Bread Without Bosses An Interview with the Alvarado Street Bakery

Socialist Web Zine August 9, 2010 
http://www.socialistwebzine.org/2010/08/bread-without-bosses.html

The mascot of the Alvarado Street Bakery (ASB) is an
orange and black cat, with a swinging tail and a sly
grin. Perhaps his feisty smile is the result of good
working conditions. ASB is the worker owned and run
cooperative featured in Michael Moore's recent film
Capitalism: A Love Story as an example of economic
democracy. ASB is based in Petaluma, California, but
ships nationally through their website. In this
interview, Joseph Tuck of ASB tells The Socialist about
the company's practices.

The Socialist - Can you describe how your cooperative
works? In particular, how are the big decisions made
about what is produced and how much and how are the
small day-to-day decisions made, how fast and how much
people work, breaks, etc.?

Joseph Tuck of the Alvarado Street Bakery - Generally
in our worker cooperative all large decisions that
impact the cooperative are decided by the
worker/members at our quarterly membership meetings.
Our by-laws specify these as (a) approval of new
members and membership criteria (b) approval of by-law
changes; (c) approval of annual business plan; (d)
approval of annual budget; (e) commitment of resources
greater than the amount allowed in the policy adopted
from time to time by the membership; (f) setting of
wage policy; (g) setting of major policies on hiring
and firing; (h) determining product line produced; and
(i) election of the board of directors. The day-to-day
affairs of the cooperative are coordinated through our
management structure. My position (I am hired by the
board) coordinates departmental managers who do things
like scheduling, setting of breaks, line speed,
determining the amount of product to be made on a day,
etc. We, of course, use worker input in these types of
decisions, as they are the experts in their particular
discipline.

TS - What do you see as the advantages of this non-
traditional way of organizing your company?

ASB - The economic advantages of being a worker
cooperative stem from the fact that workers decide the
fate of the cooperative and reap the rewards if we do
well. This tends to build more trust internally in one
another and less of a need for managers for issues such
as oversight etc as traditional organizations may have.
Workers get that they are the sole benefactor of the
company doing well. The transparency in financial
statements etc. allow everyone to know and feel like a
stakeholder. If we are not doing well everyone one
knows it and knows the reasons for the situation. In
our group, there is peer pressure for everyone to do
their best. Our workers do not tolerate well their co-
workers not putting in effort.

TS - What were some of the hurdles you had to overcome
in setting up a workers? co-operative and how did you
address them?

ASB - The largest hurdle for us to overcome was the
lack of access to capital when we were a young
company. Though this is a universal issue for
companies starting out, our being a cooperative made
it more difficult as there are no guarantors in a
cooperative for loans (as there are no real owners in
a worker cooperative). We initially resolved this
issue by some small personal loans along with years of
delayed gratification (sweat equity) in terms of what
we paid ourselves. We finally had stand alone
financial strength to be considered for a loan without
a traditional guarantor. We also structurally evolved
in the thirty years we have been in business in ways
that helped us continue to grow and prosper. Our
initial collective form (and low flat pay for all)
needed to evolve to the system we now employ. This was
necessary for us to do to stay in business. All
changes were not universally agreed upon and in fact,
there were some very fractious years during the time
of change. It was not easy for the membership to
change wage policy or delegate power. However, these
changes are the real reasons why we all have prospered
as a worker cooperative.

TS - You were featured in Michael Moore?s Capitalism: A
Love Story how has that effected your operation.

ASB - The impact of the film on our business was in
reality fairly negligible. There are certainly some
more customers buying our bread due to the film, but
not in such quantities that we see it in our sales
numbers. It was great internally and made us all proud
of what we represent. It has had more interest put on
worker cooperatives in general which for us is a great
thing.

TS - Why organic ingredients? How did you balance the
desire to provide good food with the motivation to
lower costs for your business?

ASB - Organic was part of our original philosophy when
we formed the cooperative. We wanted to create a
business that did not exploit workers or the
environment and provided health to the community. There
is always a balance between such goals and, of course,
there are trade offs. We found that in our world
technology, expertise, and a lack of bureaucracy has
allowed us to provide ourselves a good standard of
living while providing the community with whole grain
organic baked goods at a reasonable price. We are one
of the lower priced breads in the whole grain category
(including the large companies such as Oroweat).

Visit ASB at www.alvaradostreetbakery.com