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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Owning Together: Worker-Consumer Co-ops in Conversation

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GEO Original
May 8, 2023
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“Multi-stakeholder” co-ops have become popular in recent years, but what does it really mean to bring different groups together for common ownership and governance? How can joint ownership best be structured up front and modified as the co-op develops? How are financial equity, decision making, and contributions of labor effectively handled? What about the status of different “classes” of members? What are the implications for cooperative power in local communities, and in the movement?

This timely discussion delves into these and other issues—bringing terminology about structures and processes down to earth by probing real cases and their implications. Learn more about multistakeholder structures and dynamics that could be applied in your own work.The roundtable and open discussion included experts in multi-stakeholder co-ops, and members of worker-consumer co-ops in several parts of the US.


Margaret Lund, Co-op consultant, Co-opera Co., Minneapolis, MN (moderator)

Fred Freundlich, Professor, Business, Mondragon University, Basque Country, Spain

Madeleine Bodden, Business Manager, Black Star Co-op, Austin, TX

James Watts, Head Merchandiser, Jon McDonald, Bread Bakery Manager, and Allanah Hines, Chair of Board of Directors, Weaver Street Market, Carrboro, NC

Elizabeth Jesdale, United Electric, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), Montpelier, VT


00:00 Intro
04:07 Panelist Introductions
11:20 How does this even work?
30:44 Details about worker board members
35:04 What modifications has your co-op made over time? What difference has your structure made?
49:02 How can the broader co-op movement support multi-stakeholder co-ops?
1:04:44 Are workers compensated for board time? How does patronage get divided between consumer- and worker-members?
1:12:53 Who gets to vote for worker board members?
1:14:18 How did you decide board representation percentages?
1:18:02 How have you included minoritized voices?
1:28:34 Outro



Ajowa Ifateyo: Greetings, everyone. Welcome to Grassroots Economic Organizing's discussion on Owning Together. My name is Ajowa Ifateyo, and I'm a GEO co-editor. GEO, as our group is known, is a volunteer collective with the mission to catalyze cooperatives and other solidarity economic projects. This discussion on Owning Together is part of that mission.

And I want to just give you a little background, that this discussion came about after we showed the film, FOOD CO-OP, about the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn, back in November. So we had a lot of questions about how was it possible to organize such a co-op. At that co-op the workers are required to- in order to shop, you have to work there. And so there's a lot to learn about how these organizations are done. We wanted to give a special thanks to all of our panelists for sharing their experiences with us. And we are very happy that you have come together to hear about how workers and owners and consumers can do what is being done.

George Cheney: All right. Thanks, Ajowa. This is a very timely topic as you already mentioned, and we do have some resources. We had earlier indicated that they would be sent in advance, but a couple of them are academic papers by our moderator and a panelist- by Margaret Lund and a colleague, and by Fred Freundlich and his colleagues. So if you're interested in receiving those papers, we can send them to you individually and simply indicate in the chat your name, email and "yes, resources" and you shall receive.

So I'm very happy to introduce our moderator, Margaret Lund, who will then lead the discussion for the panel, facilitate the discussion. Margaret is an independent consultant specializing in the areas of community development, finance, and shared ownership strategies throughout her 30 year career. She's worked with enterprises in every major cooperative sector, including credit unions, consumer co-ops, housing, worker co-ops, health care, ag, and small business. Prior to launching her consulting practice in 2008, Ms. Lund spent six years as a small business lender to co-ops. She's a past member of the board of the U.S. National Cooperative Business Association, where she chaired both the Cooperative Development and International Development Committees, as well as the National Task Force on Cooperative Capital Formation. She also served three terms on the Board of Health Partners, the largest consumer governed health care organization in the United States, and a leader in health care quality measures. Currently, she's one of the trustees overseeing the Co-operative Charitable Trust, a catalyst for research and innovation, and in worker ownership. Margaret is the author of numerous practical publications, including Solidarity as a Business Model, a Multi-Stakeholder Model, and a recent paper with colleague Sonia Novakovic. So, Margaret, thank you very much and welcome.

Margaret Lund: There you go. Okay, thank you. All right, so our structure today, we're going to move along. We've got kind of four questions, or groups of questions, for the panelists to address. And then we're going to have time for questions at the end. And you can put them in the chat and people will be monitoring, and we'll try to get to as many as we can.

So the first question panelist, which is pretty easy, just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about about the co-op you come from, and something you like about your co-op. I'm always really interested in asking people what they're proud of about their work, what they're proud of about their co-op. So tell us a little bit about you and your multi-stakeholder co-op.

And I'm wondering how we should go in order. We should probably keep going in the same order all the time. But let's start with Weaver Street. So Jon and James, maybe you guys start.

Jon McDonald: Sure. My name is Jon McDonald and I manage the bread bakery at Weaver Street. I've been at Weaver Street for 15 years. I'm most proud of our bread, that's the easy one. And I served on our board of directors for eight years - rolled off around three years ago. And we have three Weaver Streeters here, so I'll be quiet so you can introduce everybody.

James Watts: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm James Watts, the merchandizing manager at Weaver Street Market. I've worked here since 1992, so almost 31 years. And I guess what I'm proudest of are the things that we do that build cooperative commerce both locally but also internationally. And so we were a big part of getting La Riojana Co-op products into the United States in a meaningful way, and that's been incredibly impactful for both them and for us. And so, I guess as a merchandizer, seeing products on the floor from other co-ops is the thing that excites me. So that one's really stellar for us.

George Cheney: Allanah.

Allanah Hines: I am Allanah Hines. I've been with Weaver Street for 15 years. I am the manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and I also am the board chair. So right as Jon rolled off, I rolled on. I'm currently in my third year. And I am most excited genuinely about the work that I do with Weaver Street Market, working to essentially to reframe the box that Weaver Street has put itself in with the community, and really redefining the words that we use when we say "community," and looking just to help local entrepreneurs, and to rebuild the local economy. It's my favorite.

Margaret Lund: Great, thank you. I'm sorry I missed you in the introduction. Okay, Madeline from Black Star - we'll just stretch all the way to Texas - so tell us about your co op and what you're proud of, what you like about it.

Madeleine Bodden: My name is Madeleine. I am the business manager at Black Star Co-op. It is the world's first cooperatively owned brewery and we are also democratically self-managed. We were founded in 2006 in Austin, Texas, and have had our doors open since 2010. I joined the staff in 2021 and what I am most proud of my co-op is we were Brewery of the Year in the state of Texas last year.

Margaret Lund: Oh, that's great. So we're going to stretch all the way to- Fred, are you actually in the U.S.? Are you in Spain?- well metaphorically, if not actually, stretch to Spain. So Fred's from Mondragon University, and I think we all are familiar to some degree with the Mondragon co-ops, but tell us a little bit about them, and what you do there, and what you're proud of about your work and your organization.

Fred Freundlich: Hi, everyone. Welcome, I'm Fred. I'm an American, transplanted at Mondragon in 1995. I work half at the Business School of Mondragon University and half at the School Humanities Institute for Cooperative Research. Both of those faculties are multi-stakeholder co-ops. I think I'm most proud of our work in helping cooperativize the core economy. A lot of co-ops are in the "new economy," and in sometimes marginal activities. And I think it's extremely important for our movement, for working people generally, that co-ops also be in the core economy building stuff. Thanks.

