List of Questions

Red Emma’s

Starting Up:

  1. What was the initial process or conversations like when you just starting thinking about starting a co-op?Was founded in 2003 (officially), opened space in 2004 – was a collective bookstore; stereotypical bookstore about anarchist organizing and catered to folks already of that political mindset; spent a lot of energy on infrastructure but not a lot of time of sustainability; Red Emmas grew out of a shift…organizers thinking about local but international, grassroots sustainability and organize in communities and cities where they’re from
    • Drew a lot from their work experience (food service); some had good and others shitty experiences; wanted to build something that financially sustainable (living wages, health insurance, etc.)
    • Started as “workers collective” – members started thinking of how to support themselves (about in 2012/13); always was a worker owned space; up to this point it was a ‘side project’
    • Thinking about if it is limiting who can work there
  2. Who all started up the co-op with you?
    • Orginally (7) for Red Emmas; in 2013 (12 people); most had is 23 workers owners and most working is 25-36
    • Did you get any support with those initial conversations or did you all do it on your own?
      • Many organizers on national, international summits, convergences, and anarchist, people from Baltimore some had landed there.
      • They did it on their own – there wasn’t much support then; eventually found other bookstore collectives but the project they were building was different than theirs.
      • Because they were organizers and activists, they already had the experience in other contexts
  3. What type of legal entity are you and why did you all decide on that type of entity?
    • Originally was an LLC to protect individuals to have insulation from lawsuits
    • In 2013, with major expansion and first time had employees on path to ownership; LLC failed because of workers comp laws; now is a corporation
    • Owners have one seat and one vote
    • In Maryland, there is no way to incorporate as a Co-Op whereas in CA there is
      • There you end up being penalized for the type of structure
  4. How do you all bring on new “members” or worker-owners?
    • Generally 1 year long process before invited to join the co-op; before used to be very open about it; now because of the liabilities and growth it has to be more structured
    • Strive for worker ownership; will not hire unless they are being considered for ownership; series of reviews after being hired; end of year evaluation to determine whether they are able to handle demands (energy/time) of worker ownership – means unlearning horrible experiences other jobs taught us
    • Have additional milestones, like join a committee, etc. – have a $1,000 share to buy into the co-op; get a loan of $1,000 to have full share of business and you pay this off; can come from another financial coop; for Red Emma’s have kept shares low enough
  5. What was the thinking around creating separate co-ops for each extension of the businesses? How does consensus work between the different collectives like 2640 and the cafe?
    • Can grow an organization in a number of ways – expansion (can grow and grow and add different divisions and income streams, for revenue and job creation); proliferation – create other entities that share same principles and share resources on the back end;
      • Red Emmas does both – if they have enough revenue and money, they can set up another coop = creates other opportunities for democratic governance and allows others to decide what is best for them
        • Sometimes doesn’t allow them to create their own identities if all under Red Emmas
        • Incubate projects until ready for people/financial and then become fully independent
    • No consensus making between the projects; they share principles;
    • There can be some financial benefit or shared resources from other cooperatives incubated
  6. Do you have mentorship type support or programming for your new members or co-ops? If so, what is that like?
    • Nothing formal; case by case basis; have orientations for new members and a series of training; new worker meetings; spaces for newer workers to support each other
  7. When starting the cooperative how were the start up costs calculated? How was the funding raised? Did you take out  a business loan, fundraised, etc? Are there any special requirements for cooperatives?
    • Mostly self funded; a few fundraisers maybe; got a personal loan from a family member; started business with less than $10,000; got donations or at auction; were extremely thrifty
    • When it expanded on 2013; had to come up with $200K; got some loans from some community based foundation, a coop lender, crowdfunding and a loan from The Working World (how they started in the financial cooperative)
    • Shared Capital Cooperative
  8. What are some tips you would give a coop that is starting out? Be it the Cuidanos, Jorge’s childcare coop or cafe coops that also value sustainability and fair labor practices.
    • As an ethical business, still struggle with that too…to be ethical and financially sustainable; sometimes might sacrifice profitability of business for higher wages; profit margins might be a little less than normal business
    • Be realistic – not going to be able to pay yourself what you deserve; you can charge more to the patrons, to cover that, but then it won’t be fair to the low income customers
    • They identified four major areas for ethical commitments (Politically, Ideologically, socially)
      • Every worker must take home a living wage (i.e. $25/hr)
      • Not carry any product in store requiring animal to be killed
      • Every product is sourced from organic farm with organic practices
    • Use these principles to make decisions; once we reach a ceiling on one area, then they will not give up ethics in other areas


