Inside a Worker-Owned Union Co-op
[Editor's note: the following short article was first published in 2001, in GEO Newsletter #44: Democracy within Co-ops. Collective Copies now has 33 years in operation and is still going strong.]
Collective Copies, where I work, is a worker-owned, union copy shop. Now in our seventeenth year, we're a healthy co-op by all measures. We outlasted Kinko's challenge (they left town), and this past spring we opened up a second shop. People often ask me to explain how we make decisions at Collective Copies. Because we don't have a boss, we have to make decisions together. Usually we just go on consensus, but when that doesn't work, we have decision-making strategies to fall back on.
We all love our jobs and the positive work atmosphere—one based on respect for all—is essential. We use two key strategies for making decisions together: first we are very careful in hiring, and secondly we use a council circle at our monthly meetings.
When hiring we look for people we respect and with whom we share common values. Respect, common values and commitment are the keys to healthy, long term working relationships. We also strive to foster a fun, safe, free, creative, and trusting work environment. We serve our customers in the same atmosphere of mutual trust, kindness and respect.
At our monthly meeting, there is almost always some disagreement. Full participation of the group is imperative. So we have a council circle where everyone takes a minute or two to speak. This helps by showing that there are many sides to an issue, and this process always brings up a new idea. Very often, opinions will change only minutes after hearing what the circle has said. In this way, disagreements can lead to newer ideas and build on the beliefs we already share.
What do we do when the council has spoken, and we still haven't achieved a consensus? Sometimes we have to pick our battles and just let it go for the greater good of the collective. Another choice is to abstain from the vote rather than to block consensus. Another tactic is to table the issue until next month's meeting. Things often have a way of working themselves out over a couple of weeks, or perspectives will change with the aid of hindsight. Another method of problem solving is to form a focus group. Two or three members with strong opinions can usually work it out in a smaller setting. Because these are the individuals who care most about the issue, they are bound to come up with an educated recommendation for the group, to find the middle ground.
Finally, when all else fails, sometimes it is worthwhile seeking outside help from a professional. Mediators and consultants have been very useful when we've been at an impasse. So respect for all members of the co-op fosters an environment where that respect can flourish. Encouraging full participation amongst the group and allowing everyone the opportunity to speak- these are the keys to secure and empowering jobs.
All images are from the Collective Copies website
Go to the GEO front page
Matt Grillo (2016). The Art of Making Decisions Together: Inside a Worker-Owned Union Co-op. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO). https://geo.coop/story/art-making-decisions-together
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