Co-op Spotlight: Union Technology Cooperative

MadWorC is pleased to announce the arrival of Union Technology Cooperative to the Madison area!

Union Technology Cooperative (UTC) is a worker-owned and operated IT services cooperative. UTC was founded on September 23rd, 2008, by five member-owners to create sustainable, compassionate jobs for IT professionals who serve the greater good. Union Technology Cooperative is a not-for-profit entity; an organization designed with the heart of the community in mind, allowing UTC to provide its clients with a more ethical, uniquely efficient, and personalized service experience.

UTC has a diverse menu of technological services it offers to the community. Each technician has the experience and confidence to assist with even the most difficult crisis situations. Whether the problem is with Windows, Mac, or Linux, Union Technology Cooperative is ready to serve every type of market sector, including community, education, business and residential.

UTC is in business to help the entire community. Therefore, they offer reduced rate services to those in need. A discounted service rate is available to cooperatives, 501(c)(3) non-profits, as well as K-12 public schools, public education employees, seniors 65 and over, and clients with disabilities requiring a nursing home level of care. Union Technology Cooperative is also passionate about helping its clients reduce power consumption through a variety of methods; reducing utility bills and reducing your carbon footprint go hand in hand!

Union Technology Cooperative begins work relationships by documenting and diagramming the client’s network in an initial assessment, creating a document to assist with planning and future decision making. UTC believes if a network is owned by their client, their client has every right to all of the information related to it. UTC feels that going above and beyond is essential to providing the best service possible.

UTC technicians don’t just work with computers; in addition, they design, install, add on to, rebuild, and reinvent some of the most simple and most complex networks. Feel free to give them a call at 1-608-616-9925 with any question no matter how small or large. Operating hours are Monday through Friday: 9AM-5PM. UTC technicians are also on call outside normal hours for emergencies. You can visit them on the web at http://utcwisconsin.com.

Where did we come from? Where are we going?


Workers during the Industrial Revolution in an unknown city. Taken from blogspot.com. No credits or copyright information given.

My mission: to research and write a history piece on Worker Cooperatives. To complete this task, I was hoping to find juicy stories of worker strikes, political upheaval, or something flashy enough to interest my drama-starved mind. What I found was the English town of Rochdale, England.

Rochdale of Lancashire, England holds the title of the birthplace of the modern cooperative structure. The Rochdale Principles, a group of rules written in Rochdale in 1844 by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society have served as the moral and structural basis for the cooperative movement ever since.

The Rochdale Principles, as they have since become known, were a compilation of principles tested since the cooperatives movement’s birth in the mid 19th century. The birth of the movement was a direct result of pressures imposed on society by the Industrial Revolution.


A “spinning mule.” Taken from boltonmuseums.org.uk. No credits or copyright information given.

Two main contributors led to these imposed pressures: the invention of the “spinning mule” and the steam engine. These technologies created a huge boom in textile production in cities across England. Increased production coupled with a reduced need for skilled labor led to population increases in cities and a reduced standard of living. As a means to increase their standard of living, the concentrated populations of laborers working in the factories began to organize. This led to the development of cooperative societies, which would turn into what is known today as the cooperative movement.

What the Rochdale Pioneers formed, though, would not be easily recogniz­able in today’s cooperative movement. What they formed was called a Cooperative Society. Their overall goal was “as soon as practicable, this society shall proceed to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government, or in other words, to establish a self-supporting home colony of limited interests, or assist other societies in establishing such colonies.”


James Watts’ steam engine, from 1769. Taken from deutsches-museum.de. No credits or copyright information given.

The Rochdale Pioneers were never successful in their attempt to create a self-sustaining colony, although their initial retail store was a great success. Since Rochdale, the movement has seen similar achievements; cooperatives serving many segments of society have found great success in many forms — consumer, housing, producer and worker cooperatives. But has the move­ment yet succeeded in producing a Cooperative Society? What role do I play in this process? What do I add or take away from the gains achieved since 1844? What can I do to create unity?

It seems my homework to research and write about Worker Cooperative history has created more questions than I started with. I will leave now to ponder them.

Co-op spotlight: Union Cab

For over thirty years, Mad Town residents have enjoyed the cooperative difference in taxicab service. Union Cab organized in July 1979, and began operations in late October. Its mission is to create jobs at a living wage or better, in a safe, humane and democratic environment by providing quality transportation to the greater Madison area.