  • Based in Baltimore, largest coop in Maryland; expansion of 45 workers; restaurant bookstore, event space, 2003; helped found other coops; national network of loan funds to help other coops to support other projects = Financial Cooperative.
  • Consensus is hard even with 7 people – takes time and dedication; can get more difficult as more people
    • Don’t recommend new coops base their decisions on consensus – should have consensus for big decisions like those that change the course of the organization
    • Can authorize people to make certain decisions (daily tasks) as long as based upon previously decided upon guidelines
  • No right way to start a coop – based on where you are and who the members are – they will all be different based on what the members want – some have different models and structures
  • Want to plan for worst case scenario – how you fire someone or ask someone to leave
    • Hard to implement when in the middle of crisis – gonna have problems – going to have to deal with certain things
  • Coops are adaptable and resilient structures – because everyone has a choice – allows to make modifications as you grow and go along

Google doc:




Assignment #1 


Prepare a report-back that includes:

– one or more “ah-ha’s” from that conversation; and,

– three questions that came up for you about starting a worker co-op from that encounter.


Write up a brief summary of your report-back and upload it on the form below. Be prepared as a team to present your ah-ha’s and questions on September 10.

For the interview a co-op assignment, our team divided into three groups to interview 3 existing cross-language co-ops. Of the 3 requests, we were able to get responses from 2 co-ops. One co-op is Tilde, a language justice co-op which a couple of our members have relationships with, and have worked closely with in different contexts. The second co-op is Community Language Cooperative, an interpretation services coop, which Karen connected us with. We believed that Community Language Cooperative (CLC) does different cross-language work from us, however we decided to interview them because we were interested in learning more about their work as a cooperative, their business model, and because we imagined we might not have as much access to interview them in the future. Following in this report back is the ah-ha’s and questions that came up during the interviews. Full interviews below.

Ah-ha’s Community Language Cooperative (CLC)

  • Similarity in structure to Antena Los Ángeles with the difference that each person is a co-owner is an LLC and they make all decisions without including “members” in the process
  • Similarity in the challenges we have experienced as a collective (e.g., burnout having to maintain full-time jobs at the same time of investing on and maintaining a collective), but for them presented still while established as a coop.
  • Need to invest in work (actual paid hours and jobs) to pay admin staff. Their experience has been that in an accrual basis system, it’s too challenging to have enough funds to afford that.
  • Financial aspect of the work: Coop charging clients with credit card and coop paying members/subcontractors vs members/subcontractors working independently.
  • Heavy business oriented practice: Charging client more for translations done for them at a lower rate, and selling equipment to other groups with a gain (Antena Los Ángeles probably has no desire in engaging in a similar practice)
  • If coop is not well organized, there is a risk to continue the practices that we are trying to change.


Ah-ha’s Interviewing Tilde

  • Including financial and labor-related well-being of interpreters alongside language justice advocacy in the coop’s mission
  • In addition to worker owners, Tilde has contractors for interpreting, translation and training work. Most of their interpreting and training is carried out by worker owners, but most of the translation work is done by contractors. All of their consulting services are provided by tilde worker owner
  • From the outset having two people designated as responsible for admin/consultation, and compensating them through the tithe the group asks from each worker-owner and contractor working with them
  • (This is an ah-ha more about Antena Los Ángeles than about tilde, but came through the interview process…) Realizing how unusual it is that we do the amount and depth of solidarity work that we do, both as consultants, coordinators and interpreters, and also as folks supporting less experienced bilingual people to develop these skills.
  • Tilde has apprentice program for interpreters.
  • Using consensus as a way of making decisions as a collective/group. It seems like it’s a tough process when there are multiple people involved given politics are important for determining if a gig is accepted or not (they mention how Ron backed out of a gig and the job wasn’t passed on to other tilde members—is consensus process ubiquitous? Is there a set of guidelines for this?)

Questions about starting a worker cooperative:  

  • How often // how much meeting time is needed to establish processes; how much // how often do regular meetings need to occur once processes and rhythm are established?// how is this “establishing a coop” time compensated for folks involved in it?
  • Capacity and political questions around whether to create a worker-owner cooperative that is also committed to coordinating a Solidarity Network and donating a certain amount of time/energy/labor/experience/expertise or whether to separate those two things. (Wondering if there would be worker-owners we would want to work with who don’t want to make the solidarity commitment? Or is that part of being in Antena Los Ángeles?)
  • How many worker-owners is the ideal number for us, given our capacity and workload and potential for growth, and how many contractors? What would be the criteria/requirements for folks who are worker-owners? Processes for integrating new folks into the group? How will each person’s commitment to the co-op be determined? Do all members share the same workload?

Full interview for CLC click here or https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YpzTi6c7ZtayGmUI148X8abcZ75sgIemnsnKzwtRTOI/edit?ts=5b96b8d0#.

Full interview with Tilde click here or https://docs.google.com/document/d/15NgAO4sQ4r3pSni4qbukzV3BG4y1QDzwapo47XJvk9Y/edit.