Margaret Lund: Oh, okay. And then Elizabeth Jesdale, is that correct? So Elizabeth is going to tell us a little bit about both about her co-op and her work at Hunger Mountain.

Elizabeth Jesdale: Hi, my name is Elizabeth Jesdale. I've worked at the large food co-op in Montpelier, Vermont for 23 years. And in 2003, I was part of bringing a union into the co-op. I was promptly demoted from management, threatened to be fired. But I toughed it out and I'm still there. I'm now a member of the union.

And we are not multi-stakeholder in the way that these other co-ops are, that are here on this call, but being that we're a consumer co-op and there's a union within that organization - and our union is rank-and-file democratically run - we also have a voice and we have a legal contract with the employer. So it's different, but we also have a voice. And sometimes we are able to sway policy if we're organized enough to do so. Proudest thing, I would say- I'll just go with my union just to give something a little different. Our opening preamble, that was written in 1936, states that our union is open to all people, regardless of gender, what kind of work they do, all the categories. And that was written in 1936. And it still stands today and it's awesome. Thank you.

Margaret Lund: Cool. Thank you for sharing that. Great. Okay, So now we're going to get into the nitty gritty. And I've been writing about multi-stakeholder co-ops for- I don't know, whenever I wrote them- like 15 years. And what I think people- they always give me this glazed look, and they're like, "Well, how does that even work?" So our first - or I guess our second question - is how does that even work? So briefly, for each of these these co-ops organizations, outline the structure of both the ownership and the governance, so the joint ownership and the joint governance, and how those both work. And then, like our crib notes say, the challenges that come from that. And so maybe you could just say, if you've had particular challenges in the U.S. from- you know, are there legal or financing, or is there something that have impeded it?

Although I've got to say, because Fred's I'm here, I'm not sure in Mondragon you have legal or financial legal challenges to do multi-stakeholder co-ops. So maybe you can take the other thing about how does the policy context broadly support what you're doing? Because that's a question too. So I think you can talk about both challenges that you've had in implementing, but also flip it to the positive about what advantages or whatever good things have kind of come from this structure, as well as challenges in trying to implement it.

But anyway, just how does it actually work? You know, like problems, good things, bad things you've run into that have to do with that structure. That would be really helpful. So let's start with Weaver Street again. Alannah and Jon and James, however you want to work it out.

Allanah Hines: Okay, I'll actually take that. So I often get questions about multi-stakeholder, how it works. A little about Weaver Street: so we are 35 years old, we have adopted policy governance, and as we've said, we are multi-stakeholder. To date, we have 171 worker-owners. We have roughly about 300 workers overall. And then we've got a little over 26,000 consumer-owners. So amongst all constituents- we aren't the type of co-op where you have to work there or you have to do something- you don't have to be an owner in order to shop at Weaver Street Market.

So we do have four stores. We also have a food warehouse where Jon is. The difference with us, and the question that I oftentimes get is, "is there a conflict of interest?" There is not a conflict of interest. In my 15 years, I haven't seen it. Jon or James may be able to tell of other times- I'm sure that there have been times where you kind of have to question. But essentially you're hiring people - you're putting people on the board - based on integrity, based on character. So you're putting people- you're appointing people to the board for that reason.

Our board consists of seven individuals, the GM, two worker-owners that are elected, to consumer-owners that are elected, and then two appointed members. So you do have that representation on the board, which is why I love being on the board, because you do have that representation. You do know that out of the workers there is not some separate entity making all these decisions that don't know anything about operations. So throughout the business there is a separation between operations and between the board.

I would say one opportunity that we always face - especially with turnover in operations, things like that - is really educating the workers on the board what the board does, the function of the board - really the importance of ownership in general. Once you are an owner, then you do get to vote for the board, and so understanding exactly what that means, because it's not often found, especially with businesses. You shop there and you don't own the business that you're a part of, or the business that you work for. So I would say that's the biggest opportunity - challenge, I guess, but I think it's more an opportunity really to just figure out that sweet spot between how do you educate your worker population, and then also how do you really utilize and leverage the power of your board in being able to have that strong conversation with your workers, so that you're not getting into the kind of the nitty gritty, but you're actually looking at the visioning and the governing and the different responsibilities of the board.

Margaret Lund: Great. And do you find any challenges - I don't know, legally in your state, or your bank saying "that sounds weird," or anything like that?

Allanah Hines: Well, I'll say in my three years - since Weaver street has been around for quite a while - I haven't found any. Just because with our audits, with our banking structures and things like that, they're well versed in what we're doing and how we're doing it. So being able to separate the financials of operations, being audited by the board, things like that. The board does speak to the auditor at the end of each audit to ask questions; it does show up in our financial reports. So it is something that we are monitoring.

When the GM- he essentially reports to the board. So we monitor his statements. He gives different reports on operations, the health and the wealth of operations in general, so that when we are looking ahead, we are able to say- With our appointed members, with our consumer-owners, and then also with the knowledge of our worker-owners, if there is a question, then we essentially- we have lawyers that we can say, "maybe this is something that we should ask the lawyers." So we do have that on our side as well, so that we're not kind of going rogue and saying "We think that this is going to happen. We hope that nobody audits us when we turn in our tax returns." We see to it that we have those people on our side that can monitor and to watch.

And they know that we are a co-operative. They know our business structure. They know- especially when we do go into things, like we do distribute a dividend in profitable years. So going through that financial structure and saying, "this is compliant with where you are, and this is actually a good move," that conversation is had not just with the GM and the finance department and operations, but it is also had with the entire board.

Margaret Lund: Okay, great. Thanks. Any of the other two from Weaver Street, do you want to add anything? structure...okay, cool. Thank you, Allanah. Okay, so Madeline at Black Star, how does joint ownership and governance work at your co-op?

Elizabeth Jesdale: So Black Star is a consumer-owned co-op and our workers can become member-owners. We are owned by roughly 4,000 consumer owners and they elect a board of nine people. We have the ability to have up to three workers on that board. However, currently we have no workers presiding over that board. The workers' assembly is made up of roughly 70 people right now, and about five of us are member-owners and therefore vote in board elections, any changes to the bylaws. But as well as we make up the voting body within the workers assembly, and we make all major decisions for the co-operative.

I always describe the relationship between the board and the workers, as the workers are responsible for the operational day-to-day and the board is responsible for the longevity. So they just make sure that the decisions that we're making aren't going to shut us down. And yeah, some of the difficulties that come with that is we are a restaurant brewery, and the restaurant industry faces a lot of turnover and a lot of difficulties so we don't have a lot of long term employees. So therefore they're not really familiar with how the democratic structure works, what does it even mean to be in a co-op, and just historical knowledge that's needed to run the co-op. The longest employee that we have right now is about two and a half years and we've been open for almost 13.

