Union Co-ops and Economic Development

Recently, a UNITE HERE organizer called union worker co-ops a “transitional model” for union engagement in places where traditional organizing could no longer work like a shutdown aversion or start ups like Our Harvest.

Union worker co-ops are also a key to providing jobs within the mainstream business sector. In the discussions of conventional metrics on labor costs and income inequality, worker ownership is the only sustainable and reliable means to reverse that trend toward lost shares of wealth creation. I’m fine with artisanal bakeries, but the real change will come when we have workers owning Wonder Bread. (We will also have better yet still affordable bread…) Union worker co-ops give those who make the wealth a share of that wealth in guaranteed ways.

Most of all, union worker co-ops, by providing the ‘one worker one vote’ direction, remove the enduring uncertainty about job security. While all businesses are vulnerable to economic crises, working people can choose how they endure it as they did in Fagor’s closing. They can also be involved in preventing crises it where possible rather than becoming the sacrificial goats for capital.

These three principles – transition, full economic participation, and control over investment decision making – are why union worker co-ops must be part of America’s long-term economic strategy.

Elizabeth Sholes, 1worker1vote.org co-founder, is a union co-op catalyst organizing California progressive faith communities, labor, immigrant groups, and communities of color.