Workers cooperatives An alternative business model by yaso thiru
The recent COVID pandemic has taught us two lessons: we live in a precarious world but we are resilient if we come together in solidarity. We see examples of that every day in our communities with increased volunteerism, giving, and mutual aid. We also need long-term sustainable solutions to the community crisis we face. As I write this, relief from state and federal government have run out but contrary to what was expected, people aren’t lining up to get jobs they lost or left during COVID. Instead, small businesses are struggling to fill vacancies and many are closing their doors.
Economists explain this as net migration - more people moving out of state than those coming in to Alaska. The state is working on strategies for developing new jobs and strengthening existing industries but it will take a long time for these efforts to make a significant impact. Everyone has the right to be prosperous- this means to earn a living wage, to live debt-free, own a home, and have access to affordable health care. How do we get to that destination of prosperity for all?
If no new solutions are put forth, the problems of unemployment, mental health, physical and social wellbeing of our families and neighbors will deepen further. Small business owners facing employee shortage are saying that potential employees are asking for living wages and benefits that their businesses cannot afford.
I propose an alternate business model (found elsewhere but not common in Alaska) to complement our current approach to creating living wage jobs and successful small businesses. Worker cooperatives are modeled on principles of solidarity and are common elsewhere in the country and around the world. Worker cooperatives share ownership as well as its responsibilities, risks, and rewards. Workers are trained on the job to both operate and manage the business, and may become owners over time.
Initial community investors stay or exit after a time, providing a pathway for workers to build equity ownership in the business. With equitable distribution of profits and fair wages, worker cooperatives produce the long-term benefits of earning a living wage, which allow workers to live debt-free, own a home, and maintain overall well-being. Mondragon Corporation (Spain), Evergreen Cooperative (USA), Cafe L’Artere (Canada) and Equal Exchange (USA) are some examples of worker cooperatives.
MyceliaAk is a local project to help communities create worker owned enterprises. First Entrepreneur, LLC. is working with community partners to make this possible. If you want to learn more about this project or want to create or become a member of a worker owned cooperative in Alaska, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yaso Thiru is a business professor at Alaska Pacific University and the founder of First Entrepreneur, LLC., a social enterprise. www.firstentrepreneurak.com
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