Some other really difficult things that we've faced are the pandemic was really unkind to most businesses, especially restaurants. And so a lot of the reason why we're even open is because of federal relief funding that we were able to receive, like the Payroll Protection Plan, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, and the Employee Retention Credit. And to get into the legalities of that, it's extremely hard to file for federal funding when you don't have a sole owner who can file for that. They typically want to know about 51% of your ownership, and they want to know everything about that person. And that would be roughly 2,000 people for us.

It's also very difficult- we are in the state of Texas, and I don't know if anybody else is from Texas, but the TABC laws - which is our beverage commission for alcoholic beverage - it's also very difficult to distribute beer and to maintain a liquor license when you can't report on 51% of your ownership structure. So we have to jump all of these hurdles in order to maintain our liquor license and maintain that we are able to serve alcoholic beverages.

The other difficult thing about our cooperative, I would say, is that 4,000 people make up our owners and they're very excited about Black Star. They're very excited that we have award winning beer, that our staff is treated fairly and that you can get good food there. But not a lot of them know what it is to be a member of a co-op, so a lot of them just joined because they're like, "Oh, I get cheaper beer if I'm a member." So when we do have elections for the bylaws, when we do release our annual report, when we do have elections for the board of directors, it can kind of get selected by people who don't really know what's going on, and don't really know why they're making the choices that they need to be making. And that has a lot of effect on the workers.

Margaret Lund: Hmm. And just to clarify, it sounds like a lot of the problems you had were just with the co-op structure in general, vis-à-vis the programs. So it wasn't the fact that you had a worker council running it, it was the fact that you just had a whole bunch of owners. Is that right?

Madeleine Bodden: Yes. It's very hard to apply for federal funding and get that whenever you don't have one owner, or just a small group of owners. Especially because our board is reelected every three years. So we found a loophole where our board president could be listed as our owner and she could sign all of the documents. But now that it's time to actually report on all the government funding that we received, we have a different board president, and trying to work with the Small Business Association and trying to get relief on all of those things, they're like, "Well, why are you changing owners? Why can't she just be the person assigned again?"

Margaret Lund: Yeah, so-

Madeleine Bodden: They're not the president anymore, so-

Margaret Lund: That's a problem a lot of co-ops have run into in other states.

Madeleine Bodden: Yes.

Margaret Lund: And maybe just to follow up- I'm just doing my own questions. So it sounds like there have been workers that were elected to the board in the past; do you know why there there aren't any right now? I mean, is this current crew just new and they're not interested? Do you have a thought on that question?

Madeleine Bodden: I think the workforce has changed a lot, and while a lot of people are really interested in getting more involved in their workplace, and seeing change that they want to enact, a lot of people also just want to come to work and collect a paycheck, just want to do the best job that they can and not get more involved than they need to be. So we are seeing that shift, as well as you do have to pay to become a member-owner, just like anybody else. And that is a barrier for employees. Like, "do I really want to invest in my restaurant or do I just want to go there and collect a paycheck?" And you do have to be a member-owner to run for the board as well.

Margaret Lund: Okay, alright. Thank you. So, Fred, can you talk a" and, you know,bout at Mondragon, what exactly- The university is multi-stakeholder, and I know Eroski is multi-stakeholder, and there's other multi-stakeholder co-ops in the Mondragon group. So how does joint ownership and governance work for these kinds of co-ops? And are there challenges that you face because of it? Or is it because you live and work a co-op heaven you don't have any challenges at all? {indecipherable}

Fred Freundlich: Right? This is workers' paradise, we have no challenges or problems.

Margaret Lund: Exactly. That's what we all want. Yeah.

Fred Freundlich: [Laughing] No, I mean, the fact that for all of the good circumstances that led to Mondragon's development- they came upon the idea of creating multi-stakeholder co-ops jointly very early on. It was still the Franco regime, the dictatorship, and by the time democracy was reinstalled in Spain in the mid-seventies there was a large cooperative group with lots of multi-stakeholder co-ops. And so because of Mondragon's presence, influence, communication, co-op legislation pretty easily began to reflect that, so there was no problem - legally, legislatively - to create a multi-stakeholder co-op with whatever kind of member you might be interested in including.

And then government bodies began to provide funding mechanisms specifically for multi-stakeholder co-ops, which has been very helpful for different co-ops over the years. There are lots of challenges, though. All of the challenges that all multi-stakeholder co-ops have with respect - or all co-ops have - with respect to ensuring different voices are well-represented, ensuring that their voices are real and ensuring that their voices are really heard - especially as co-ops get larger, of course. Ensuring that the board has enough technical expertise to really be able to monitor and contribute to strategy, and to monitor management and progress in the company, and to contribute to developing strategy and policy with management, and with as large a number of worker and other members as possible.

There's also the issue of 'can it get too big?' Some of you may know that two big co-ops - co-op groups - partially, significantly, left the Mondragon structure in December. And there's lots of debate about why, and lots of different points of view. But it certainly seems to raise the question whether a multi-stakeholder co-op that involves co-ops as members can get too big. And even though its governance bodies are representative governance bodies, ultimately representative bodies becomes small. And can this lead to the perception, if not the reality - who knows? - of those governance bodies favoring certain sectors or certain geographic areas over others, and/or diminishing the autonomy of those sectors or or areas. So it's led to a big debate about that, and that's another another one of the challenges. People at Mondragon always recommend to other co-ops to create a multi-stakeholder co-ops that involve co-ops working together - cooperation among co-ops - but it does lead to these challenges.

Margaret Lund: Okay. Alright, thank you. And then, Elizabeth, could you contribute to this in terms of at least how - if not ownership, but maybe governance or joint influence, or something - works? Or what challenges have you come up with - legal challenges or financial challenges - that arise from trying to involve multiple stakeholders in your organization in some way?

Elizabeth Jesdale: Thank you. That's a really- this is so fascinating. So, the the co-op has a traditional board structure, and there are three seats that can be filled by workers, employees, and no one ever runs. And I'm not sure why that is. I think a lot of it is we're workers, and a lot of people are paycheck-to-paycheck, and we're tired and we do enough at work as it is. And folks are, especially after these last three years, pretty burned out. And interestingly, we have a staff rep who sits on the council, who is a bargaining unit member, a member of the union. But they're a non-voting member of the council, and they can't sit in on executive session. And that's another key point. If I, as an employee were to go and run for the council and get on the council, I would be excluded from executive session.

So there's there's a lack of transparency there. And I can understand why in some cases, but there's big decisions being made in those executive sessions. I could say that I believe that our counsel tends to hold things in executive session that it doesn't necessarily need to. And I just want to add in here that I am a unionized worker. We are one of the only locals in the United States, if not the only, that has a free speech clause in our union contract. I want to clarify that I am not representing my employer in this conversation and I am saying those things so that I don't get disciplined or fired.

So, yes, are there legal conflicts? Absolutely. And between the union and the co-op, it's different than a regular employment situation. If somebody has a grievance against the co-op, there's a process for that and it ends in an arbitration, and an arbitrator comes in and listens to both sides and makes a decision. And then all sides have to live with that going forward, whether we like it or not. And of course, if we don't win, we don't like it. There's probably a lot more that I could say, but in the interest of time, I'll pass for now. Thank you.