The Mayor, the late Jeff Erlanger (chair of the Committee on People with Disabilities) and John McNamara present Madison’s first Wheelchair Accessible Taxicab — a great example of Union’s “concern for community,” the seventh principle of cooperatives. Photo by Bill Knobeloch.

Union Cab organized after a decade-long struggle for economic justice in the traditional labor movement. After the second attempt to enforce a contract, the owner shut down the company, and organizers turned to the cooperative model. It took a lot of help from supporters and a ton of sweat equity to get Union Cab off of the ground. As is so often the story with cooperatives, they also had a bit of luck. City bus drivers went on strike just one week after the only other meter cab service shut down. Union hired striking drivers to help meet demand and show solidarity with the workers.

The co-op experimented with other services in the ’90s, but pulled back after deciding the business was too reliant on large contracts. The cooperative does operate two wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Flash forward to the present. Union Cab has over 200 members and the largest fleet in the city. Drivers enjoy some of the best working conditions in the industry, including access to health care. Union Cab has offered health care to its membership since the mid ’80s. In the mid ’90s, the cooperative began paying a percentage of an individual’s premium. Union Cab has also been the technological leader in the taxicab industry and maintains its own Information Services department. This spring, the cooperative will be setting the bar even higher by offering on-line ordering to the general public, as well as other programs designed to improve the work life of the members and the experience of the consumer.

Union Cab has provided leadership to the national worker-cooperative movement. It has held a seat on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives since January 2007, and helped MadWorC form. This spring, Union will offer a discount to members of any of the area’s co-ops in a show of solidarity with the cooperative movement. After thirty years, Union Cab continues to reinvent and revitalize itself through the energy of its member­ship.

MadWorC goes to school!

MadWorC is excited to work with UW CREATe, (Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology) located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is an organization consisting of students studying engineering, occupational therapy, business, and design studies (both grad students and undergrads). This group uses their talents to design equipment for individuals with disabilities also with efforts in biomechanics and orthopedic implant systems. This is a non-profit team that uses their new skills to help an underserved population in our community.

Jay Martin, the director for UW ARTe Design group (“Assistive and Rehabilitative Technology,” part of UW CREATe), recently met with MadWorC because he is interested in having the center become a worker cooperative. Because the group already practices most of the seven co-op principles, the structure of a worker co-op seems like a natural progression. Most of their projects require more then a semester to complete and the sustainability built into a worker cooperative lends itself to the needs of the group. Functionally, the individuals are much more then students taking college classes -– their projects have the potential to really change peoples’ lives.

The mission of UW CREATe is to engage in engineering research, design, and education that will assist in providing additional independence to individuals with disabilities.


Skis designed by UW CREATe participated in the American Birkebeiner in Hayward, WI, this year. Photo by Ole Olson.

Some of UW CREATe’s past projects have been a huge success. You might recognize one of them if you spent any time at Madison Winterfest – the “sit-ski.” This device allows an athlete with disabilities to cross-country ski. Now, 150 sit-skis have been manufactured and shipped across the United States using UW CREATe’s design. The US Paralympic Committee was so excited when they learned of the initial 150 sit-skis that they are providing funding for an additional 100 sit-skis. Before this project started, there were only 50 Nordic sit-skis in the entire country and they cost over $2000 each. Because of this project, by the end of 2010, there will be an additional 250 sit-skis being donated at no cost across the country. UW CREATe’s current projects also include a wheel chair accessible crib for mothers with disabilities and a self-powered wheelchair lift used to climb small stairways.

One of the biggest challenges for the organization will be how the new UW CREATe worker cooperative is integrated into the University system. Jay has met with Anne Reynolds, the Assistant Director of the UW Center for Cooperatives, and they are working on proposals for the legal relationship now.

Student-led businesses are a new thing for UW Madison, although they do exist at other universities. The University of Massachusetts in Amherst has a well-established group of small worker cooperatives that are led by students. U-Mass provides assistance in the structure and guidelines for these companies, and the students do the rest. These businesses include coffeeshops, bike shops and a copy and print shop. What will make the UW CREATe program unique is that the students will be starting a business where they can actually work in the disciplines they are studying.

For more information on UW CREATe, please visithttp://uwcreate.engr.wisc.edu/

Co-op spotlight: Just Coffee

Just Coffee Cooperative was formed in 2001 and started roasting coffee in 2002. Back then, we were working with Zapa­tista growers in Chiapas, Mexico, who were looking for better markets for their coffee. After failing to find roasters in the US to buy their coffee, we relu­ctantly decided to do it ourselves. With no experience, but plenty of idealism, we set out to become Madison’s only 100% fair-trade coffee roaster.

