“The last session of 2020, for the Cooperative Solutions Working Group, was exactly what I needed ~ thoughtful, connected and soul-nourishing conversation. I am grateful to Rebecca for having the vision to not stop the work after the Mayor’s Advisory Council, and instead, put this opportunity in front of us in this open and expansive way. I am also grateful for all the folks who join the sessions. I believe we are creating pathways to a more equitable, just and collaborative tomorrow and beyond.”
Adria Powell, President and CEO of Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA)
This December, the Community and Worker Ownership Project hosted its last meeting for 2020. This month, we gathered participants into small groups to engage in discussions on their topics of interests; the healthcare sector, construction industry, union coops, public policy, financing strategies, the gig economy, and coops for Black liberation. The report back session was dynamic as people got to hear and consider directions for further exploration both in this working group and in their organizations.
Some summaries of those discussions are below. Further discussions can be had by reaching out to Rebecca Lurie at CWOP at the School of Labor and Urban Studies or coming to our next meeting. January 27th, 2020.
We wish everyone a good New Year since we need all the good we can muster! It has been a hard one. But I want to thank all the Working Group participants since it is through the advent of zoom calls that we have been able to meet and talk like this in a regular and engaged way to expand our knowledge, our community and our possibilities.
The full 40 minutes of the report back can be viewed in this video recording. and the time stamps for the different reports are embedded below.
The finance strategies discussion included Brendan Martin from the Working World, industry representatives from SEIU1199 and workers active in cooperative business development. Looking at the role finance plays in healthcare, there was a declaration of how horrible it is with private equity taking over the industry. Central to the discussion in this group was the need to leverage public equity to support the healthcare industry. To implement these changes, policy needs to change to allow for good nursing practices and care to be delivered through nursing home cooperatives. Supporting policies would enable both care recipients and workers to benefit through the formation of cooperatives that serve their interests and needs rather than the need to increase profits at the expense of quality of service and wellbeing of workers and patients. More and more, we are witnessing the long term negative impact of private equity in health care. To change this dynamic, this group focused on the need for public equity. The group put forth the idea that “there needs to be capital available that allows for values other than profit maximization to be at the forefront.”
Informing this discussion were government and policy folks who look at what levers may support the expansion and success of cooperatives. Many questions were asked to help frame the discussion. How can the state create avenues for innovation? How to frame business as a force for good, especially when considering worker coops? There was mention of moving beyond the dimension of big government or small government and talk about a new paradigm. Economic Democracy” invites a very different conversation of something grounded in the community and industry we may be speaking of. It was mentioned for clarity that democratic worker ownership is broader than cooperatives but helps to expand the potentiality of equity and shared wealth-building. The role of unions and participation in broad coalitions was brought up through several lenses and seen as important to expand pathways to economic justice.
This group featured a discussion between two who represent industry stakeholders; employers and workforce training professionals. Together they explored how there is a race to the bottom for wages and conditions to save dollars and a race to the top for the few companies to win the most profits. Ideas exchanged as to how to change the direction of the profits – to go to workers. With the ever growing need to support affordable housing, they were thinking of how to deliver real value to the projects so union contracts with excellent job quality and an integrated training capacity can be better leveraged in the affordable housing sector, perhaps with worker ownership and control of the profits. While union density is falling throughout the city, open shops are ascendant. Can cooperatives be a piece of the solution for workers, communities and the economy?
This group included representatives from the UFCW and garment industry players along with a longtime union and employee ownership lawyer, Deb Olson, from Detroit. Deb shared some stories from around the country, including efforts of the UFCW in other markets and the US Federation of Worker Coops and their Union-Coop Council who have experiences to share. This area of work was touched in many of the other breakout groups as the strengths of unionization paired with worker-ownership and control offer approaches to expand good work.
This discussion was dynamic and hard to summarize. What was clear was that there is great interest in tying a cooperative economy to a deepening strategy for equity and justice. Here we heard of the importance of looking at ways to invest in Black communities as a way to reframe divest in the police to invest in communities. They identified barriers to Black cooperative businesses through the bias in lending and access to capital. There was an understanding of the importance of centering racial equity while knowing the history of racism and inequity makes it hard for us to demonstrate scalable solutions under these conditions. Old divisions of workers vs patients or consumers often does not lay the groundwork for shared solutions with solidarity for all. The old strategy of “divide and conquer” is at work. There was talk of the need for healing and the ability to recognize this need to heal trauma of white supremacy and oppression that is brought to the fore at work, with money and resources, and in our communities as we struggle for a just economy.
The healthcare discussion featured scholars in the healthcare/coop space with intersecting projects on unionized and non-unionized research of coops in healthcare spaces. Their research and the discussion looked into how coops make a difference for workers and patients in the healthcare industry. Different sectors can also benefit from union-coop frameworks through the consideration of the needs of different stakeholders; workers, patients, families, facilities. There is an interest in further research regarding the Covid context and what differences happen when cooperatively owned and operated and when workers are unionized. Research to continue!