Margaret Lund: Hey, so that was an interesting point. Just to circle back to some of to where we started, Allanah and Fred, where you actually do have workers on the board, is there there anything that worker board members- I mean, can they sit in executive session? Are there anything that they're not allowed to do because they're workers as well as board members? Allanah and then Fred, could you comment on that?

Allanah Hines: Yes. So our worker-owners do sit in on executive session. Essentially, they are full board members all around. If there is an issue that seems like it may be compromising one way or another, we have the open conversation of whether we would recuse ourselves, or whether other board members feel like it would not be appropriate. But overall, yes, board members are there for everything. Speaking as the board chair, I help to design the agenda for each meeting: so, designing the business meeting, the executive sessions, everything like that, that's the full responsibility of a worker-owner on the board.

Margaret Lund: Okay. And then Fred, in the Mondragon Co-ops, in the ones that are multi-stakeholder, are there any difference between the workers that sit on that board or other end-consumers that sit on the board?

Fred Freundlich: No, no differences there. They take part in every decision, and have a right to all information, etc.. Non-worker-members in several multi-stakeholder co-ops- boards in some multi-stakeholder co-ops have created a sub-board that's just to deal with worker-member issues, and this is always voted on by the full board. And the full board negotiates what kinds of decisions the worker sub-board might make, and which ones they'd have to be informed about, which ones they need to participate in, that kind of thing. In multi-stakeholder co-ops, in some kinds of decisions, non-working members don't participate.

Margaret Lund: Okay. George, Did you wanna-?

George Cheney: Yeah, thank you. Just for a sec, I just want to mention to the panelists - not that we want to distract you from this wonderful conversation - but if you can glance at the Q&A occasionally, there are some very specific questions in there about specific co-ops, and I think those could be answered quickly in the chat. And then we'll hold the broader questions till later for discussion.

Margaret Lund: Okay. I'll try to pay attention too, because one that just came through, which I thought was really interesting. Those of you that there are workers on the board, are they management? Are they any workers? Is there a restriction? Can certain managers- can managers not, or can managers only, or whatever? Is there anything that has to do with somebody's job that also impacts their board membership?

Madeleine Bodden: I can answer that question for Black Star. At Black Star we don't have a GM, as of right now. We have what is called the board-staff liaison that sits at the head of our team manager council. I am the board-staff liaison, and I am not allowed to sit on the board. And I'm the only worker that is restricted from sitting on the board.

Margaret Lund: Okay.

Allanah Hines: For Weaver Street, all workers, as long as you're a worker-owner. But once you are a worker-owner, everybody can sit on the board. It does not matter your position in operations.

Margaret Lund: Okay.

Jon McDonald: I just want to add one quick thing about Weaver Street that I think is important, and it'll be quick. The workers on the board don't represent the workers in a direct sense, and it's something that is sometimes really unique- a little bit unique. Everyone on the board represents the entire co-op, and we're a consensus board. And so that's really the only way that that works. I just wanted to get that out there.

Margaret Lund: Yeah, so you're not a direct representative, but your experience is beneficial. Okay. All right, good. So I'm going to move on to the third question, which has to do with development and modification. And even if you guys who have experience in this could just think about if you are starting a new one, because that comes up a lot. People have been asking you this a lot, like, "how should we do this when we start a new one?" So one question is if there have been modifications over the years? Like you started out one way, and you've changed the way you do something over time for some reason - if you could talk about that - made modifications in the structure over time. And then also sort of related, if you could think of - those of you who have either been on boards, or have been in board meetings - can you think of instances where you think the board made a really different decision because of having workers on the board or represented in some way? Did it make a difference?

Because that's one of the things. People are like, "well, it's a lot of trouble, right?" Does it make a difference to the organization, to the board? And so, if you have any examples of where it's made a difference. So both the structure - have you changed structure, or your thoughts about how your co-op is structured that's good or bad, or that you've changed in it - and what difference does it make? So that's the thing. So Weaver Street, which one of you is going to-? Thanks. Okay, please.

James Watts: I was on the board in the mid-nineties, so we were a pretty young organization and it was a little bit of the Wild West. Quite honestly, consumer-owners and worker-owners didn't understand that we represented the entirety of the ownership. We didn't understand all of the nuances between what is governance and what is management. And as a result, there was strife often. And I think that our work was to actually discern, "how do we move forward in a way that is actually going to make this better?" We did have consumer-owners who were trying to engineer the worker-owners off of the board, and out of the ownership of the co-op. So, you know, there was there was stuff, there were politics.

I think the big breakthrough for us was when we adopted a Policy Governance model, partly because it established a clear roadmap for what was governance and what was operations, and how do you keep the board members in their lane, and how do you keep the employees and management in its lane? And what do those lanes look like? So back in the mid-nineties, and into the late nineties, we spent a ton of time doing that. And we started with somebody else's sample policy manual and literally went through policies for meeting after meeting after meeting where we said, "Does this solve the problems that we're having? Does this meet our needs? What do we need to do in order to make this a policy that will be useful to the ownership of Weaver Street Market?" And over time it got easier, as those things got resolved.

And by the time Jon came on to the board, a couple three years after I'd left, things were beginning to move in the right direction. We were beginning to really gain some traction from that clarity of expectation about who who had which role, and for what reasons. So I think that that was big for us. I mean, quite honestly, I think that it's been freeing for the various stakeholder groups in the co-op to understand, "How do we go forward? What are we doing to make our decisions? And how are we making sure that as a result, that our decisions create the outcomes that we're trying to make in the world around us?"

I won't say that it solves every problem, and certainly I recognize that our structure isn't always in practice perfect, and doesn't always feel exactly like what people want it to feel like. There is a component of the worker-owners that think that the worker-owner representatives should be more responsive to the needs of individual worker-owners, or the worker-owners as a group, as opposed to the needs of the ownership more broadly. And similarly, the consumer-owners occasionally, especially if they are very well versed in co-ops, might have a similar wish from a different perspective. So we still see that that's out there, but this serves us pretty well.

Margaret Lund: Okay, thank you. So, Madeleine, could you talk about Black Star and this question. Have you made some changes, and what difference do you think your structure makes in your organization?

Madeleine Bodden: As well as being a cooperative, Black Star is also a democratic workplace. And when Black Star started in 2006, we didn't have a GM - we still don't for all intents and purposes. When it comes to signing documents, and the person who has to lay down the law sometimes, that's me. As I make my exit from Black Star this month, the board has now said that we are going to have a GM. So the workers Assembly is now tasked with either promoting from within or hiring an external GM. I think a lot of the reason this has been a long conversation - since before I even started at Black Star - about the potential of having a GM, versus just having 4 team managers kind of guide the ship together. But the board has decided that without a GM we can't accomplish accountability, profitability, and growth because we don't have a central person, and we don't have somebody who the board can directly hold accountable for lack of compliance with our governance. So that is a really big change to Black Star's structure. For the past 13 years we have operated without a GM and it will be very interesting to see how they operate with the GM after I leave.

Margaret Lund: Okay. Well Fred, would you like to address that question: if there have been changes in the way that multi-stakeholder-ism is practiced in your co-ops, and what difference does it make in the decision? I mean, does it even make a difference to have different people at the table?