Assignment 1: Interview a Co-Op

Interview with Design Action Collective

Group: Color Coded (Aldo Puicon, Arlene Nieto, Aya Seiko, Chris Cuellar, Danny Ruelas)

Assignment Instructions

  • Prepare a report-back that includes:
    • one or more “ah-ha’s” from that conversation; and,
    • three questions that came up for you about starting a worker co-op from that encounter.
  • Write up a brief summary of your report-back and upload it on the form below. Be prepared as a team to present your ah-ha’s and questions on September 10.


Co-op: Design Action Collective

The collective started in 2002 when it became an independent entity from Inkworks Press Collective. Its main purpose is to create design and communication work for players in the social and economic justice world. Their work is primarily serves to allows such groups web and interactive services which also include strategic communications and messaging.  

Currently there are are about 15-person shop of that includes apprentices and independent contractors. The collective is mainly composed of people of color, women and trans folks in the Bay area with one exception in Arizona. Workers in the collective are composed of social justice activist and organizers who  in the collective is as around graphic design and web developers to people in the progressive movements.

Interview with Poonam Whabi

“Ah-ha’s” Moments

  1. They have benefits! Health care and time off.
  2. I was pretty impressed that they are able to service so many clients without referrals. I think their strategy of being present at the various media & coop conferences is really smart.
  3. Be smart about outsourcing some of the work – if possible, support other collectives / coops when outsourcing + take the time to find contractors with similar values that we can develop relationships with
  4. We are not trained to work cooperatively, so being intentional about the internal dynamics is really important for coops. It reminds me that hierarchy in workplaces is so ingrained that working cooperatively means unlearning lots of things.

Three Questions Brought up by the interview:

  1. How do we figure out our break-even rate? Seems like we’re starting to get a sense of our collective overhead but we don’t really have a good sense of what it would take to fully sustain our workers…
  2. Can we / should we  use a similar evaluation structure for our workers? If not, how are we reflecting on / learning lessons from the current work we’re taking on?
  3. How do we figure out an accountability process? Reviews?
  4. Is there a way to figure out a healthy workload or number of projects open at one time?
  5. Should we consider something like an apprentice track when folks are learning new skills and leveling up

Interview Notes


  • Design Action Collective (DAC) has been around for 15 years.
  • Initially part of a print collective Inkworks (a progress leftist print shop that closed down recently)
  • DAC used their bylaws
  • Poonam has been with DAC since 2004
  • Previously Poonam focused mostly on print design, but now focuses on web design information architecture, project management

Joining the Co-Op

  • There is a 9 month probation period before becoming a co-collective member
  • There is no “buy in” mandate
  • Every 3 months, there an evaluation until hired into the collective
  • DAC also has an apprenticeship track
  • Everyone is a co-owner
  • Currently there are 14 worker owners, and will be hiring 2-3 more
  • They have contractors (People who they contract to do those types of things but they are not coop members)
    • They work with a bookkeeping cooperative (Strength In Numbers)
    • They employ a tax accountant
  • Every person has about 10-20 jobs on their plates, high workload
  • They hire on the basis on few different things: Skills, Politics
  • They are committed to diversity
    • Sometimes they have a junior designer position
    • Apprentice track to provide access to the field

Working Together (Reviews and more?)

  • There are 2 different reviews
    • One for new employees, first 3 months skills only, 6 mo + 9 mo gears up to collective responsibilities
    • For everyone else there is an evaluation every 2 years
  • Worker owners get evaluated on collective responsibilities, job responsibilities,
  • Who does the evaluating? Flat structure, everybody gets paid the same,
  • Collective related responsibilities are handled in committees (ie, operations, tech)
  • There is hierarchy within working teams. Work teams that are hierarchical in the work, more like a flow for managing the job.
  • New people have a buddy, onboarding with questions, they take care of the evaluation stuff, involved in the process in ; everyone evaluates but buddy talks
  • For the folks who have been there longer, everyone fills out an evaluation
  • They have 1-2 retreats a year
  • Mini retreats for the department/committee

Getting Paid

  • Enoch and Kim started Design Action Collective. Enoch came up the base pay scale
  • DAC follows a model similar to Ink Works
  • Break even rate which takes into account the different expenses

Handling Costs

  • They have a lot of overhead: an office they pay for rent, computers, insurance, health insurance
  • Finance committee look at finances every quarter. At the end of year will review, committee moves forward conversation
  • They struggle with this piece. They have clients with limited budget, so they end up doing more than they get paid to do.

