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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

What it's Like to Work in a Cooperative Kitchen

An Interview with Millie Moon

Article type
GEO Original
November 18, 2021
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[Editor's note: this interview was recorded in the fall on 2019. Interviews with other Arizmendi worker-owners, can be found here and here.]

Malikia Johnson: So can I get your name?

Millie Moon: Yeah, my name's Millie and I've been here for about six years.

Malikia Johnson: And can you talk about your experience? Like, how did you find out about it?

Millie Moon: Oh, yeah, I found out about it because I was looking to become a baker.

Malikia Johnson: OK.

Millie Moon: So, it was one of the places that was willing to take a risk on someone who didn't have as much professional kitchen experience. My previous work experience was in teaching. So most of the bakeries I applied to wouldn't have given me a shot because my background was homemaker, and a lot of skill sets from teaching, but not explicit kitchen experience. So I applied here and interviewed and they were willing to let me try out.

Malikia Johnson: Did you know it was a cooperative, or...?

Millie Moon: Yes, I did.

Malikia Johnson: And is that what drew you to it?

Millie Moon: I think both things equally for me. I mean, we are cooperative, but we're also foremost a bakery. I mean, we wouldn't exist or be able to be cooperative if we didn't turn out high quality products. So it's always a balance. And so I think everyone's kind of different. Some people are more drawn to it because they want to help run a cooperative, and some people want to become a baker. For me, the initial draw was becoming a baker and working in food. And then that was kind of like an added bonus, but also a challenge.

Malikia Johnson: Oh, I see, can you tell me about the challenge?

Millie Moon: Yeah, I think the biggest challenge is striving always for consensus in a group of 30 people plus, and knowing that you have to be willing and flexible to modify your lines in the sand. And so sometimes we have a lot of rules around when you block a proposal or when you decide to go through with the proposal. And one of the questions you always have to ask yourself is, is someone's new idea, or someone's solution, or something they're proposing to the group for the business, can you live with it? You know, if you can't, then obviously as your owner, it's completely your right. You have your vote. Everyone has their vote to block it. But what is really your behind your reason, you know? So that's always the biggest challenge here is kind of questioning yourself, and asking yourself in the moment, why am I apprehensive for this? Is it for the better of the business, or is this my own selfish reasons, or my own self-preservation, which is not selfish, you know? Kind of all those layers to help me make decisions. So I think that's the greatest challenge and has taught me the most here.

Malikia Johnson: You started on as a baker, have you moved? You said you're in the office now.

Millie Moon: Oh, I'm in the office right now. Yeah, right now I'm working on holiday production sheets. So I do a lot of work for the holidays, deciding what we're making, and when, and how much, and why, and how to merchandise it to customers. So yeah, a lot of us do committee work. I would say everyone's involved in committees and that's really the underbelly of how we stay functioning efficiently. Committees are empowered to certainly lengths to make a lot of decisions on behalf of the business, and then report back constantly to the group at general meetings, where we meet the first Monday of every month. And, you know, there's an ebb and flow. There are times when committees are less empowered to do things, and there are times where there's more need, and we need to trust a group of six to act more quickly or more efficiently to make decisions. And that all does come from the group saying, okay, this is where we're at right now. But yeah, I do some administrative financial tasks for the group as well.

Malikia Johnson: And everybody is a part of a committee?

Millie Moon: Everyone is part of committees, yeah. It's definitely a requirement or an expectation you could say. I don't think it's explicitly, I'd have to check our bylaws. But I can say with a lot of confidence that everyone here is a member on at least one committee and most people are members, I'd say, of between two and four.

Malikia Johnson: OK, cool.

Millie Moon: I think there's twelve.

Malikia Johnson: Yeah? Twelve committees, ok. And can you talk a little bit about -- so it's all consensus-based decision making {indecipherable}. I heard that it's a flat wage.

Millie Moon: Yeah. So everyone -- when you start here as a candidate, we have a six month candidacy period. You're earning immediately on day one, the same wage per hour as everyone else here. So, if you've been here 20 years, or one year, or four months, you're making the same per hour.

Malikia Johnson: Wow. That's so exciting!