Fred Freundlich: It's all over the map, as you might imagine. There are over 20 multi-stakeholder co-ops in the Mondragon Group. {indecipherable} of places where workers are essentially silent, and it would take serious research to figure out what influence they have had there.

Others where they have significant influence. Thinking of my own co-op, where I have witnessed, experienced. In my own co-op, in the business school in the University, there are three constituencies. There are workers - workers have a third of the seats in the GA and the board - students have a third of the seats, and collaborating co-ops have a third of the seats. Mondragon has been worried about creating new co-ops and coopreneurship for decades, and back - I don't know 12-15 years ago - we decided to create a teampreneurship degree program for undergrads. And the worker influence on the board in the creation of that degree program was such that we decided to use a radical teaching-and-learning model that's very dramatically experienced-based, learning by doing - maybe too much, but in any case, that's another debate - as opposed to a more- we certainly had planned to be somewhat more participatory, or somewhat more engaged, but it was viewed in somewhat traditional terms at first. Workers on the board said, "No, no. If this is going to be a serious teampreneurship, then we have to have a totally different teaching and learning approach. And it's a very different teaching-learning approach 15 years later.

Margaret Lund: Interesting. So it made an enormous amount of difference.

Fred Freundlich: Oh, huge. Absolutely huge in my case, yeah.

Margaret Lund: Interesting. Okay, thank you. Elizabeth, would you like to weigh-in on this question about structure, and then what difference does a structure make, or doesn't it?

Elizabeth Jesdale: Well, obviously having a union or workplace has a huge difference. Most of it, in my opinion, is good. Before we unionized, the starting wage was $0.50 above minimum wage, and then not too long ago we were $3 above minimum wage, and that never ever, ever, ever would have happened without a union. Not even close. Now it's less than $3 because minimum wage has gone up and our wages have not grown at the same rate that they used to. So just right there is a huge difference.

Our health care - the spark that led to unionizing was that our health care was basically going to be taken away from everybody that wasn't a manager. And we still don't pay a premium for healthcare 20 years later. Although, unfortunately, we had to sell ourselves out and that will be changing in the next couple of years, much to my great dismay.

You know, it's an interesting question of participation because I'm thinking, you know, I apologize - I'm eating my lunch during this, and I'm rushing around, and my camera's wobbling and, you know, I'm doing this off the clock. I had to punch out to come do this, and I had to have this big dramatic conversation- not dramatic, but it's, "Well, are you representing Hunger Mountain?" You know, all this kind of stuff.

And then so it's just like how do we, as workers, get to participate when we're rushing, when we're not getting compensated for our voice being part of the discussion? And when in fact, most people can get fired or written up for not staying in their lane. And so I'm so interested in what the other panelists are saying. And of course, we've had many conversations at Hunger Mountain about how could we be a worker- how could we be multi-stakeholder? And I don't have the answer, but without being here, we're missing out on a huge part of the conversation.

And I don't know that I'm directly answering the question, but this is sort of what I'm thinking about. And I appreciate it, I appreciate being able to be here, but I'm off the clock, and I'm not going to say that I'm resentful about that, but it kind of stinks. I'm using my valuable vacation time to be here.

And I don't need to- thank you for the thanks, but you know- it's important to me. It's important to me that workers are equally at the table with everybody else. And so I appreciate being here, and I also am like, how can we- where's the equity? Where's the equality? And that's a whole other discussion. Thank you.

Margaret Lund: Yeah, thank you. Okay, so the fourth - and we have a ton of great questions my {indecipherable} should answer, so we're going to get to as many of those as we can - but the fourth question has to do with this idea of ecosystems and co-op support. We'd like you to address - from your point of view, in your experience - how can the broader movement better support, or refine, or help people have good experiences in multi-stakeholder governance and ownership or influence? So what can the ecosystem do to make it better? What has the ecosystem done that's really helped you or supported you too, I guess, on the positive side.

So what are your recommendations for building a cooperative economy? How can we make it- bring the good parts of the experience to more people? I think it's the bigger question. So Weaver Street, who we got? Jon?

Jon McDonald: This one's my turn. Well, I think at Weaver Street, some of the biggest impacts we've had is just in cooperating with other co-ops. The example James used at the beginning with Riojana is a super-cool example. We get a great product, and then by co-ops in the United States buying directly from a co-op in Argentina, they get capital they need to make real on-the-ground difference in their community. And I think we all probably have examples of how that happens on a more local scale in our communities as well.

And I think that people need to see co-ops that- also I really appreciate what Fred said about co-ops need to be a part of the core economy. And, you know, I think one thing that Weaver Street has done well over the years is we've really tried to be an active competitor in the grocery marketplace, rather than just be a co-op off to the side. We tried to keep prices competitive, we've tried to have the products that people want, but also to stay true to our values as well.

And I think a resource that has been helpful in that is there's a group called Columinate that is a co-op of consultants, basically, and they work with mostly grocery co-ops and they have been very helpful. And when you have workers on the board who, like we've been talking about, work 8 hours a day, then you got to go to a board meeting. Or, when I started on the board, I had a college degree but I didn't know anything about the grocery business. I got into Weaver Street because I wanted to bake. So to have this knowledge base that we can tap into - and it's people who share our values and understand the project that we're trying to do - I think is invaluable.

And even the questions that have come up today, like Black Star dealing with management changes, and Elizabeth and unionizing versus worker-ownership, and can those work together, and even having this call. More like a collective knowledge base needs to be created because so much of what cops do is on-the-ground, and just takes a lot of work. And so to be able to have a resource that folks can easily tap into and share with one another, to continue to make real differences on the ground, I think is something that is growing and exists, but I think we need more and more of it.

Margaret Lund: Thank you. So, Madeline, from your experience at Black Star, how could- I guess we could help the state of Texas understand how multiple people can own a business, would be one thing we could do to help you, probably. But what other ways do you think the ecosystem could support your kind of organization?

Madeleine Bodden: So Black Star is a member of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. We are registered as a democratic workplace, which is how we're able to be members, and they do a lot of really great work that I would like to see- even if we weren't a democratic workplace, or other multi-stakeholder co-ops would be able to benefit from as well. They are the reason why we are able to offer health, dental and vision coverage to all of our workers.

They offer a lot of really great cooperative training. We do have such high turnover, being in the restaurant industry, so it's really hard to get all of our employees together and teach them "this is what a co-op is," but they offer a lot of really great training that I think is really essential to empowering our workers to make decisions for their own workplace.

Another really great thing that they have helped us with is when we initially started back in 2006, they helped us form all of our governance, our policy register, and our bylaws, and they connected us with other cooperatives in the area to help us do that. But they took it a step further, and they helped us create a governance calendar based off of our governance. And that has been really essential in getting our member owners involved in board meetings because they know, "okay, today they're going to be talking about self-management, and that's something that I need to be up to date on, and I need to know how self-management is going at Black Star. So being able to have that public, so our members can join the board meetings where we're talking about topics that they're interested in. Yes, so I think that the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives has done such a great job being a resource. And I would like to see something similar from multi-stakeholder cooperatives.