From the start, working with cooperatives all the way down the commodity chain was very important to our business. The growers in Chiapas formed a cooperative called Yachil at the same time Just Coffee was getting off of the ground. We joined an importing co-op of U.S. and Canadian roasters, called Cooperative Coffees, to maximize our buying power and to work on projects within grower communities. This enabled us to connect with other co-ops of small-scale growers as well as providing us with a wealth of knowledge that we could dip into as people with no business experience.

There were only two of us in the beginning, and we added members slowly, so we were forced to organize as an LLC. Wisconsin law requires a cooperative to have at least five members, and we did not qualify until 2005. We began our reorganization then, and filed our paperwork in 2006 to become all legal-like.

Today we have seven worker-owners and four main employees. Anyone who works at the co-op for a year is eligible to petition for membership. We pay between $13.50 and $21.00 per hour, depending on worker-owner status and seniority. We also offer health care bene­fits to anyone working over 20 hours a week. At this time, JC pays 70% of the cost and the worker pays 30%. We constantly strive to make sure that we are compensating fairly for the work we do.

We see our co-op as an experiment: an anti-capitalist endeavor in a “free-market” capitalist system. We try to challenge every assumption of how a successful business is run. and are very vocal about our successes, and our failures as well. We try to offer complete transparency by putting all our contracts and profit and loss statements online, and we encourage people to demand this from every business they patronize. We feel that being a cooperative, and stressing partnerships with other co-ops, is a huge part of any attempt to democratize trade.

Photo by Susan Frikken. Used by permission.

What’s in a logo?

As we search for a symbol to uniquely indentify MadWorC, we have come across some interesting information about cooperative logos.

You may have noticed that many co-op organizations use an image of twin pine trees somewhere inside their logo. The logos that we see below all have incorporated pines, usually two pines are shown. Many co-ops also use the term “Twin Pines” in their name.

While tip-toeing through the Internet doing research, we stumbled upon the source of the use of the “Twin Pines” as a cooperative symbol. In an excerpt from a 1921 edition of the magazine “Cooperation,” we found the origination and the explanation of this symbol. This magazine was written by the CLA, the “Cooperative League of America,” and interestingly enough, the article was published as their organization was searching for an identity of their own — just as we are today. This organization eventually became what we know today as the NCBA, and you can see in the logo above that they still incorporate the twin pines in their current logo.

This is a small excerpt from the 1921 article in the CLA’s search for a Cooperative Symbol:

“Many of the symbols were very meritorious. Some represented a high degree of artistic talent. Many presented symbolism which displayed a large grasp of the meaning of Co-operation. But the committee was not able to agree upon any one. The symbols that were artistic were too complicated and difficult of reproduction. Those that were simple and symbolic lacked symmetry and artistic quality. No word that was submitted was found acceptable.

“After repeating the announcement in this magazine three times during the past two years, and still not receiving a symbol and word that could be adopted, the Executive Board set to work to create the symbol and word. After several weeks of trial with many designs, the [twin pines in a circle] seal was adopted.

“The pine tree is the ancient symbol of endurance, fecundity, and immortality. Those are the qualities that we see in Co-operation. In the old Egyptian, Persian and Indian mythology, the pine tree and its symbol, the pine cone are found typifying life and the perpetuation of life. The hardy pine symbolizes the enduring quality of Co-operation. More than one pine is used to represent the mutual co-operation necessary. The trunks of the pine trees are continued into the roots which form a circle. The circle is another ancient symbol of eternal life. It typifies that which has no end. The circle in this picture represents also the world, the all-embracing cosmos, of which Co-operation is a part and which depends for its existence upon Co-operation. The colors of the two pines and the circle are dark green; this is the color of chlorophyll which is the life principle in nature. The background within the circle is golden yellow, typifying the sun, the giver of light and life.”

Now that we have an understanding of where the twin pine logo originated, it is interesting to look at the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives logo to get the perspective from a worker cooperative. This logo was conceptualized in 2004 by Tim Huet and designed by Tim Simmons. The twin pines can easily be seen in the background with a flying V flock of geese in the foreground. The addition of FASTER FURTHER TOGETHER really makes this a great logo for an organization of worker cooperatives.

A complete explanation of this logo can be found at www.usworker.coop/logo

As our search for the perfect MadWorC logo continues, please feel free to submit your ideas to steve@interpreters.coop.

By Ole Olson
Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing