-operatives offer an appealing option that gives the people working there ownership, involvement and a degree of job security in what are often high performing and productive businesses. Employee ownership and control, in a successful enterprise… who could ask for more than that?

Worker Ownership Behind Bars: The World’s First Co-op Run Entirely by Prisoners

Source: David Bacon, America’s Tomorrow, October 9, 2015

….The co-op, started in 2003, has helped dozens of inmates reduce their sentences and return to their communities. Of the 50 co-op members who have been released from prison in the past ten years, including Rodriguez, only two have gone back to prison, and one of them is again out on parole. The recidivism rate elsewhere in Puerto Rican prisons is over 50 percent per year according to Lymarie Nieves Plaza, director of marketing at a local credit union. Today, the co-op has 40 active members, in a prison with a population of roughly 300. And cooperative projects have sprung up in three other prisons throughout Puerto Rico, where they plan to make everything from children’s clothing to renewable energy products. …. Creating the co-op took several years and a change in the law. ….

Inside America’s Largest Worker-Run Business

Source: Jay Cassano, Fast Company, September 8, 2015

Can workplace democracy pave the way to better conditions in low-wage industries? For home care aides, the results of one 30-year experiment are mixed. …. In a worker cooperative, every worker can own an equal share of the company (and its profits) and get a say in company decisions. Today, worker co-ops are growing in popularity in the U.S., both for people ideologically drawn to an equitable workplace and as a means for economically disadvantaged people to control their own destiny. But among worker cooperatives, Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) is rare in for its size (employing over 2,000 workers), its longevity (currently in its 30th year), and its success (it has been profitable in all but three of those years). …..

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

Democratize the Education System! Engaging the Youth in Cooperative Culture

Source: Cliff Martin, Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO), 2015

…. Through joining young people in organizing for education system democratization, we build the movement of worker cooperatives and the solidarity economy. We stand beside them in their fight for liberation; a struggle for freedom that will shape the paradigms and actions of everyone involved far beyond their time in school.

This is a call to action for the solidarity economy and cooperative movement. We must organize, mobilize, and educate around a narrative of ownership and control, who benefits and who decides, with young people in the education system. If we want the world we are fighting and building for, then there must be no institution left behind (except the ones we don’t want i.e. prisons, militaries, etc.). These ideas and frames can connect us for much needed unity, clarity, and capacity. From the workplace to the school; solidarity! In our movement, we must have both. ….

….. Young People’s Action Coalition is an democratic, youth-run organization dedicated to intersectional movement building among high school aged young people in Minnesota. YPAC has four major components:
1. Popular/political education on social and environmental justice issues, root causes, and movement building strategy.
2. Mobilizing young people to direct actions and other events in solidarity with other organizations and campaigns.
3. Publishing and distributing a zine with art, interviews, and articles from young people across MN.
4. Running a worker cooperative farm and teaching and engaging in systemic change strategies.

Symposium Issue – Reimagining Labor Law

Source: UC Irvine Law Review, Volume 4: Issue No. 2, May 2014

Articles include:
Reimagining Collective Rights in the Workplace
Catherine L. Fisk
…. A group of eminent and rising scholars were invited to address fundamental questions: What are the alternatives to the Wagner Act model of majority unions, workplace collective bargaining, and the current regime of social welfare provision on which it depends? What institutional structures could be created to provide dignity, opportunity, and protection to work? Rather than focusing on the current regime, the authors were challenged to explore alternatives and not to take anything for granted, including the existing divisions between or structures of labor law and employment law.

The articles explore a variety of alternative legal and social regimes based in existing practice in the United States—including the hybrid union-community worker organizations like Our Walmart and Fast Food Forward, sector-based worker groups like the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Occupy initiatives, workers’ centers, national progressive organizations like the National Employment Law Project, and community organizations like the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. Some are based on comparative studies, examining possibilities of creating in the United States institutional structures that show promise elsewhere in the world. Some generalize from careful studies of particular campaigns or organizations, with an eye toward scaling up successful efforts. Some examine different legal regimes—the First Amendment freedom of assembly clause, for example—and some examine different forms of representation and institutional structures, including worker centers. Some explore feasible legal strategies to address the marginalization of unauthorized migrant workers. Others propose legal reforms to invigorate private membership organizations that protect the interests of people at work, such as by reducing restrictions on the collection of voluntary political contributions through payroll deduction and liberating unions from some of the restrictions imposed by state right-to-work legislation. …

….The articles in this symposium collectively argue three important propositions. First, collective activism will be crucial to any revitalization of labor. Labor law reform should aspire to enable the organizing that is essential to effective collective activism. Each of the papers proposes a different way that law can either facilitate such organizing and activism or avoid thwarting it. Second, and related, institutional design matters a great deal to whether worker activism will occur and, if it does occur, whether it will be effective in improving working conditions. Third, legal rules should be crafted to facilitate collective worker action by making worker collectives sustainable and scalable institutions; by giving them crucial roles in existing legal regimes to empower worker voice in many important legal and political forums; by leveraging power at the local, state, and national level; and by thwarting efforts to use legal doctrines like preemption or legal bureaucracies like criminal justice to eviscerate organizing gains.

The third step of the argument is where the authors strike out on four different but intersecting paths. The paths are: (1) empowering collectives, especially at the local level; (2) creating mechanisms to enhance leverage through local, national, and international frameworks; (3) improving access to information to enhance worker power; and (4) strengthening the institutional power of unions by protecting the ability of unions and worker collectives to fund their operations. The first two of these offer macro perspectives on how law facilitates and thwarts worker activism. The third and fourth examine the ways that law creates (or destroys) the institutional frameworks that empower workers to act collectively in organizing, in negotiating and administering agreements over conditions of employment, and in political action. ….

Latin America’s “Third Left” Meets the U.S. Workplace: A Promising Direction for Worker Protection?
Chris Tilly & Marie Kennedy

Beyond Unions, Notwithstanding Labor Law

Marion Crain & Ken Matheny

Not Dead Yet: Preserving Labor Law Strengths While Exploring New Labor Law Strategies
Lance Compa

Riding the Wave: Uplifting Labor Organizations Through Immigration Reform
Jayesh M. Rathod

Policing Wage Theft in the Day Labor Market
Stephen Lee

Productive Unionism
Matthew Dimick

Organizing with International Framework Agreements: An Exploratory Study
César F. Rosado Marzán

Extending the Case for Workplace Transparency to Information About Pay
Cynthia Estlund

Automatic Elections
Michael M. Oswalt

Restoring Equity in Right-to-Work Law
Catherine L. Fisk & Benjamin I. Sachs

Paycheck Protection or Paycheck Deception? When Government “Subsidies” Silence Political Speech
Brian Olney