Margaret Lund: Yeah, that's a great idea - just having a more detailed thing, so people can just be part of the conversations that they need to be part of. That's really neat. Okay, Fred, what about- I mean, you obviously have a different ecosystem where you are, but what are your some thoughts about things that we could do to be more supportive of having these kinds of conversation and influence at the board and ownership level?

Fred Freundlich: Well. I was thinking about the multi-stakeholder co-ops here where one of the membership categories is co-ops, more than directly ownership and government issues. Aside from lots of worker co-ops in the core economy, the biggest contribution I think Mondragon has made to the cooperative movement is a really elaborate system of multi-stakeholder co-ops, where co-ops collaborate with each other.

And they do that in two ways- or there are two sort of outcomes, two focuses. One is creating institutions in common. And my ignorance of the North American co-op movement, co-op movement outside of this area, such that there may be a lot more going on in this area than I'm aware of - but two ways that Mondragon does this: one is creating institutions in common. The people who are familiar with Mondragon know about finance, both debt and venture capital. All co-ops get together, they make contributions, they do other kinds of things to ensure that co-ops have as much financing available as possible - friendly financing, financing that understands co-ops and their needs. And all kinds of other institutions in common: R&D, and education and training, and health, safety and well-being, and others.

So institutions in common where all the co-ops participate, and all of the co-ops benefit. But then also promoting co-op-to-co-op collaboration, to look for business opportunities - things that your co-op has that mine doesn't, and that mine has and yours doesn't - and two, three, four, six co-ops get together, and we force ourselves to meet once a month over - well, forever - then we will find business opportunities together, because that's part of our mission. We know this will happen.

It's hard, there are {indecipherable} to put out every day, there's the strategy and the operations of my own co-op. But if we force ourselves to meet with other co-ops, and in similar or even very different sectors, we will come up with ideas that will create new co-ops. And that has definitely been the case. And I think that's the most outstanding characteristic of Mondragon, outside of the fact of lots of worker co-ops and multi-stakeholder co-ops.

Margaret Lund: And just to clarify, Fred, sometimes co-ops are members. Like in in yours, there's students, and workers, and co-ops. So sometimes they're a class, and then sometimes all the members are co-ops. That's correct - I mean, there's both of those? Are they ever the full owners? Like this institution is only owned by co-ops, or there's always a worker ownership element?

Fred Freundlich: Always. There's always a worker-ownership part.

Margaret Lund: It's never just a bank owned by co-ops, it'd be a bank owned by co-ops and people who work there and potentially-

Fred Freundlich: Right. Well, I take it back. There are divisions and sectors in Mondragon that are second degree co-ops, multi-stakeholder co-ops- only they're not multi-stakeholder. I'm not sure how to define it. Will the co-ops come together? And they actually have- some of the divisions have workers, so there- I take it back. Workers always have a membership class.

Margaret Lund: Okay.

Fred Freundlich: Sometimes division or sectoral co-ops are dominated by the co-ops in the division or sector, and they're there to look for these kinds of opportunities together.

Margaret Lund: Okay. And when you talk to the members, who's the person that sits on the board? Does a co-op appoint the person to represent them? Or does the board-?

Fred Freundlich: Right. So if there are five co-ops in a sector, the board of each co-op appoints, from inside, X number of its members to be on the divisional or sectoral board, roughly in proportion to the co-op size.

Margaret Lund: Interesting. Okay. I just wanted to clarify that. You'll find this when you start reading, there's all these nuances of does everybody choose the people in each sector, or only people in their sector choose their own representatives? And there's kind of practice, because there isn't a lot of- there's no real law here except in state statute. So there's a lot of diversity in the practice.

Okay. So, Elizabeth, would you like to go for this ecosystem question, and what do you what do you think that co-op world could do to be more supportive of having multiple voices at a table, that are important to have?

Elizabeth Jesdale: So this is reminding me, interestingly, that the co-operative movement actually came out of the union movement, and it was a group of unionized workers who were like, "Wait a minute, why don't we own it?" And and then here we are having this conversation today, all these years later. And I you know, it's making me realize, too, that the Union movement is, for many of us, is a path to worker-ownership of our destiny, and of where we are. And it's a very long and slow slog of a revolution, let me tell you.

And- I'm sorry I just got myself a little confused. Could you could you repeat the question for me? Sorry.

Margaret Lund: We were just thinking about what can what can the rest of the world do? What can we in the co-op movement, and the co-op ecosystem, do to better support or refine or enhance or support good practice in this area?

Elizabeth Jesdale: Yeah. I think that as I said earlier, a free speech clause where people can actually speak up. Our free speech clause directly states that we can speak up against decisions of management and the board without reprisal. And almost no workers have that.

And also, just as far as workers go, the right to card check: the right to sign up for the union of their choice and not have to go through the election process which is very lengthy and drawn out. And businesses, including my own co-op, hire lawyers to come in and do these meetings with the workers, and tell them about how bad unions are. I mean, there's a lot of that stuff going on even from co-ops that people are - and I'm not here to poo poo about my employer - but the national president of my union said, "Wow, it surprises me that the management, when we're in negotiations, is just as awful as where we sit down with General Electric and their 17 lawyers during negotiation.".

So I think there's a an interest in keeping the co-op open, and a financially viable organization. And the workers- you know, profit is theft, so the profit coming that's made off of the backs of our labor, we don't have a voice in what happens with that. And so how is it a co-op? Or what is really a co-op, actually? This is the question that I'll end with. Thank you.

Margaret Lund: Provocative. So I have been looking at some of the questions. I'm sure you have, Ajowa and George, too. I'm going to ask a couple of those and then see what you guys also have been looking at in the chat. But actually this patronage question is a good question. And there are similar - not identical but aligned - questions about compensation. So maybe you could talk about when workers are on the board, are they are they compensated for their board time as workers, or are they not compensated because other people aren't? So how did that work?

And then in a related question, how does patronage work? If you have different classes of owners in your co-op, does everybody get the same, or do workers get more patronage because they have more skin in the game, and they have more to contribute? Or how does it work? So maybe Weaver Street again, you could just start on that question of are workers paid for their board time? And then also, how does patronage work at your co-op between the different classes of members?

Allanah Hines: I'll start and then I'll pass the second half off to one of my other teammates. Yes, the entire board is compensated. So workers are compensated, the consumer-owners are compensated, the appointed members are compensated for their time in leadership, because it is recognized that we're doing a lot of work. So yeah, that's worked into, essentially, the board budget. And I'll let Jon or James talk about how the dividends are dispersed.

Jon McDonald: The the dividend process is interesting because it's one of the few things that the board directly owns, like in a sense that's not delegated to the general manager. But that's kind of where it begins and ends. Basically, every year, the board has to make a decision about how they divide it up, and we've landed on a process that we've done for the last decade that's worked really well, where the equity is split down the middle. So the profit is split down the middle - when there is one - and then distributed based on dollar shopped, if you're a consumer, or hours worked, if you're a worker. And there's fewer workers, so per individual, workers end up getting more of a payout. And since there's so many consumers, and then usually- we have the leeway to turn that into something that they can get at the cash register, and put towards their their purchase or whatever, instead of mailing out a check for $2 or whatever.

