The Cooperators Podcast Episode 25 Michael Peck on Worker Co-ops

by Robert McGarvey

There are maybe 400 worker owned co-ops in the US today.  How many will there be 10 years from now?

Ask Michael Peck, a founder of 1worker1vote, and he says there will be four million.

That’s no typo.  He added, “I really believe we are at a tipping point.”

Worker co-ops now are burning brightest in the constellation of cooperative initiatives.  There is vastly more enthusiasm and energy around worker co-ops than any other kind.  This year perhaps two or three new credit unions will be chartered.  There will be hundreds of times more new worker co-ops.

Peck however is no newcomer to worker co-operatives. He has been promoting them for at least a quarter century and he has long had a tie to Mondragon, the immensely successful Basque co-op that in fact is a global business.

Peck accordingly sees immense potential for Mondragon-style co-ops to sprout in the US.

A key, in his mind, is a cooperative ecosystem.  A stand alone co-op has tough going.  When a new co-op is surrounded by like mined people and businesses it’s just much more likely to prosper, says Peck.

He works to create that ecosystem.  For instance: he is very optimistic about the role labor unions can play in helping to develop new worker co-ops and that could be a win-win for unions which of course have suffered dramatic drops in membership and clout in the past quarter-century.  But just maybe a focus on starting worker co-ops may produce a brighter outlook for unions.

By Peck’s count maybe 10% of US workers have an ownership stake in where they work.

But when workers are also owners they work harder and smarter.

“Workplace democracy is possible for everybody,” says Peck.

Listen in to hear the past, present and possible future of worker co-ops.

Fyi: The Cooperators Podcast has often focused on worker co-ops. Past episode include Esteban Kelly,  Melissa HooverFrank Shipper, and Alex Stone.

Peck in the podcast mentioned the Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative. Click the link to learn more.

Also mentioned is a Barron’s piece on the good immigrants do for the US. Read it here.

Listen to the Peck podcast here.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 26 Special Edition Mike Edwards WOCCU on International Trends

This podcast initially appeared the CU 2.0 Podcast series. It appears here as a for instance of a community coming together and creating a cooperative to meet local needs.

Quick now, what country has the highest participation in credit unions? Say the US and you are wong. According to Mike Edwards, senior vice president for advocacy at the World Council of Credit Unions, it’s Ireland, north and south, where 70% belong.

In this podcast he tells why that participation is so high.

He also tells why many regulatory matters in the US in fact originate overseas – risk based capital, Bank Secrecy Act requirements, AML, and more got their start overseas and that is why Edwards spends much of his time monitoring and attempting to influence regulations overseas.

What happens in Basel does not stay in Basel.  It may and probably will wind up in the US.

Listen in to this informative podcast.

The Cooperators, Special Edition, Maine Harvest

Update: Maine Harvest now officially a new credit union. Hard work makes miracles happen.

This podcast initially appeared the CU 2.0 Podcast series. It appears here as a for instance of a community coming together and creating a cooperative to meet local needs.

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It has taken some years but finally Maine Harvest may be in the final lap before gaining an official credit union charter.  That’s because it’s met its fundraising goal, $2.4 million, with last monies ponied up by the Maine Credit Union League and what’s remarkable is that just about the whole credit union movement in the state has supported formation of this novel credit union.

So, too, do the states two U.S. Senators and two House members.

Maybe 30 credit unions have been chartered by NCUA in the past decade. So this is a big deal.

We first covered the Maine Harvest story in 2015.

We picked it up again in 2017.

And in 2019 we may be covering the official opening.

What’s special about Maine Harvest is that it intends to follow a  specific, narrow business plan where it makes loans to small farmers – for land purchase, equipment purchase, and similar.

No checking. In fact no cash in the till.

No other institutions crave that loan business. But small farming is seen as very important to Maine’s future.

Also essential to the business plan is that essentially all the back office will be provided by Synergent, a subsidiary of the Maine League.

That lets the start up focus on finding borrowers and making sound loans.

Why do many credit unions fail? They don’t serve a clear need.

This one knows its need and has a plan for filling it.

Other states would do well to look into similar efforts.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 24 Dennis Johnson on Senior Housing Co-Ops

by Robert McGarvey

Co-op housing: a better way for seniors?

 Where to house the ever expanding numbers of American seniors? Ask Dennis Johnson, president of the Senior Cooperative Foundation in Minnesota, where seniors control their housing destiny.

There are many such co-ops in Minnesota and Iowa and a handful more states, typically in the upper midwest. Why isn’t this housing popular elsewhere? Johnson tells why in this podcast.

The guiding principles behind senior co-ops spell out what make them different, special.  Such as: these co-ops “put the well-being of the members above other considerations.”

As you listen to this podcast, dream about how your community would if it had senior housing co-ops. Then take it to the next step, action.

Listen here

Part 1 of our housing co-op series is here, student housing.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 23 Brel Hutton-Okpalaeke NASCO on Student Co-Ops

Put Brel Hutton-Okpalaeke in your contacts if you are a college student searching for affordable housing. That’s because he is the director of development services at NASCO,  North American Students of Cooperation, where the primary focus is on cooperative housing, especially for students.

Now is the perfect time for NASCO – colleges have been raising student housing and board fees at a brisk pace and, unbeknownst to most, schools run those functions as profit centers. They are not usually loss leaders.  What’s more, schools know that while all eyes are on tuition increases – jumps in prices for room and board frequently are under the radar.