Business Financials

  • They no longer have cash flow issues, but in the past they did. (No longer have to hold paychecks.)
  • Figure out balance of a rate to charge, but to also have a living wage
  • They started charging deposits: 25% upfront (helped with eliminating cash flow problems)
  • They have taken loans in the past
  • The financial thing is a tricky thing (its a balance trying to figure it out)
  • Everyone is paid $24 dollars an hour
  • Everyone gets full benefits (include dental and vision, ten wellness days, ten paid holidays, some tax breaks on commuter, $100 subsidies mental health not covered by insurance)
  • At the end of the year, they calculate how many hours they did in the year and they get percentage of the profit.
  • Accountant handles all the w2s etc.
  • No one in the coop deals with private information
  • For credit cards, they are often asked “who’s liable?”
  • They have folks fill in roles for the paperwork of being incorporated

Finding Clients

  • People are just coming to them
  • Hardly doing any marketing (no ads unless its a trade)
  • In recent years, they go to conferences (amc, netroots)
  • There is a vetting process for clients. See Points of unity (adopted from Inkworks)
  • Helps a lot with getting the right clients into the door
  • They do a lot of pro bono work
  • Grassroots organizers who can’t get funding
  • Margin is pretty tight
  • Get invited to participate in panels, workshops, tracks
  • They get scholarship
  • Many of the conferences support
  • Internal policies folks get paid for that time and covering

Legal Entity

  • Design Action Collective Cooperative Incorporated
  • Cooperative cooperation
  • They do have bylaws
  • They consider a small business and so buy group insurance


  • We are not trained to work cooperatively
  • Investing in learning that process
  • Being intentional in internal dynamics
  • Having processes in place/policies

Google doc:




Cooperative Interview: Agaric

Interview Date: Thursday, September 6, 2018 @ 3 PM PST

Meeting Number or Link: https://closercycle.24sessions.com/meeting/6


Confirmed Attendees:

  • Clayton
  • Ben
  • Aya
  • Aldo
  • Jared

Assignment Question & Answers:

  • One or more “ah-ha’s” from that conversation?
      • Organizing as a worker co-op is a constant task of democracy and load balancing, not a legal form to sign-off and have done.
      • Being a worker co-op is more about day to day interaction than legal filings.
      • As a service business, it helps to have existing clientele before any incorporation —  worker co-op, LLC, or otherwise.
      • Agaric did not consult lawyers in their formation process; borrowed and adapted from existing models
      • Working cooperatives are an ongoing process of refinement
  • Three questions that came up for you about starting a worker co-op from that encounter?
    • The Industrial Workers of the World seems very accepting, but would it be possible to have a C-Corp to add some flexibility in non-voting pension financing crossover and still be accepted? Would getting certified as a B[enefit] Corp with workers as the primary beneficiary help?
    • Do you need to find co-op partners before incorporating, like they did, given only one of the original founders is still in the original organization?
    • Can I “borrow” their co-op compatible bylaws third-hand?
    • Can a coop startup without buy-in mandates? If so, what does that look like?
    • How is accountability handled in worker cooperatives? What are some best practices for it?

Questions To Ask Agaric

    • When did Agaric form? Why was it formed?
    • How did the co-founders first meet?
  • 2006, not originally cooperative. LLC with coop bylaws.
    • through interest in free software movement (Drupal community)
    • 6 members now, over years 5 other worker owners, 6 is the average
  • Why and how did you choose the business model?
    • Started as design, changed to making web sites for non-evil businesses. Called it a collective from the start. CMS was still new. WordPress, Drupal, self-editing still exciting. Contacts with web needs known before forming business.
    • Were not initially part of the co-op movement .
    • Freedom for selves and to work in non-exploitive environment
    • More independence and control for each person.
  • How long was the process?
    • Ongoing ~10 years and counting.
    • Ongoing process of revising bylaws which were created half way into their existence around 2010 or 2011.
  • What was the most challenging aspect of becoming a worker-owned coop?
  • How did you form as a cooperative?
    • Joined IWW
    • Just had to show all full-time are worker-owners.
  • How do folks become part of the worker-owned coop?
    • Clayton met Ben and OSS conference a few years ago. They were looking for PMP UX help, Clayton fulfilled. Portion of paycheck goes towards co-op buy-in.
    • Currently ~4 worker-owners and 2 on track to buy in. Some have come in or out, including 2 founders. Set amount for each worker owner.
    • German Agaric separate entity now.
  • Has the business model changed? Why?
    • Now half business through Drupal. ⅓ referral, ⅓ new, ⅓ existing clients.
    • Last couple of years become known for coop org.
    • Maybe time to build a website building platform based on Drupal.
  • How do you sustain your revenue generation?
  • Did you hire lawyers to set up the coop or do it on your own?
    • Nope, low paperwork, “stole” template bylaws. Became a LLC and adopted co-worker bylaws about 4-5 years in, ~2011. Borrowed from Quilted — another bicoastal co-op.
  • How often do you have to interact with lawyers in conducting the business?
    • None.
  • How difficult is it to operate as a remote cooperative
    • Meet at Drupal conferences and camps.
    • Ad hoc team by timezone, not consciously organized that way.
    • 6-12 target team size, reduces coordination problems. Functional roles not locked to timezones.