So it's a pretty good process because it ends up being meaningful for workers in a financial way. You know, our wages are good but they're still service industry wages, and the board can decide on paying interest on- well I don't know how into the weeds we need to get - but basically, for both classes, a portion of the payout is kept in the co-op until you leave. So the co-op is essentially borrowing from the workers, and so the board will pay interest on that as well, if the board decides that there's money to do that. So that's pretty neat. So we have some workers with internal accounts of $20,000 plus, and so when they leave, they get a little payout. And so, in an ideal world, we could basically self-fund workers' retirement. You know, obviously we're not there yet, but, it's better than most places.

Margaret Lund: Interesting. Fred, at Mondragon, do you do profit-sharing or patronage or anything like that? Or what happens to the business profits in a worker-consumer co-op? " and, you know,

Fred Freundlich: Well, in the big worker-consumer supermarket chain, dividends only go to worker-members. Our consumer-members- the change claim is that consumer-members benefit by our lower prices, and other kinds of investments that the co-op makes in consumer education, and health and safety, consumer or food and product health and safety, and that kind of thing. In other co-ops where there are workers and different kinds of user-members, generally mostly workers, but surplus distribution is pretty limited. Most of surplus is reinvested, especially when the users input- even worker-members tend to agree that most surplus should be reinvested, or invested, or put into collective reserves. There's a lot of them, so it depends depends on which one we're talking about, but in most of them, workers get the lion's share of what surplus, what patronage dividends are paid. But patronage dividends are not that big in multi-stakeholder co-ops in Mondragon.

Margaret Lund: Okay, interesting. Madeline at Black Star, if you've had a profitable year, how do you- I mean, do consumer members get the patronage, or do you just make an allocation in bonuses to the workers, or what do you do? And also, if workers were on the board would they get paid their worker-wage for that or not?

Madeleine Bodden: So first, starting with the patronage: I have not been a Black Star when we've had a profitable year. So as far as I am aware, I believe it's equal: everyone who is a member owner gets an equal patronage regardless if you work there or not. I could be wrong. As for workers getting paid, our workers get paid if they attend board meetings. And myself, I go to every single board meeting to present to the board, but if you are actually sitting on the board, you do not get paid.

Margaret Lund: Okay. So for attending they do, and for being a board member, they don't.

Madeleine Bodden: Yes.

Margaret Lund: Okay Interesting. Elizabeth, do you have any thing to say on that question?

Elizabeth Jesdale: Oh, just that at the co-op where I work, the profits go out in patronage refund, but we've also negotiated for a percentage of sales provided that there's a profit margin above, I think it's 1.25%. We get a percentage of what's over that as a profit sharing. However, this is something that- and this is what happens to workers. We negotiated for that. It used to be the equivalent of about a dollar an hour worked per year, so about $280 for a full time employee- 2,000 sorry, $2,080 for full time employees. But now management has taken that and very carefully crafted a program of discounts for members that come off of sales, not out of the discount line on the budget. So now we basically don't get hardly anything in profit sharing. So that's the kind of thing that happens. That's really unfortunate, and it doesn't feel too great. But at least we have a voice in it, and trying to like, "okay, let's come up with a new formula until that runs out." So on it goes.

Margaret Lund: Okay, thank you. And another question that came up in the chat, which is a little wonky - but I like wonky - so, because there actually is some confusion always about this: when you have workers, and you have consumers on the board, do all the workers get to vote for worker representatives, or do all members get to vote for all things? And some multi-stakeholder co-ops, I know they even have certain kinds of topics where they make it - in dissolution or something - that has to be voted on by every single class of member before a co-op's dissolved, and not just a majority of all the members.

So that's a question in governance. Do only workers get to vote for worker-members, or everybody? And are there any other kind of things, like technicalities where you make a distinction between them? So I guess that Weaver Street and Mondragon, who actually have that structure, maybe you could answer that question.

James Watts: Sure. So Weaver Street Market worker-owners get their vote for the worker-owner reps, and the consumer-owners get to vote for the consumer-owner reps.

Fred Freundlich: Same here?

Margaret Lund: Yeah, okay. Interesting.

Another question that came up is- I think if people are thinking from start up - how did you guys come up with, or do you remember, does anybody know it's the lore, how did you come up with how you divide- like if you'd have up to a third, like at Black Star, it could be up to a third workers, but those would be consumer-member workers, or you guys, Weaver Street, you're half and half - so how did you decide percentages? And Fred, you had an example or you're a third, a third, a third. Is that just trying to be equal, or how did people come up with these percentages of things? Does anyone have anything to say about this?

Madeleine Bodden: I believe that we took it from the bylaws of the local cooperative in Austin that's older than us, which is Wheatsville Food Co-op. I believe that it was in their bylaws and we just kept it the same.

Margaret Lund: Okay. The co-op answer is "do what another co-op does."

Fred Freundlich: Well, in our case it varies a lot, from co-op to co-op. Eroski, the supermarket chain, was a consumer co-op for its first couple of decades or so, maybe less. And so when there was a big move to include workers as members, and the General Assembly eventually agreed - the General Assembly of all consumer-members - it was a pretty fierce debate and they ended up saying, "all right, half and half," but not majority worker-members.

And other multi-stakeholder co-ops the system has varied a lot. Some of them are- the staff is quite small, but the number of user-members, who are other co-ops of the group, is very big. So, workers get a disproportionately large number of board seats, but don't dominate.

Margaret Lund: Okay. At Weaver Street you're half and half, is that right? Okay.

Elizabeth Jesdale: I just wanted to add: in our union, our national president is elected. We have National Convention every other year, and all the officers - national officers of our union - are elected at that meeting. So generally, people don't run against an incumbent unless they're doing something wrong. But there's no contract like there is with a general manager of a co-op.

In addition to that, it's in our founding words of our Constitution that the National President doesn't make more than the highest paid worker. And I can tell you that at our food co-op, that is not the case in any kind of way. And not only that, but the members - the unions at the local level, at each individual shop - vote on the wages of the staff and the National President, and the all the offices.

So the vote, it's a very bottom-up oriented structure, and it's transparent. I know what they all make, and I don't know what the general manager where I work makes. I mean, I can guess, but I don't know.

Margaret Lund: Interesting. George and Ajowa, do you have other questions, you've been looking at in the chat you want to bring up?

Ajowa Ifateyo: Yes, I have one. The question is, "Besides Weaver Street, in what ways have you all intentionally included the voices of minoritized communities in co-op conversations, and changes involving the co-op members, workers, and shoppers? This includes, but is not limited to, people from the global majority, LGBTQA+, disabled, seniors, veterans, etc.

Madeleine Bodden: I can take on that question. Black Star is a predominantly white male cooperative, both in terms of workers as well as member-owners. But we really do take our concern for community principle very seriously at Black Star, and so we often - about once a month - do a collaboration beer with different community organizations local to Austin, and proceeds from that beer go to that organization.

I think it's our most popular one that we do every year for Pride Month is Out Youth. Being from Texas, the LGBTQI+ community is very much ostracized in large parts of Texas, so we do a lot of work with Out Youth, and we do a collaboration beer - it's called Wish You Were Queer. It's absolutely delicious, it's a peach beer, and proceeds from that beer benefit that organization.