Millie Moon: It is. I think I like it in that it's unique in that work has value evenly. I think that's really important. I think it eliminates a lot of resentment. I think what it's saying is that once you're here and you're voted in as an owner, everyone's entrusting you to work up to the level of anyone else, regardless of how long you've been here. And I think it sets a high expectation.

Malikia Johnson: And how long has this specific version of Arizmendi been open?

Millie Moon: We've been open since '97 so in August we turned 22.

Malikia Johnson: Ok. A couple more questions: can you talk about the other benefits, other than this just being a job? Like how it helps as a cooperative...

Millie Moon: Enhance my life?

Malikia Johnson: Yeah.

Millie Moon: I think that it's interesting in that if you were to ask all thirty of us, we probably all have different things. Which is kind of amazing, because I think the longer you're here the more you learn about how to make it work for you, so that you continue to thrive here. But, I see the things that stand out for me, and that I hear stand out for other people, is that it's both a curse and a blessing, is that we have really flexible scheduling. So every six months we are able, if we wanted to, to completely up-end and transform our daily lives, which is our schedules, our personal schedules. And so that means if you wanted to pursue something outside of it, or wanted to go back to school, there's a little bit more option and flexibility. Like maybe -- or if you start a family and your partner works nights, and maybe you need to work all AMs. Or maybe your partners also in the food service and has Tuesday, Wednesdays off, and so you want nontraditional weekends. So I think scheduling is a huge plus.

And then the benefits to our health and mental health is you can work as few as twenty one hours. So we have a requirement to be an owner, and I believe it's 20 hours a week. So there are people here who work, you know, between 20 and 30 hours a week because that's what works for them in their lives right now. And there are people who are fully committed, 40, 40 plus. And I think that also it ebb and flows, you know, where you are in your life. So I think the amount you put in, when you put it in, and then our health benefits are really great.

You know, since we do divvy up our profits at the end of every fiscal year, before we do so, we might as well take care of ourselves, since we are you know -- it doesn't make sense to give money to us and then require us to pay for our own health insurance, right? So we do pay for our own health insurance out of our gross money, gross sales. And then also we cover the children of owners.

Malikia Johnson: Oh, wow.

Millie Moon: So we try to look for, you know, more than just the bodies in the bakery. And great benefits, time off.

Malikia Johnson: Word. A couple things: you said the candidate period is six months you said, so the only people that would not be an owner would be in the candidacy period?

Millie Moon: Yeah, you look around, you see some candidates. They're a couple on the floor right now, and actually also some high school interns. When you see maybe two people who look younger than 20, they're high school interns, they're in here a couple days a week. Yeah.

Malikia Johnson: And also, how are the maternity or like leave...?

Millie Moon: Family leave. The family leave is -- I don't want to quote the specifics -- I think it's supportive. You know, we always strive to do better. It's always a push and pull, I think -- just like society -- about what should family leave be. And like, I know right now you can take up to a year off and come back to your job. And that's totally fine. And we do have like pay-outs and sabbaticals for being here longer than ten years. And some of my coworkers would use that as a way to help support themselves through a family leave period. So there are options like that. But it's -- we don't have an extended paid family leave. So you are depending on your accrued PTO or sabbatical to help you get through that period.

Malikia Johnson: I see. And my last question: how much would someone have to pay you to do the same job you're doing now in the traditional firm?

Millie Moon: Oh...Well, it would have to be more than I make here.

Malikia Johnson: What I'm saying is like,

Millie Moon: Oh, in a traditional, yeah. None of my other benefits? Ok, let me do some math.

Malikia Johnson: I would be just traditional, uh...

Millie Moon: Yeah, yeah, like hierarchical, I would be like an assistant baker, lead baker, at Farine or something? Ok. Unfortunately, probably three times with their paying their bakers. I know what they pay their bakers. It would probably have to be, in the Bay Area, with my rent, like upwards of $35 or $40.

Malikia Johnson: Wow.

Millie Moon: And I would never get it there, so...

Malikia Johnson: You're staying [laughing].

Millie Moon: Yeah. [laughing]



Malikia Johnson (2021).  What it's Like to Work in a Cooperative Kitchen:  An Interview with Millie Moon.  Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

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