Biggest challenges: horizontal takes getting used to after getting used to bosses. Accountability balance. Care about each other, need flexibility during personal issues. Ownership mentality is different from standard schooling. Working out appropriate shared responsibility, not stressing one too much.


Accountability in horizontal structure, no perfect bylaws for that, figuring how to step up, scaling responsibilities, whole category of things that don’t get systematized


Video here:




We can use this shared folder for important Co-op Class project notes and media, in addition to any Google Drive document sharing. It has a lot more capacity (a little over a terabyte left now) for media and read-only documents.






Interview with Jo Ana McNerthney, founder of Circle of Life Caregiver Cooperative

(By Judith Larson, Carmen Aparicio, Lucero Torres and Yadira Arévalo.)

Circle of Life is a caregiver Co-op that provides in-home care to seniors and disabled people in Whatcom County, Washington.  It was founded by Jo Ana McNerthney and a close group of friends in 2007.  The idea arose after Jo Ana’s father became gravely ill and had difficulties finding quality in-home care.  She had had some experience working with co-ops in the 70’s, and thought this could be a good opportunity to start a care giving enterprise using a co-op model, which in turn could offer a much needed service to the community.

She began by meeting with interested people, researching the industry and figuring out the nuts and bolts of creating a co-op in the State of Washington in early 2007.  According to Jo Ana this was the most difficult and challenging moment of a two year planning process as they had little knowledge of the industry and no money to start up.  Eventually, they received a $ 15,000 grant from the Cooperative Development Foundation and a $ 3,000 donation from a relative.  The money was restricted to start-up expenses but could not be used for salaries.  They decided to use this money to rent a small office space and to hire a consultant who provided a key service: writing up the articles of incorporation, the by-laws and the policies and procedures manual.  During this time they also got their license from Washington State’s Department of Health, recruited and conducted orientations with potential co-op members, trained them to get their individual homecare licenses and attended industry conferences.

After two years of meetings and hard work, Circle of Life was finally ready for business in 2009.  It began with 7 members, each making a $ 14.25 per hour –higher than the average per hour wage in that county at that time.  They were all supervised by a Caregiver Coordinator. The first year they got $ 40,000 in revenue, the second $ 75,000, the third $ 150,000, the fourth $ 350,000, the fifth $ 700,000 and the sixth $ 1,000,000.  This sixth year they made $ 100,000 in net revenue and distributed $ 90,000 in dividends among its members, which by this time had grown to 45 members.

Circle of Life has the following internal structure:  Co-op members are the highest decision making body then the Board of Directors, the Administrator, and the Office Staff.  Jo Ana worked as the Co-op’s Administrator until 2016 when she resigned to start a “slower pace” in her life.


“Ah-ha’s” from the conversation:  It was evident from our conversation with Jo Ana that to start a co-op you need at least one person who is truly committed and dedicated to take the project to fruition.  There is a lot of work to be done in the initial phase.

Three questions:

  1. Who can help us to do a feasibility study to see if our idea has any chance to be successful?
  2. Where are we going to get the money to start up?
  3. How are we going to keep potential members motivated since the process seems to be long and complex?                                                 09/10/18



Assignment 1

TEAM – LATCH Collective

Shaina, Teresa, Said, Cesar, and Paul:
September 10 2018

We Interviewed Micheal Snow from Northwest Construction. Our interview notes are recorded below. Here are some of our Aha moments from the interview, as well as some of our further questions about starting a co-op after reflecting on the interview.



“I found it interesting that they strive for consensus even though their bylaws allow for a super majority, but it makes sense to try to get to a place where everyone agrees (or can live with the decision) in such a small group. This relieves some of the anxiety I have about having perfect bylaws; we can be more broad with the policy and decide what is best to implement based on the situations we encounter.”   – Shaina


“I have my own company and would like to convert it to co-op, problem with my kind of company is ‘it can be run as a one man show’ and by hiring, a temp it can be organize without any major issue. While we were talking Michael mentioned member can bring a job and if co-op doesn’t want to do it, member can do it him or herself, so quickly came to my mind maybe this is the first step to the solution for my kind a business. I am in a position to talk to other contractor in my field of trade and offer them to do business as a co-op on the job that they need help, hopefully that will open the door to more cooperation in more jobs.” Said


“Micheal spoke on how it was more important that they have a cohesive organization than the perfect decision making process. This spoke to me on how all the business details of how the organization is important and can help a group succeed but does not make that group… really important to foster and maintain good connections” – Teresa


“Why not member in their co-op commit themselves to all the jobs that come to their enterprise, whoever has to do the job they will do that and they get paid and the surplus of each job regardless its done collectively or not goes to surplus pot, later after taking care of necessary budget and expenses, they can divide the surplus base on the number of hours each member has worked.” – Said


“The Northwest Construction Co-op had a Just Cause process to allow for correcting or removing a Worker-Owner-Member in the event that Member had committed actions requiring disciplinary action by the Co-op as a whole.   A full Co-op Member was fired by the Co-op as a whole, following a previously agreed-upon procedure; this process took six months from beginning to end. It’s important to have agreed-upon-in-advance procedures for dealing with possible disciplinary issues.” – Paul

One “aHa” moment for me was to find out that an effort of having a co-op (enterprise) in the construction field, had a big challenge on management with both: staff and clients.” – Cesar



  • Can you have part-time member owners? Are there labor laws prohibiting this or does it seem like an unfair amount of power for members who would work less?
  • What kinds of training (subject areas) does the Co-op need to create and carry out?
  • Who does the training: other Workers in the Cooperative or outside acknowledged “experts”?


