In 1983, UE members on strike at a copy shop in Amherst, Massachusetts took control of their workplace after the owners shut down rather than meet their demands: They started their own worker-owned-and-operated co-op, Collective Copies (Local 274). It is now one of the largest and most successful copy shops in Western Massachusetts, paying good union wages with comprehensive benefits.
Since then, six more co-ops have joined UE: Hunger Mountain Co-Op (Montpelier, VT; Local 255), City Market (Burlington, VT; Local 203), New Era Windows (Chicago; UE Local 1110), East End Co-Op (Pittsburgh; UE Local 667), and most recently Willy Street Co-Op (Madison; WI; Local 1186) and Slow Bloom Coffee (Redlands, CA; Local 1011). Local 1186 successfully unionized across three grocery stores as well as their off-site kitchen and administrative office, giving over 300 workers the right to successfully bargain for their first contract effective 2020. After the Augie’s Coffee chain in California shut down rather than recognize UE, former Augie’s workers established Slow Bloom Coffee Cooperative as a unionized worker co-op. The skill and tenacity of these UE members is an inspiration to us all.
Cooperative enterprises can offer a democratic model of economic development because they are accountable to local communities, not to distant investors. However, cooperatives — both consumer and worker-owned — are not immune from unjust labor practices. Consumer co-ops in particular are facing a coordinated effort by organizations such as the National Cooperative Grocers (NCG) to corporatize their model. UE fully supports the organization of co-op workers, not only to win justice on the job, but to keep cooperatives accountable to their mission and communities.
The Authentic Labor Front (FAT) in Mexico has a significant cooperative sector representing workers in the textile, agricultural, and insurance sectors. The UE and the FAT have exchanged delegations of co-op members. UE co-op members have also met with Zenroren co-op members to share notes, experiences, and ideas.
As a rank-and-file union, UE has 85 years of experience operating as a democratic organization. UE is a natural home for workers in consumer and worker-owned cooperatives. UE co-ops share our union’s proud history and fighting spirit, benefiting from our status as a union with vision, integrity, and commitment that works in a principled way with other organizations in building a better world.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 77th UE CONVENTION:
- Supports the transition of capitalist businesses to worker ownership and supports legislation to facilitate this process;
- Supports the unionization of consumer and producer cooperatives;
- Encourages UE cooperatives to engage in solidarity work with each other, analogous to the conference boards we have for other UE employers;
- Supports strengthening our relationship with the FAT’s and Zenroren’s co-op sectors;
- Encourages the national union, locals, and members to utilize and promote the products and services of UE, FAT, and Zenroren cooperatives.