Viroqua Food Co+op Blog

The Worker Cooperative, A Business Model

Posted by Charlene Elderkin on Mon, Sep 03, 2012 @ 02:41 PM

My name is Kevin Schmidt. I am a clinical social worker/psychotherapist, at Kevin CounterpointCenter Point Counseling Services Cooperative, in Viroqua Wisconsin. We opened our doors in December 2011, the first mental health cooperative in the country.

We are a worker cooperative. This means that our 12 clinical and administrative staff are the member-owners of the cooperative.

During this last year of introducing our cooperative to the public, many have asked “So what is a worker cooperative?”  I realized that when we have been answering this question, we generally preface our response “Well, a worker cooperative is a business model…” and then there are a number of ways to end that sentence, to distinguish this business model from others. These distinctions were usually poignant, direct statements about powerful aspects of worker cooperatives, and cooperatives in general. One day, I decided to write down the many ways that we end this sentence, the ways that the worker cooperative is set apart from other business models:

A worker cooperative is a business model that grows hope out of conflict, crisis and chaos.

A business model that incorporates personal dignity, self concept and cultural capital into economic stability.

A business model that provides social organization after communities are ravaged by natural disasters, economic failure or political oppression.

A business model that creates wealth where it wasn’t before, growing economic prosperity out of economic pain.

A business model that builds abundance from scarcity and fragmentation, yielding incorporation and inclusion from alienation.

A business model of creative cohesion, as opposed to competition and so-called limited resources.

A business model of transparency instead of glass ceilings; of accountability instead of hierarchy.

A business model of local inter-dependence, resourcefulness and reinvestment; instead of exploiting workers, extracting resources and exporting wealth.

A business model for financial conservatives who resent fiscal folly and bloated inefficiency; who simply want to work together and make money.

A business model of active participation and involvement— growing the food, cooking the meal, and eating together.

A business model freed from broken bureaucracy and legislation that accumulates capital at the expense of the country.

A business model of careers and ownership, instead of right-sizing and little white lies on the resume.

A business model whose workers contribute whatever is necessary, instead of as little as possible.

A business model less vulnerable to volatility because it is based on unflinching principle, instead of the emotional whim of a jealous market.

A business model that balances humility with pride; we know we’re strong, as long as we all stick together.

A business model that generates political power based on values, labor and passion; instead of bully-pulpits, truthiness, and simplistic stickers.

A business model that returns us to democratic decision-making, which teaches us to slow down and pay attention, assess the value in thoughtful dissent and give careful consideration to complex alternatives, prior to the all-important vote. (Instead of yielding to ill-informed, heavy-handed memos from The Boss.)

A business model for cab drivers, bread bakers, home builders and house cleaners.
For midwives, pickle-pickers and psychotherapists.
For dentists, recyclers, landscapers, interpreters and big-city dog walkers.
For barristers and baristas.
For bus-boys, sous-chefs and brew-masters.
For coffee pickers, coffee roasters and coffee drinkers (!)
For prescribing nurses, addiction counselors and wildlife ecologists.
For engineers building the robots that build machines.     
For case managers, legal guardians, bike mechanics and personal trainers.
For MBA’s, PhD’s, MSW’s, GED’s, MD’s, RN’s and OTR CDL’s.
For CPA’s and CSA’s.
For PT, OT and IT.
For poets, painters and music makers.
For recovering CEO’s visioning a legacy much richer than mountains of marble and gold.
For anyone open to working together, contributing usefully to the community, and willing to get paid.

A business model of principles that resonate with disenfranchised groups, and is therefore uniquely suited to build responsive, democratic workplaces which are available to all who are able to stand up, dust themselves off, and get back to work.

A business model that capitalizes on respect for the human relationship; instead of commodifying fear, persuasion, and blind compliance.

A business model that rolls with irreverence, tolerates teasing, enjoys its share of mischief and sometimes stays up way too late discussing itself.

Oh, and dance. Definitely. A business model that can dance. And goof around. (But only when the day’s work is done.)

A business model that can be tedious, frustrating, threatening, counter-intuitive, maddening, sometimes messy… and always human.  

And it is a business model that is effective. It works when we learn it, and live it.  It works because we trust in each other, our labor, and our principles.
So, yes. It is a business model: The Worker Cooperative.

©  Kevin Schmidt, LCSW
Center Point Counseling Services Cooperative

Tags: Cooperative, Worker Cooperative Business Model