All Systems Go! Working Systems Co-op

In July of 2018, while the Main Street Employee Ownership Act was working its way into the Omnibus Defense Bill and NWCDC was preparing its Legacy Project aimed at raising the profile of worker ownership, I got a call from a senior worker at Working Systems about the possibility of converting the software company to a cooperative. 12 months later, Working Systems, Inc. became Working Systems Cooperative.

A Gear with the words Working Systems

One of the owners (who continued with the co-op as a worker-owner) told me that his parents were union organizers in New York City and they also helped create housing co-ops. I don’t know if they were part of this cohort, but it is wonderful to see his parent’s legacy transform a new generation of worker-owners.

Working Systems immediately became one of the more unique co-ops in the nation. They are software developers (both for desktop and web based apps). However, they write their software to support the missions of their clients. All of their clients are labor unions. They work with small locals and large internationals. The workers of the company were also unionized with Communications Workers of America.

Working Systems, already something of a unicorn in the tech world as a unionized workplace, is now the State of Washington’s first “union-coop”. There is a national movement channeling the synergy of labor unions and worker cooperatives and the Union-Coop Symposium will be held in Cincinnati in mid-November hosted by the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative. I am glad to see my home state with representation in this community!

This is a great group of people to work with! Without breaking any confidences, it was exciting to see how software developers write bylaws. They also had two members of the former Beluga Software Cooperative (also based in Olympia) and featured in the documentary: Beyond the Bottom Line. This was useful since they had practical experience of how to improve the co-op model. They a very high functioning community, thoughtful, and a strong focus on equality and equity.

It was also my first chance to work with Shared Capital that did an excellent job of working with the crew and being flexible to meet the needs of the membership. I served on Shared Capital’s board for a time (when it was still North Country Development Fund). I look forward to the next project with them.

Today, Working Systems Co-op is holding its first Annual General Meeting. They will be electing their board, amending their bylaws, and celebrating the transition from employees to worker-owners! They asked me to facilitate and I really consider that an honor. Solidarity and Democracy in action!

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 Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the late, great Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle for Sociocracy for All. He has taught on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College and Presidio Graduate School.
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