Democratic economic power means decision-making in the economic sector is conducted by the majority of people involved; primarily the people doing the work or providing services. It differs from capitalism primarily because it removes the power dynamic between owners and workers by enabling the workers to become the owners. In Economic Democracy, Allan Engler describes the goal of economic democracy, “The working-class goal is to replace competitive minority entitlement with equal human entitlement, capitalist ownership with social ownership, and master-servant relations with workplace democracy” (46). It is important to understand that this structure does not remove competition from the economy between organizations, which is often touted as the greatest benefit of capitalism, but involves more people in decision-making, investment, and profitability of the economy than the minority-controlled structure of capitalist economies.


They run a Residential Remodelling Coop

Developing a passive house that will be modular home.

Starting 4 people and now employ 9 people

Two of the founders don’t work with them any more



  • Sales and production
  • Admin and financial
  • 3 carpenters
  • Painting –
  • Flooring *currently only


BOD roles

  • President / chair
  • VP
  • Secretary
  • Treasurer (underdeveloped role)


How do they calculate member value?


Michael – normally organizations choose a number for membership fee. They started out with $2500. In early days there was a lot of talk of “sweat equity”. Those in the beginning didn’t have to pay the $2500 because it was done through  sweat equity

  • Profits and losses are reflected in the internal capital account
    • ICA group has good stuff on explaining their internal capital account


Do any of your members do work outside of the cooperative?

  • They don’t have a strict policy on this. If there’s a job the coop doesn’t want it is ok for members to pick up those jobs on their own time
  • THey have two small divisions – painting and flooring. Also do framing. Their crew can do side jobs if the COop doesn’t want it. However, the co-op jobs have priority.


What’s the process for deciding what jobs what you’re taking

  • Sales and production manager decides. However there’s an informal democratic style for deciding. THey’ve just learned over time what works.


How is the manager chosen?

  • By the board
  • BOD is made up of coop members


How did the coop start?

  • They started because … of the first founders, 2 of them had worked at a coop at their college. Micheal had worked at a cafe. 2 of them had worked in construction. Michael joined to do the office side


How long have they been open?

  • January 2014 started. … running since june 2014.


How are they feeling about the results?

  • Industry has grown. 2016 had way too many employees so they shrunk down, restructured. Construction industry is booming but its difficult to always have that job.

Did the co-op grew or decline?

Michael said at one time it grow to 16 members and later they had to shrink them, due to lack of jobs.


What was your biggest challenge?  How did you solve it?

  • One person who started the business knew the trade but didn’t know project management … they didn’t know the business side of things…. They needed to know when to say NO. this is one of the most important things. They got educated and trained on management and governance.
  • Other challenge was funding..
    • They solved it for the time being was getting a no interest loan from the restaurant coop. Then they took out a 50k loan that exists in PNW for developing coops. This saved them! But they still need to manage cash…. This is an important skill. Still behind, trying to get out of the hole


Roles in businesses often rotate. In their business how does this work? Do they rotate in sectors?

  • From a business side, their structure looks like a regular residential remodel company. Most ppl are specialized in their role – it takes a long time to specialize.
  • Rotating roles doesn’t work very well for them.
  • THey hire ppl for their skills


Salary structure

  • Varies on position? Yes
  • Composition philosophy similar to most midsize companies. Pinned to a market rate and then theres a wage scale for each job position. Management decides everyone else’s pay except their own pay and BOD decides manager’s pay
  • Flat pay structure doesn’t allow them to get talent. build s resentment.



  • Unemployment is really low… it’s hard to hire skilled carpenters
  • They have to go out and look for ppl. It can take 6 months. THere’s a lot of talking, meeting..
  • As far as on boarding… 1 – 3 month evaluation
  • After 6 months eligible to become an owner
  • First Orientation is when they hired, then a performance appraisal, and then there’s an orientation of what it means to be an owner, and then when they are approved theres a 2 hour orientation
  • He finds that ppl who are slightly skeptical are almost better candidates. THey almost have to sell the worker owner that this is a good idea, that they should have some risk
  • 6 month time period weeds people out.


What happens when the owner wants to leave? Can he sell his share or what happens?

