Worker cooperatives stand in solidarity with labor

We who are members of worker cooperatives take the “worker” part very seriously. We identify strongly with the labor movement, whether we are actually union members or not. Both unions and worker cooperatives exist to empower the people on the shop floor. Unions do this by providing workers with a counter­weight against the financial might of the owning class and its proxies, the managing class. Worker co-ops have done away with the owning class entirely by transfering ownership, and all decision-making power, to the workers.

Union Cab, the Interpreters’ Cooperative, MadWorC itself, and the US Federation of Worker Co-ops all published statements (prior to the passage of SB 11) supporting labor’s right to defend its dignity, and to bargain collectively specifically. These statements can easily be found on the organizations’ respective websites.

Upcoming national (and international) events

Hello from the USFWC, your national worker cooperative federation!

There are several exciting things afoot right now at the national and international level in worker cooperative organizing.

2012: Year of the Cooperative

2012 is the UN International Year of Coopera­tives! The United Nations announcement notes that “cooperatives impact poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration… In general, they contribute to socio-economic development.” The National Cooperative Business Association worked hard to press for this recognition, and we applaud their efforts. USFWC is participating in planning awareness-raising for the year, including cooperative tours and educational materials. To get involved with this planning, contact Melissa at or (415) 379-9201. Find the full text of the U.N. resolution here:

First-ever CICOPA North American Worker Co-op Conference in Quebec in October

The first-ever North American Worker Coopera­tive Conference will be held, in two parts, in Quebec City, in October of 2011. This event launches the North American sub-region of the international worker co-operative federation, known by its acronym, CICOPA; and in our region as CICOPA-Americas. The Canadian Worker Co-op Federation is the main organizer; the US Federation of Worker Co-ops and le Réseau de la Coopération du Travail are co-organizers with the participation of the Quebec Forestry Co-op Federation. Leadership from the Italian and Spanish worker co-op movements will be in attendance, to inspire and guide attendees, along with CICOPA international leadership, and cooperative leaders from Latin America. The first part of the conference will focus on conversions of conventional businesses to cooperatives, and the second part will be a more general cooperative conference.

Worker Cooperative Federal Credit Union

The Worker Cooperative Federal Credit Union project is moving forward! Despite a nearly year-long review process partly due to the financial crisis and partly due to the field of membership complications regarding democratic institutions, the first step in the chartering process is now complete. The field of membership (the common bond for people to be members of the credit union) was approved by NCUA; it includes the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC), Networks of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NoBAWC), and North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO). To top it off, the approval includes individual members of member cooperatives of each association! This was a huge success, as the credit union is not required to include each individual member cooperative (as a business) in the field of membership in order to allow individual members of those co-ops to join the credit union. It would have been at least an additional year of work to get over a hundred cooperatives to agree to join the credit union and provide the necessary documentation. The inclusion of individual co-op members was highly uncertain, and resulted in extensive dialogue with the National Credit Union Administration about democracy and representation. Thanks to everyone who has contributed thus far in making this happen. Your generous support, time, and effort is greatly appreciated. A special thanks to those involved with regional and national organizing efforts which made this possible in the first place.

Worker Cooperative Representation on the NCBA Board

Congratulations to USFWC Board Member Esteban Kelly of Mariposa Food Cooperative in Philadelphia, who has been appointed to the NCBA Board. His appointment comes via his relationship with NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation), the student housing cooperative organization. Esteban joins Erbin Crowell, formerly of Equal Exchange, as a strong worker-cooperative advocate on the NCBA Board.

Co-op Spotlight: Nature’s Bakery

Nature’s Bakery Cooperative is located in the historic Wil-Mar neighborhood on the near east side of Madison. It has been organized as a worker’s collective since it was founded in 1970. Even now, we remain a beacon of both the food movement and alternative business models in Madison.

At the bakery, we use organic whole grains, because we are committed to providing our customers with healthy, nutritious baked goods at a reasonable price. The grains we use contain no harmful pesticides or herbicides and none of the bleaches or chemical additives that are in many conventional grains. For sweeteners, we use pure honey, barley malt, real maple syrup, and blackstrap molasses – all natural, unprocessed, and in full possession of their nutritive benefits. All of our products are vegetarian- or vegan-friendly, and are made on site, by hand. The bakery’s staple products are sliced bread loaves, Vegetarian and Tofu-Walnut burgers, and our granolas. We also make Essene bread, made of 100% organic sprouted wheat berries, four varieties of cookies, and a spinach- and cheese-filled calzone.

Meg, the Personnel Manager, and Becca, the Production Manager. All photos by Nature’s Bakery.

