The Dawn of the Worker Owned Business In Long Beach

Oct. 29, 2018 / By

Commentary by Alvin Engo. Graphic designed by Michael Lozano.

Say you’re at your job and you’re interested in suggesting a new idea that you and your co-workers agree on to help the business grow. Your boss, however, despite having the majority support of your working peers, says no and with no chances to appeal by the way the business is run. Isn’t there a system that could democratize your job, though? And what could this business look like?

Perhaps you may find this situation familiar to you where either your voice or your co-worker’s doesn’t seem to matter that much to your boss. You ought to feel frustrated or feel left out as all of the say goes to the higher ups. Maybe there’s some way we can solve this?

I’ve been researching cooperatives (coops for short), where a business is owned and managed by the workers and not the boss. If the idea of workers owning a share of the business and making decisions can be mind-blowing and radical — it is because it is!

Recently, Long Beach interest in cooperatives was on full display at the Worker Cooperative National Conference on September 16. Hosted by the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFW) and the Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI) at L.A. Trade Technical College, they were present in L.A. to talk all about worker-owned cooperatives, attending workshops designed for newbies and experts alike.

Around 500 hundred eager supporters came to this convention, including many Long Beach organizations and residents that have already begun the process of organizing support for cooperatives. For example, the Foundation for Economic Democracy has started working on cooperative education in Long Beach, spreading awareness to the local communities and helping educate the community on how to start one up.

The cooperative movement isn’t new. It’s been a long-standing conflict between the traditional model of a corporate business versus the worker-owned cooperative business model. Long Beach prior to the conference has had a local food truck coop which continues to expand since becoming an official 501c3 in May.

Providing affordable and organic food and hygiene products to underserved communities, their number of people served is “doubling every week… We got so many people that want to help the organization,” says co-founder Kristen Cox. Now with various fridges donated to them, the group is nearing a purchase on their first truck. “It’s totally exploding,” says Cox. “It’s just a matter of time.” 

Residents seem more committed than ever. I interviewed Ricardo Nuñez, board president of the USFW and a fellow resident of Long Beach. He defines worker cooperatives as taking “that logic of local ownership and creating a shared ownership around employees.”

Nuñez points out that locals “can benefit from the wealth that is generated in Long Beach… The more local dollars stay in the local economy… [the] more resilient and economic benefits for the company.”

The growth in worker cooperatives around and in Long Beach would also help working class families out of poverty at a time when gentrification and the housing affordability crisis is at an all-time high.  As Nuñez points out, “In Long Beach, many workers are struggling to pay rent due to gentrification, as well as just being given a fairer wage as the wage is stolen by the bosses unfairly.”

Coops bring so much to the working class in Long Beach: They care about your community and they’re not run by big corporations that just lay off its workers for the sake of its shareholders. If Amazon was a coop, it can very well be that the thousands of layoffs and harsh working conditions under the Bezos administration would have been prevented or been far better than what it was.

Long Beach continues to show interest in coops in other ways. Local resident Amy Solis is an Administrative and Programs Coordinator for DAWI and discussed with me on the phone her plans to open a consulting services coop, called Radiate Consulting, to offer program and support to organizations, predominantly managed and founded by Long Beach residents as well as by graduates from CSULB.

“I’m hoping that with the launch of [Radiate] in L.A. that there is going be a trend of worker coops in” Long Beach, she says.

She states that despite the previous failures, Long Beach coops can have a shot at success as long as we build the support in the city to push for sustainable organizing. “With worker coops, I think there is interest and it kinda falls apart because [coops] doesn’t have much support in this city to develop those kinds of enterprises,” Solis says.

Spreading public awareness and education on coops is critical. I met Maggie Miland during one of the conference’s workshops. She’s from the city of Vancouver where she works as the community administrator for BC Coop Association, a coop resource center, and she brought up something interesting to me: As high school students, U.S. youth often are taught values of aggressive competition on school grounds, while high schools students in Canada are educated about cooperative values.

“You’re seeing more and more young people wanting to get into the cooperative movement, but they just don’t know much about it,” Miland says. “Get in front of students and to talk them about the coop model… and you can make a difference.”

As democratically-managed workplaces, cooperatives give more say to the worker than your average corporation. Simple as that — if you want more power in your workplace, you should form a business in the style of a worker cooperative!

As long as we advocate for the support for cooperatives locally, we may very well have our first Long Beach work cooperative up and running in no time.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested that a local food truck coop has shut down. It actually continues to expand with new members and customers. We apologize for this error.

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Ceferino Martirez

Ceferino Martirez is a photojournalist with VoiceWaves. He is a history and history education major at CSULB who joined VoiceWaves in 2018. Martirez’s work focuses on street photography and protest coverage. His work with VoiceWaves has focused on using his photography to capture community voices on issues like housing, labor, and youth rights.