  • Fired , or they quit..
  • If the company has suffered losses the member could have nothing to gain or sell.
  • There’s a redemption process… they get paid back the $2500 investment in monthly installments  at the same rate that ppl invested it in. working to have an option to get the complete investment back all at once but at a rate of 60%
  • Need to have a good equity management plan so that contributions are bigger than payouts
  • THe one year that they made a large amount of surplus, they had losses before so they just kept the surplus to have it saved for  future loses. The policy is that BOD decides on yearly basis


How does their BOD work ?

His job as president and board chair are both educational as well as making decisions. Training goes on during board meetings. The board was very small and they’ve slowly brought people on. They’ve had luck with new ppl coming on so it’s been slow onboarding, ppl have time to learn


  • All worker owners serve on the board…
  • They created a policy for how things would work if they had a larger number of employees. Instead they want worker owners to serve on committees. Include them in the business but not as a BOD
  • Only director is elected. They do freeform nominations on the board. Discussion of why they want to nominate.tally of vote.


How is it for the ppl who are employees but not yet employee owners? Are their any issues?

  • Mostly they encourage ownership no matter what. Treat people like skilled trades ppl they are… and with respect
  • Part time workers aren’t eligible for worker-ownership but they are realizing this is creating tension and they are working at resolving this.


Are they going to be at the conference in LA?

  • Apprentice  and their mainlead carpenters Hanna (apprentice) and Adam



Washington state has option to be a coop. They are a c-corp plus RCW (can’t sell shares except back to the business, etc). They have to follow all employee owner relationships eve


What type of voting/decision-making structure do you use? Majority wins, 100% consensus, etc.?

  • 3 hour meeting slots monthly
  • Formal consensus process
    • Informal consensus for small items
  • Bylaws allow for super majority but they try to do consensus
  • It’s more important that they have a cohesive organization than the perfect decision making process. Nothing has been too contentious.
    • Parking, personal use of coop property are hot topic items.


Firing process

  • Just cause… grievances, performance appraisals, everyone is notified, management consults with board b4 firing


Is there an investor class of member-owners? Do they have different rights than worker member-owners?

  • No


Have you worked in construction outside of a coop, and if so, what are the main differences, based on your experience?

  • Some of their members yes. See above


Advisory board – do they have one?

haven’t done it yet. They are close to ppl on other coops and ask them questions as they come up. Thought advisory board is a good idea , though!

Google doc:




Elizabeth Medrano

Gabriela Garcia


Fall 2018

September 10, 2018

Libérate! Team Interview with-a-coop

The Caracol Interpreters Cooperative and Libérate! Gathered to exchange via ZOOM on a

beautiful afternoon in late August 2018.

The Caracol Interpreters Cooperative opens multilingual channels of communication to

ignite language justice in our community. We work to create a world where language is not a

barrier for exchange, but a helpful tool that can be used democratically to communicate,

learn and strategize together.

In participating in discussion some of the “ah-ha” moments for Libérate! were the following–

Their evolution, exploration and finding the need to create committees internally such as the

finances, quality control, membership, and communications. These were created in response

to experience and additional needed structures to work/run cooperative in a more effective

and beneficial manner for all.

Specific to finances, Caracol shared that they moved to hire outside support to ensure their

accounting was done as it not only took time, but they found the need of a person who solely

focused on this task.

The need for flexibility as work evolves and learn about human resources and also seek

outside legal support as cooperative grew. They suggested to begin engaging labor law

experts and become knowledgeable on these topics to avoid disputes related to

“employer-employee and employer-consultant” engagement.

Caracol learned that it is important to be strategic and engage with people who are skillful in

various ways and have clear and consistent communications in order to move work forward

and address potential disputes early on.

Questions Libérate! for starting a cooperative1.

How to build our multifaceted cooperative that can incorporate trainings,

apprenticeship programming, etc.?

2. What are the best structures to register under? a nonprofit or LLC or coop or

register as multi entities to run all that?

3. How do we become an employer cooperative so that we function as Libérate!?

Until we register as coop/LLC, etc.? Insurance, bonds, taxes, etc.

4. What are the internal structures we need to develop to ensure that all members

are earning equally and consistently?

More info on :

Website: www.facebook.com/CaracolInterpretersCooperative

Telephone: (347) 674-9487

Email: caracol.interpreters@gmail.com



Semillas Wellness

Edith Arias

Grizette Martinez

September 10, 2018

Interview with Aorta Cooperative

Semillas Wellness interviewed Marc Mascarenhas-Swan, member of Aorta- a worker cooperative that focused on strengthening movements for social justice and solidarity economy by engaging organization in educating, training and planning.  The conversation largely centered on understanding ways to develop a cooperative that is financially sustainable while maintaining its core values.


