We know that workers have been on the front lines of the pandemic, too often with no real say in the conditions they’ve had to face and the risks they’ve had to take. Meanwhile, the net worth of American billionaires has grown by over a trillion dollars since the start of the pandemic. How would a more democratic economy have responded to the current crisis?
How have co-ops in the food industry and in the care sector stepped up to protect their worker-owners? How have traditional businesses found a path through the pandemic through a conversion to worker ownership? How have worker co-ops created opportunities for those traditionally excluded or marginalized in the economy to build workplaces centered around dignity and democracy? And what challenges and setbacks have these nascent efforts to build a new economy facing?
Since 2009, worker cooperatives in Cleveland have received significant institutional support, and cities around the country should take notice of the results.
While large corporations received billions in tax breaks and subsidies, worker co-ops struggled to raise capital. So worker-owners in Baltimore started their own revolving loan fund, supporting nearly two dozen co-ops as they successfully weathered COVID-19.
Millions went hungry when the pandemic hit, but at the Black-owned cooperative Brooklyn Packers, workers rose to the challenge by packing thousands of meals a week.
ChiFresh Kitchen, located in Chicago, is owned and operated by formerly incarcerated women of color.
Homecare is an essential service, yet many workers lacked PPE during the pandemic, emblematic of the industry’s poor treatment. Co-ops are showing it doesn’t have to be this way.
In a TRNN special report, Jaisal Noor talks to worker-owners at 8 co-ops across 4 states about how they were able to successfully weather the pandemic while prioritizing the needs of their workers, and how they navigated the unique limitations of the cooperative business model.
At the height of the pandemic, the restaurant industry sued to overturn bans on indoor dining, arguing it was the only way they could survive. But at cooperatively-run restaurants, where worker-owners vote over major decisions, they decided to prioritize their lives over profits and pivoted their business models so they could stay in business.
This special report has been supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.