And we also work with- Black Star is actually very strange- not strange, I love that it's like this - where our management is actually mostly people of color, while our workers are not. So we have this really weird dynamic of whenever we are asked this question, we're like, "Well, the representatives of Black Star are, but we don't- you know, our workers aren't, and our member-owners mostly aren't. Most of our board members aren't. So we are trying to bridge that gap.

We are trying to go - especially in Austin, which is a largely gentrified town at this point - we are stationed at - I don't know if you guys have ever been to Austin - St John's and Airport which used to be a very low income neighborhood, which is now being gentrified pretty rapidly. So we try really hard to continue to connect with the original people from that area, and making sure that our beer and food prices are always accessible to them, and making sure that we are a resource for the houseless population that is mostly around that area. We also work with CapMetro - which is our public transportation in Austin - to continue to increase the amount of public transportation, increase public transportation safety, and increase the use of public transportation. Because right now in Texas, they're trying to expand our main highway in Austin, and that would cut off a lot of housing for people - low income housing. So we are trying to really work with our public transportation to make sure that doesn't happen. So those are just a couple of the ways that we do that.

Margaret Lund: Great, thank you. Anybody else want to talk about? I'm kind of interested, too, in just the question of having a multi-stakeholder co-op, do you think it makes people more cognizant of other voices? Even if those other voices aren't necessarily owners or at the board, you know, does that make you better listeners in some way? I wonder, maybe Allanah could take that, just because you're the board president. Do you feel like it makes a difference? Have you been on other boards? Do you feel like it makes a difference?

Allanah Hines: I would say no, not at all. And I do several other boards. I'm currently on a few other boards. Being on Weaver Street Market, I'm one of very few non-white individuals that has served on Weaver Street in 35 years. One of my purposes of being on there, and being the manager of diversity, equity and inclusion - what I find amongst boards in general, and in the co-op movement, I'm not sure who would agree - it's not really to say, "hey, let's argue about it," but overall it's a monoculture within co-ops, and then also that spreads to the board as well.

So there's a recognition that you have workers, and there's a recognition that operations exist. But just because you have that class of people doesn't mean that you actually go and speak to those people, or feel that those people have the room or the space, or that you allow the room for those people to also speak, and for their voices to be heard, and to be heard in an equitable manner. So for me, it's very important. It's my job, but it's also my life. And it's something that I was passionate about. I know John and I worked together, especially as he was rolling off and I was rolling on, to really not just say that diversity, equity and inclusion is a part of operations, but now it's a part of the board, because those are held as two separate entities. So that when you are reviewing policy, you're actually looking at it through an equitable lens. You're defining what diversity means on a board. It's not just having different colors of skin on the board, but it's actually having the diverse experience, and for all of those people to be counted equally, as it is stated in the bylaws.

So across boards in general, no, I don't think that having different classes, and different statements of who these people are, really means that they are being included. I think that it's rewriting the policy, the underlying foundation, the culture of not just your board, but also the culture of your operations, so that when operations does report to the board, when they do attend meetings, that they're not overlooked, they're not restricted in their time or in their voice. So I think that it's more than just the statement of it, but I think that it's the operational function of the board outside of the day-to-day mechanics of the company to also say "diversity, equity, and inclusion is what we do, and if you are not abiding by that, then maybe you don't belong on this board." Very {indecipherable}.

Margaret Lund: Thank you. Yeah, go ahead please.

Jon McDonald: Just to piggyback on that: the one thing that does work on our board is that we do have this framework of what Allanah was talking about - the policies and stuff - but we have workers on the board who are setting that policy and who can can create the framework to hold accountable, in very real ways, about how we measure goals related to diversity, equity and inclusion. And I think in our co-op, that conversation was led by black workers. And if we didn't have that representation on the board, I think a lot of those black workers would have left, and not had a fruitful experience. But now, this just really changed the whole conversation within the co-op. Do you think that's true, Allanah?

Allanah Hines: Yes, I do think that it is one of those things of the worker-owners are voting for who they would like to see on their board. So it's not just saying, "yes, we want more diversity!" It's that person standing up and saying, "yes, this is what I want." Having that conversation, and then also having the support of your entire worker population. And when you get there, at the end of the day, I do go back to operations. So there is that conversation, as a worker-owner representative, of how is the treatment? What is actually going on on the board? So it's hard to not share a board packet because that's my job. But then there is also a lot to the representation of saying, "wow, your board chair is a black bodied female, and now she has a voice, and now she is the board chair." So I definitely think representation is extremely important.

Margaret Lund: Thank you. Anybody else want to? Elizabeth? Yeah.

Elizabeth Jesdale: I'm just going to jump north of the border to a union that's up in Canada. And they have a very progressive- they're awesome, but they have an umbrella group that contains- it's called the Equity Seeking Groups. So it's women, LGBTQ, people of color, disabled workers, and young workers, who are generally not on boards, in leadership and whatnot, traditionally in unions.

Margaret Lund: And representatives of those groups each get together individually across the whole country. And all five of those groups get together as a unit and do the work. And then educational platforms come out of that to the locals, and to the leadership. And they also have representatives of all those groups at their national conventions. So usually the delegates that are elected are, the President of the local level. I mean, a lot of white men. That's just how it is. So they're actually putting folks in the place where the decisions are being made. And the education is real because they're there on the floor, while the Constitution is being discussed and whatnot.

And just this past year, they have their first woman, National President of the whole union. And our union, we work closely with them, and we've started doing that in our union as well, where, if there's an organizing blitz, or there's a big contract that's coming up, they'll send folks that qualify for those equity seeking groups to sit-in with the staff during negotiations and learn the skills. And actually, workers have gotten hired by the union as union staff through that program. So it's pretty awesome. Yeah, thanks.

Margaret Lund: Thank you. We are so on time. George and Ajowa, do you want to have any parting remarks? And thank you guys so much. Every single one of you have contributed so much to this conversation. I really appreciate everybody's time and thoughtfulness here. George and Ajowa?

Ajowa Ifateyo: Yes, this was a fabulous conversation, and it went too fast. But we want to encourage you to fill out the feedback form so that we can get your ideas. And we'll probably have another forum that leads off of this. George?

George Cheney: Yeah, an incredibly rich discussion. Thank you very much. And the questions are great. We tried to address as many of those as we can, and we will follow up with resources. And I know a lot of folks in the chat already indicated they want to continue smaller conversations and so forth. So this was exactly what we hoped for. And it's great to see that everybody's so enthusiastic about it.

Ajowa Ifateyo: And thank you so much to Margaret and the rest of the panel for a wonderful discussion and donations of time. We appreciate it.

George Cheney: Anyone else, a quick closing?

Ajowa Ifateyo: Any remarks? Yeah, that would be great.

Allanah Hines: Big thanks to everybody. I've been an advocate, especially in my role, of cooperation amongst cooperatives, as it says in our principles, but not as often people actually do. So thank you for pulling this group together.

George Cheney: All right. Well, thank you, Margaret. Thank you, panelists. Thank you, everybody who attended and let the conversations continue.


This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.



GEO Collective (2023).  Owning Together: Worker-Consumer Co-ops in Conversation.  Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

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