In January 2015, after completing a 10-week intensive to ground our research, our team went on a co-op tour in Oakland and San Francisco. We visited worker-owned cooperatives, collectives, toured Recology to learn about Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), and participated in a panel discussion with leaders from the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, the Democracy at Work Institute, Arizmendi Bakeries, the Sustainable Economies Law Center, the East Bay Community Law Center, Movement Generation, and Pacific Electric Worker Owned Cooperative.
We began our tour with a visit to Recology SF in San Francisco. Recology is an employee-owned recycling and waste hauling company that started in 1932 and now handles the City of San Francisco’s waste and composting. They were the first to create a citywide composting program and are currently looking to enter the Los Angeles market as part of the new franchise system called Zero Waste LA.
Next, we went to Arizmendi Bakery on Valencia Street in San Francisco. Arizmendi Valencia is one of six Arizmendi cooperative bakeries in the Bay Area. We ate a delicious lunch, talked with Arizmendi worker-owners about their co-op, and also heard from neighborhood activists PODER about their organizing efforts.
After lunch we visited Design Action Collective, a graphic design cooperative in Oakland, where we learned about their start up process and ongoing management structure. We also talked to new worker-owners about the process of becoming a member.
The next morning we met with Phat Beets at a North Oakland Farmer’s Market. Phat Beets is a collective of young leaders, small farmers, and community members who want to create better food choices. We learned about their CSA and nutrition programs. After the market, we toured their Youth Market Garden where they are growing food for obesity prevention programs.
That afternoon, we returned to The Orchard, a collective garden and community space in Oakland, and participated in a round table discussion with key people in the cooperative sector.
Organizations Represented at the Round Table:
Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives: The Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives is a cooperative made up of seven member businesses: six cooperative bakeries and a development and support collective in the Bay Area.
Democracy at Work Institute: The Democracy at Work Institute advances the worker cooperative field in order to create a fairer economy and better jobs.
East Bay Community Law Center: EBCLC provides legal services to low-income communities in the areas of housing, welfare, HIV & health, homelessness and economic development, along with clinical education for law students.
Movement Generation: MG has been part of the racial, social, economic and environmental justice movement for over two decades.
Pacific Electric Worker-Owned Cooperative: PEWOC is a Los Angeles-based electricians’ cooperative.
Sustainable Economies Law Center: SELC cultivates a new legal landscape that supports community resilience and grassroots economic empowerment.
Writings About the Tour
Los Angeles representatives Clare Fox of the L.A. Food Policy Council, Rudy Espinoza with Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN), and Doug Smith with Public Counsel, also joined our co-op tour to learn more about cooperatives and how this business model could be implemented in Los Angeles.
Clare and Rudy wrote inspiring pieces about their experiences which you can read here:
Worker Cooperatives, Capital, & Politics: Rudy Espinoza