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New Co-Op Model for Sustainable Main Street Jobs

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Image: Mike HallThe United Steelworkers (USW), the Spanish worker cooperative Mondragon—the world’s largest worker cooperative—and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC) this week unveiled what they describe as a “template that combines worker equity with a progressive collective bargaining process.”

USW President Leo Gerard says that “to survive the boom and bust, bubble-driven economic cycles fueled by Wall Street, we must look for new ways to create and sustain good jobs on Main Street.”

This union co-op model…provides a viable road map on how we might begin fielding these sustainable jobs. Worker-ownership can provide the opportunity to figure out collective alternatives to layoffs, bankruptcies and closings in hard times, rather than having the rug pulled right out from under struggling communities to the benefit of a few at the expense of the many.

A key part of the co-op’s mission is to support and invest in communities, by creating jobs, funding development projects, supporting education and providing opportunity.

“Sustainable Jobs, Sustainable Communities: The Union Co-Op Model” is a “public domain” template available to any organization at www.union.coop. It offers a primer for competitive and equitable employment creation based on 55 years of Mondragon principles put into marketplace practice.

In 2011, Mondragon reached annual sales of more than $24 billion with its own cooperative university, cooperative bank and cooperative social security mutual and is ranked as the top Basque business group, the seventh largest in Spain and the world’s largest industrial workers’ cooperative.

Gerard says the goal is creating an economy that can work for everyone who works, and that:

Creating sustainable jobs and sustainable communities require broadening the definition of societal value beyond “the bottom line” and moving to a more stakeholder-centric economy. Democratic worker ownership principles combined with social and economic justice differentiate the union co-op model from traditional business models, making the union co-op option sustainable and giving it a competitive edge over the long term as worker-owners get to benefit more fully from their hard work and own their own decision-making process and all the fruits of their labors.

The co-op principle, he says, will result in improved, self-reinforcing, worker and customer satisfaction through higher accountability, productivity and efficiency because all workers will have an equal equity stake in the company, share common goals and adhere to common principles and practices that broaden the definition of value beyond the bottom line.

Several co-op projects are under way and in the planning stages. Click here for information from the USW.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on March 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall “I’m a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.”


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