Worker Owned Cooperatives

This Sunday’s New York times had a story about worker owned cooperatives. The main example that they use is in San Francisco, but

If you happen to be looking for your morning coffee near Golden Gate Park and the bright red storefront of the Arizmendi Bakery attracts your attention, congratulations. You have found what the readers of The San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local alt-weekly, deem the city’s best bakery. But it has another, less obvious, distinction. Of the $3.50 you hand over for a latte (plus $2.75 for the signature sourdough croissant), not one penny ends up in the hands of a faraway investor. Nothing goes to anyone who might be tempted to sell out to a larger bakery chain or shutter the business if its quarterly sales lag.

Instead, your money will go more or less directly to its 20-odd bakers, who each make $24 an hour — more than double the national median wage for bakers. On top of that, they get health insurance, paid vacation and a share of the profits. “It’s not luxury, but I can sort of afford living in San Francisco,” says Edhi Rotandi, a baker at Arizmendi. He works four days a week and spends the other days with his 2-year-old son.

Arizmendi and its five sister bakeries in the Bay Area are worker-owned cooperatives, an age-old business model that has lately attracted renewed interest as a possible antidote to some of our most persistent economic ills. Most co-ops in the U.S. are smaller than Arizmendi, with around a dozen employees, but the largest, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, has about 2,000. That’s hardly the organizational structure’s upper limit. In fact, Arizmendi was named for a Spanish priest and labor organizer in Basque country, José María Arizmendiarrieta. He founded what eventually became the Mondragon Corporation, now one of the region’s biggest employers, with more than 60,000 members and 14 billion euro in revenue. And it’s still a co-op.

Does anyone know about cooperatives in the Seattle area if people want to support them with their dollars? I was trying to think of any, and I couldn’t. I mean the advantages of capitalism without, you know, creating more capitalists (except their financiers, and I guess customers). If they make a decent coffee with good enough pastries, that’s really all I want out of a coffee shop.

If people know of local worker cooperatives, especially ones that provide good goods and services, please leave a comment.


  1. 3

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    REI is a member-owned cooperative, but it behaves like a private corporation. The members get to vote for directors, but only directors can choose director candidates, and all the directors are people with business backgrounds, so this doesn’t mean much of anything. REI ceased to be a real membership cooperative when the right of members to nominate board candidates was taken away from them and REI’s board became an irremovable group that selects its own members. Now, it’s just a duchy run by a gang of dukes.

  2. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The business I own isn’t formally a cooperative, but I run it on similar principles. The workers in effect own their own businesses making and selling my product line under a common brand name, and I get a small royalty from each sale, with all royalties getting reinvested in the business at this point. I exercise control over product design and quality, and broadly supervise how they conduct business, e.g. I review and approve their customer service and product return and exchange policies. They set their own pay and keep their profits.

  3. 6

    Pete spews:

    Group Health, REI, and PCC are the biggest local examples of businesses that are structurally co-ops, but are not worker-owned. Each has also long abandoned the ideals of their founders and is now run basically by industry insiders as a business that keeps their non-profit and co-op status purely as a branding gimmick.

  4. 9

    Guerre spews:

    I assume the central Co-op on Madison is a coop, I don’t know how much control the workers hold. Black Coffee Co-op definitely is.

  5. 10

    Boz spews:

    I believe that European Vine Selections, the wine shop on 15th in Capitol Hill, is a cooperative.

  6. 12

    Amy Hagopian spews:

    I’m working to conduct a feasibility study of organizing a worker-owned coop of home-care workers, with a University of Washington connection for worker training and evaluation. It just needs a funder!

  7. 14

    Jean spews:

    Amy (in comment below) about creating a coop of home-care workers. You might try Community Sourced Capital for funding. I have loaned money through them for two small local businesses.