The United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives Has Issued a Call for Membership
By Ajowa Nzinga Ifateyo
“We’re hoping that at least a third of the 300-400 worker cooperatives in the country that we know of join the Federation and build a formidable and representative worker cooperative movement in this country,” said USFWC staff person Melissa Hoover. “The time is ripe for workers to have input into and control of our economic lives.”
The membership call comes 10 months from the Second Annual USFWC conference planned for Oct. 15-17 at the Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies at the City University of New York.
The organizing conference took place May, 2004 at the University of Minneapolis and was attended by more than 100 participants, most of them members of worker cooperatives and other democratic workplaces such as 100% worked-owned Employee Stock Ownership plans, democratically-run nonprofit businesses and volunteer organizations.
The Board, elected at that conference, has been working since then to build a foundation for the Federation and to plan ways to carry out a prioritized list of member mandates.
The proposed structure for the Federation is six membership classes: worker cooperatives, local and regional networks, other democratic workplaces, cooperative developers, associates, and individuals.
Dues are payable financially on a sliding scale and by voluntary contribution of labor. The lowest financial request is $50 but can go as high as $5,000 for workplaces with gross profits in the millions. Workplaces without income could work at a rate of $25 an hour helping with administrative tasks and collaborating on organizing with the Federation.
“The Board wanted to ensure that no democratic workplace is left out in the cold because of inability to pay cash,” Hoover said. In many places, a childcare collective that barters hours and has no income would have difficulty becoming members.
“We want everyone who wants to be a part of creating a dynamic workers’ movement in this country to become involved so that we build a movement that begins to meet our needs as people,” Hoover said.
The Board made dues optional for local and regional networks or federations.
“We think of local networks and regional organizations as partners,” said Board Member Kirsten Marshall, of Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco. She said that when the idea of a federation was first talked about, a concern of many local co-ops was of the national organization taking funds away from the locals. Also, people were concerned that local organizing remains the priority.
To address these concerns, the Federation board discounted dues for any co-op that already pays dues to a regional organization. In addition, the regional membership category is a member by virtue of their work organizing other cooperatives.
“We won’t turn down any money, but we wanted to make it clear in our policy and structure that we value the work and the struggle of these organizations -- our partners -- and that really, the Federation and the worker cooperative movement itself, would not exist without their work,” Marshall said
Regional organizations include the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NoBAWC), The Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy, Federation of Workplace Democracies, Minnesota, (FWD Minnesota), South Sound Cooperatives in Olympia, Worker Owned and Run Cooperative Network (WORC’N) of Boston, the Portland Alliance of Worker Collectives, and others that are just getting off the ground.
To ensure that cooperative member-owners and workers from 100% worker-owned ESOPs wield the most power in the Federation, votes are weighted. The votes of worker-owners and regional/local networks would count as three votes. These include cooperative developers that are organized as worker cooperatives. The vote of other democratic workplaces – 51 percent owned ESOPs and other organizations count as two vote, and associate members count as one.
The Federation made history in 2005 when it joined CICOPA, the international worker cooperative organization, making it the first time that the United States was represented in this world body. Joining CICOPA was the second highest priority of the conference with 20 votes. The first, with 21 votes, was creating group health care insurance benefits for worker cooperatives.
“We have to pay dues (to CICOPA), and dues will be an important part of the grassroots fundraising mechanism of the Federation, so we hope that people will donate as much as they can to cover our work and to help us meet our obligations,” said Omar Freilla, of Green Worker Cooperatives in the Bronx.
The Federation is currently working on incorporation, negotiating a pension plan, researching post-retirement benefits, and is working out finding insurance coverage. Board members expect to have more concrete information by the October conference.
For more details on the dues rate and membership category, definition of worker cooperatives, please visit: www.usworker.coop. To contact Melissa Hoover, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 415-379-9201.
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