During the course of the interview, we experienced the following “ah-ha’s:”


  • Business status is important and intentional. Aorta explained they filed as a worker cooperative corporation with intention to create a lasting shift where larger structures (ie government institutions) seek out cooperatives for services. This would aid in reinforcing the economic sustainability of cooperatives.
  • You can charge for services and still serve the community. Marc described ways to have public offerings and workshops for community members while also having fee-based services. Fees for services may be established based on a “solidarity scale,” the amount the individual/organization is capable of paying, whether the service will be facilitated by staff or someone collaborating with the cooperative, and cost factors of the service.
  • In order to sustain a cooperative, it’s important to consider and maintain a sense of collective care for all members. Examples of collective care include regular check-ins with members, providing benefits, and observing individual limits/boundaries.
  • It is important to stay close to the heart of what we do but do not limit ourselves for opportunities and possibilities.


Questions that arose from the interview include the following:


  • From other cooperative, I have heard that being a Worker Cooperative Corporation is not one of the first options. What would be the pros or cons for this business model?
  • Is there an overall standard format for a cooperative model like there are for the traditional business models?
  • What are ways to promote a cooperative business when community members may not be familiar with a co-op model? How do we describe a cooperative in a way that is more digestible to the communities we serve?



Interview Subject: Adrionna Fike, Mandela Grocery Coop
Ah-ha Moments during the interview


●      Coop does not have to be a non-profit but it was necessary to participate in Fresh Creds program.

●      In order to be a cooperative, 51% of the workers need to be worker-owners so it’s okay to hire employees who do not become worker-owners as long as that proportion is kept.

●      Adopt policies that face both inward and outward–the same values and attitudes that are instilled by work-owners for themselves need to also be reflected outward to how customers and vendors are treated.

●      Have a clear hiring process. When Mandela initially started, the people they hired were from the community but didn’t have the skill-sets to be cooperative. They initially had worker-owners who did not know how to make decisions beyond themselves and were very disagreeable. They now have worker-owners who are in general agreement about why the coop exists and share a vision for the community, which prevents major disagreements. Being cooperative is a great path for the development of self as human beings and that capacity needed to be pre-identified in order to bring the right team together. They are now hiring more based on the skills necessary for the store. The experience of running a cooperative helps you learn a lot about the human potential for compassion and love and being of service in a real way while making money.

●      Communicating compassionately is key because so many things can go wrong with food, people, and different backgrounds or experiences because people are hungry, people have different personalities and come from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

●      Managing the store well is key:  Mandela hired a General Manager to take on the operations of the store overall, which helped improve efficiency tremendously. They also hired a consultant early on that helped turn the coop around who is not a worker-owner and made an active decision not to because she is not from or of the community and recognized how she wanted to support their work. Changes in hiring as well as having the GM have led to last month, which was Mandela’s highest grossing month in history.

●      Location of the business is one of the keys to their success which has led to vendor interest in their store as somewhere they want their items placed. They are located across from the West Oakland BART station, which is a high traffic stop. The next stop is SF and it is the first stop going into Oakland so lots of commuters park near them to take BART in. Megabus stops right across from the store and go to LA every day, 5 buses across the street daily. Their location is prime.

●      Self motivation is key to success: Because Adrionna self-describes as a foodie and has a strong interest in food items, she did market-research by shopping at different stores, would like their products, and directly call the brands for the distributors. Cold-calling companies worked for Mandela.

●      Managing food waste can create surplus value and eliminate food waste. Mandela found out from a different SF grocery store that the store makes most of their money off the commercial shrink and sells as an added value product. A commercial kitchen is key if you have the means and space. Items on the verge of expiring can be donated to a local charity that serves meals daily for homeless. Find ways for all things to go back to the community in some form or shape.


●      Marketing is key. When they conducted a survey just last month, they found out that people assumed they were a health food store and didn’t realize they were a coop structure or African American owned. Many didn’t know that Mandela has a program called Fresh Creds, incentivizing eating foods that don’t have sugars or salt in them by discounting those items at 50% off. They also accept EBT.


●      The relationship with the 501c3 didn’t work because they were never cooperative-centric. To the c3, the grocery coop was a food justice project they saw as just one of their many projects and they ended up butting heads on fundamental aspects of the partnership. When they mutually explored expansion to a larger physical space, they realized during the negotiation process and financing that their visions were not aligned for the future. Mandela wanted to see things operationalized throughout the partnership in terms of the way they work with partners, vendors and everyone. The c3 did not incubate the store well and had wasted money and resources because the c3 did not have industry experience skills or know-how. The c3 didn’t know  merchandise products well, deal with vendors, get fair pricing, deal with items that needed to be returned or get money back for over-ordering.


3 Questions resulting from the interview


●      How are labor responsibilities divided amongst the worker-owners?

●      What are the day-to-day operations of a grocery?

●      How does pricing food items work? What are the pros of membership pricing? Is tiered pricing legal?

●      How long will it take to be sustainable?

●      What is the average earning of the worker-owner?

●      How do you deal with removing owners who don’t fit into the vision anymore?