California Takes the Lead

In the never ending effort to advance our movement of worker co-operatives, California has long been at the vanguard. In addition to being home to some of the longest lasting worker co-operatives, the Western Worker Co-operative Conference is one of the oldest co-op networking organizations in the country. Likewise, NoBAWC has long coordinated Bay area co-ops and collectives.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the folks in California are leading the way towards building our movement. Two specific efforts deserve our attention. The first is the Richmond initiative and the second in the effort to enact a law specific for worker co-operatives.

As my friend has posted as JASEcon, Richmond has been working towards building a co-operative economy for a while; however, in the last year, this north bay municipality took the extraordinary step of signing of letter of intent to work with Mondragon and hiring a co-operative coordinator on the city payroll. When I mentioned this to Madison’s Mayor, Paul Soglin, he was surprised as Richmond isn’t San Francisco or Berkeley by a long shot.

The second big effort coming out of CA is the development of a worker co-operative law. This is important as we have special needs that most corporations (and even co-operatives) don’t have. The duality of being an employee and an owner needs special consideration at the legal level. Assembly Bill 1161 that includes legal definitions and protections for workers in multi-stakeholder co-operatives.

This is an important step in that we need to start developing worker co-operatives as a unique business. Equity, profit, even work rules all have a different role in worker co-operatives. More importantly, investment has a different role and the law needs to recognize these differences.

Hopefully, the good work started in Richmond and the California Assembly will spread across the country, but we should all look at what they are doing, learn from actions and move our movement forward.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-op in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University and hopes to finish his Ph.D. in Business Administration soon. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle and Mission Circle for Sociocracy for All. He teaches on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College.
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