As celebrated our 40th anni­ver­sary last year, it has been exciting to look back at our own history. In September, 1970, three women rented 1101 Williamson Street (presently Mother Fools) and founded Nature’s Own Bakery. The women began baking in a large oven donated by Edgewood College and Whole Earth, the bakery’s in-home predecessor, and the bakery became certified thanks in part to donations from the Sunflower Kitchen and Mifflin Street Co-op. The business changed to a partner­ship in 1974, and in 1975 was incorporated as Nature’s Bakery, Ltd. The bakery’s current facility at 1019 Williamson Street was purchased about this time.  In 1978, Nature’s Bakery took part in the first collective bakery conference, held in Ann Arbor, MI. In the early 1980s, Nature’s was re-incorporated in its present form as a workers’ cooper­ative.  The 1990s saw Nature’s up­dating equipment and our space at 1019 Williamson Street, and plan­ning for the bakery’s long-term economic health.

Nate, the author, and Marketing Coodinator of Nature’s Bakery.

Presently, Nature’s is managed by seven full-time member-owners, each of whom is responsible for one area of business management. We operate on a consensus model, meaning no major decisions are made without the approval of every full-time member. Each of us also spends the majority of our week in the production facility, baking and mixing, and cleaning and packaging, using the remainder of the week to do work in our management area. We also deliver our own products. We believe that Nature’s is more sustainable than a traditional top-down business model because we collaborate on big projects, and are able to collectively work for the betterment of the bakery, ourselves, and our customers at once.

The front door of Nature’s Bakery, at 1019 Williamson Street.

Nature’s Bakery Cooperative is proud to be celebrating its 40th year in business, and we look forward to serving the Williamson Street, greater Madison and Midwest communities for many years to come.  As Madison’s local, organic whole grain bakery, we continue to lovingly serve and provide our customers and communities with affordable, nutritious baked goods.

Getting the worker-cooperative community together

MadWorC has begun bringing the worker cooperative community of Madison together over beers and appetizers. We held our first “Hug and Chug” at Genna’s lounge, right off the Capitol square, on November third.

In attendance were members of the Interpreters Cooperative, Isthmus Engineering Cooperative, Natures Bakery Cooperative, Union Cab Cooperative, Union Technology Cooperative, The UW Center for Cooperatives, and Clifton-Gunderson, an accounting firm that works with cooperatives. Two graduate students who are doing a compara­tive study between coopera­tive and corporate-structured businesses, using Isthmus Engineer­ing as a case study, were also there. In attendance as well were two people interested in starting a Health and Wellness Worker Cooperative and an Incubator Cooperative that would act as space for the creation of new inventions.

MadWorC hosted the Hug and Chug to encourage communication between cooperatives as a means of sharing ideas and connecting people. One of MadWorC’s goals is to help create and sustain worker coopera­tives. We believe connecting people strengthens community and that worker cooperatives benefit from a strong community.

Many people in attendance were already acquainted but got the chance to talk and get to know each other better. Others got to make new acquaintances and contacts. I personally was excited to see the individuals there that were interested in starting cooperatives and the graduate students studying cooperatives. Between all the worker cooperatives in Madison, there exists over 100 years of experience just waiting to be tapped into and shared!

Keep an eye out in the future for more Hug and Chugs. I hope to continue hosting these get-togethers but doing a little more community outreach so that in attendance as well are those just interested in learning about worker cooperatives. This would serve MadWorC’s third mission of educating the community about worker cooperatives. If anyone has any feedback, please contact us through our website, (look for the “contact” link!).

Madison Worker Cooperatives (MadWorC) Supports Public Sector Workers’ Right to Collective Bargaining


Madison Worker Cooperatives (MadWorC) Supports Public Sector Workers’ Right to Collective Bargaining

Madison Worker Cooperatives (MadWorC) stands in solidarity with public workers protesting the Budget Repair Bill to protect their right to collective bargaining. MadWorC is a group of area worker cooperatives, including the Interpreters Cooperative, Isthmus Engineering, Union Cab, and Union Tech, organized to promote and develop worker cooperatives.

Two of the most basic principles followed by worker cooperatives worldwide are ‘democratic member control’ and ‘member economic participation.’ Kristin Forde of MadWorC said, ” We are a group of cooperatives who believe strongly in workers’ rights to participate in the decision making which effects their livelihood and work environment . We’ve seen the benefits: successful businesses with longevity and meaningful participation in their communities. We strongly oppose any action from the top dog dictating changes that would so drastically effect workers’ lives.”

Interpreters Cooperative president Steve Herrick said, “Our work brings us into contact with public sector workers, which means we hear about their working conditions. The good parts are only there because of collective bargaining, and the bad parts can only be addressed through collective bargaining. This so-called ‘repair’ bill would deny workers a place at the table, which would turn back history by nearly a century.”

MadWorC encourages everyone to contact their legislator to oppose the “repair” bill.

For more on Worker Cooperatives and their guiding principles:

MadWorC contact: Ole Olson 608-332-2283