The DC Worker Cooperative Coalition (DCWCC) is a group of worker cooperative owners, worker cooperative incubators, lawyers, and grassroots organizing groups who support the development of worker cooperatives as a necessary tool for equitable economic development, and who wish to see a flourishing worker cooperative ecosystem in Washington, DC.
Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and controlled by their workers. Studies show that, as compared to other small businesses and traditional investor-owned businesses, they tend to pay higher wages and provide better benefits, invest more in their workers through leadership and skills development, remain in business longer given worker commitment to the businesses, and encourage democratic, participatory and dignified workplaces. There are examples of low-wage workers in New York City who have formed worker cooperatives and have seen their hourly wages increase from $10 to $25 per hour within just a few years.
In recent years, worker cooperative development has grown dramatically in a range of cities including Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Cleveland, Chicago, and Austin, in industries ranging from healthcare to sustainable energy production. Government support has been instrumental. In recognition of the benefits of this business model, in 2014, the New York City Council allotted $1.2 million toward worker cooperative development. Just last week, the NYC Council passed a law that requires the city to issue annual reports on the amount of goods and services it purchases from worker cooperatives, and to provide recommendations on how to lower barriers for worker cooperative participation in city procurement. This year, the Madison City Council committed $5 million over 5 years to worker cooperative development. The City of Cleveland has also been supportive of local worker cooperative development, providing land for a 3-acre hydroponic greenhouse and worker cooperative.
Given DC’s struggles with high inequality and a shortage of living wage jobs, we would greatly benefit from an integrated approach to supporting worker cooperative development. While the benefits of worker cooperatives are well-documented, they are widely unknown and underutilized as an economic development tool in Washington, DC. Supportive policies and legislation could change that.
Below is a list of policy recommendations to the City Council:
1) Pass a local definition of “worker co-op” and support public education on the model’s benefits
2) Equip the D.C. Small Business Development Centers to support worker cooperative businesses
3) Provide city-owned land and buildings to worker cooperatives
4) Provide funding (grants, loans) to worker cooperative businesses and developers
5) Make worker cooperatives a preferred contractor for city agencies
6) Provide tax benefits to worker cooperatives
On Thursday, March 26th, we will co-host the Second Annual Equitable Development Symposium, which will feature New York City Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who championed the legislative effort to support worker cooperatives in New York City. The event will take place at the George Washington University Marvin Center Grand Ballroom (800 21st St NW) from 9am-3pm. We hope you can join us there.
The DCWCC would welcome the opportunity to meet with the City Council and others to explore these ideas and share additional resources we have collected from worker cooperative efforts around the country. We look forward to continuing the conversation and working towards an equitable DC with dignified, democratic workplaces.
DC Worker Cooperative Coalition
Allison Basile, ONE DC
Community Development Law Clinic
UDC David A. Clarke School of Law
Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE) DC
Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) DC
Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Ph.D.
ONE DC and Grassroots Economic Organizing
Zenful Bites Catering Cooperative
Second Chance Legal Project of Mothers Outreach Network, Inc.
Tracy McCurty, Esq.
Black Belt Justice Center
Zachari J. Curtis
Community Farming Alliance