Enter co-op housing where, frequently, students put in work requirements and an upshot is that savings over university housing and board charges can be substantial.

The downside? It takes a number of years to form a new student housing co-op. Schools increasingly are hostile to such co-ops (they want the revenues!). And many cities and towns are downright hostile towards housing options for significant numbers of unrelated adults.

Add in difficulties in securing financing to pay acquire new housing.

That’s why NASCO is crucial. It helps students navigate these difficult, churning waters.

And know there are real plusses to co-op housing for students.  The format teaches how to function in a democracy and, for many, co-op housing is an introduction to cooperatives in general. A few years in a co-op house can lead to credit union membership, membership in food co-op, and maybe even membership in a worker owned cooperative business.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 21 Nigel Forrest on Arizona’s Cooperatives

Go ahead, tell me you don’t think of Arizona when the conversation is about cooperatives.

You would be right.

The Grand Canyon State is not Wisconsin or Minnesota or Vermont.

But your podcaster – me – lives in Arizona and so I asked Nigel Forrest, a research associate at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability, to update me and you about the state of cooperatives in Arizona.

Keep in mind that Arizona, in its comparative indifference to cooperatives, is akin to perhaps two thirds of the nation’s states.

And the good news is that Forest believes there is real upside potential for growth in cooperatives in Arizona.

He sees that as good, because cooperatives also bring more sustainability, more economic democracy.

Right now he pegs the number of cooperatives in Arizona at 50 to 60, mainly credit unions and the second biggest group is rural electric co-ops.

But he says there is vast potential for many new worker co-ops, especially as aging small business owners retire. They could close their business – or just maybe sell it to their employees.  It’s obvious which is better, for the employees, also the community.

Forrest also hopes for a new food co-op in Phoenix, the nation’s fifth biggest city and it has none right now. But he sees real possibilities.

He also has ideas about how to grow awareness of cooperatives.

And the ideas just may work in other states.

He also reports on new platform co-ops that are surfacing in Europe and that just may find use in the US, Arizona included.

Listen up.

This podcast includes a reference to the Community Purchasing Alliance – podcast here.

The food co-op expert whose name I blanked on is the Food Cooperative Initiative – podcast here

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 22 Cathie Mahon Inclusiv on CDFIs

Talk to Cathie Mahon, CEO of Inclusiv, and it’s a fast ride into what mission makes a credit union special, distinctive and in her mind the answer is clear: serving the underserved and usually that means economically disadvantaged.

She has tantalizing insights too. For instance: she tells why the business model of community development credit unions may in fact be primed for greater success than the model followed by most credit unions.

This is all about making credit unions work for their communities.  That’s cooperative principles in action.

There are about 1000 so-called community development financial institutions (CDFIs). They do good work. Tune in to find out more.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 20 Jake Schlachter We Own It

By Robert McGarvey

Corruption. Greed. Ignorance. Racism. Sexism.  Words you don’t usually hear spoken about cooperatives.  But brace yourself because in the next hour you will as The Cooperators Podcast talks with Jake Schlachter, founder and executive director of We Own It, a Madison Wisconsin based organization aimed at energizing the 130 million of us who belong to cooperatives in the US to seize control, to put our cooperatives in the directions we want them to go.

We have that power.

We just have to know it. And use it.

We are member owners. We Own It wants to remind us about that. And offer us tips on how best to use our powers.

The primary focus of We Own It right now are electric cooperatives and, yes, they have a glorious history. They brought light to the darkness of rural America.  It sounds like a Biblical moment.

But now, at many rural electric co-ops, it’s more akin to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  

Board members paid six figures for what many believe are volunteers jobs.

Boards with no African Americans serving populations with many African American members.

Boards with no women.

Boards that could spell solar if you spot them the consonants. And many of those boards also just don’t get that adding broadband Internet to their services just may save them for generations to come.

Some electric co-ops are grand indeed. Some aren’t.  We Own It aims to energize members to transform the latter.

We Own It also has its eyes on credit unions which talk a good game of member ownership – but many credit unions fail miserably when it comes to empowering their member owners. Have you ever voted in a credit union election? Ever?

The podcast also detours into food co-ops – and what they can teach electric co-ops and what they can learn from other co-ops.

BTW, Jim Blaine sits on the board of We Own It. He gets his own podcast here. Other, related podcasts include Stuart Reid (food co-ops) and C. E. Pugh (also food co-ops).  And Chris Mitchell discussed rural broadband and electric co-ops here.

To read my interview with scholar Robert Putnam on “Bowling Alone,” read my interview here.

This is fundamentally a very optimistic podcast. But at times it may seem we stepped into Apocalypse Now and all we can do is mumble the horror, the horror.

Buckle up.  

Like what you are hearing? The Cooperators Podcast seeks sponsors and supporters to help us spread the word about cooperatives and how they often are the better way. Contact Robert McGarvey to find out what you can do to sustain this podcast.

The Cooperators Episode 19 Chris Mitchell on Rural Broadband and Co-Ops

If you live in the sticks and want broadband, Chris Mitchell is the man to know.

If you are a cooperator and want to hear a co-op success story, Chris Mitchell also is the man to know.

That’s because – as director of the Community Broadband Initiative – Mitchell knows the reality of what’s happening in bringing high speed Internet to rural America.  He also records a weekly podcast, Broadband Bits. It’s a good listen.

By his estimate maybe 85% of the lower 48 states land mass lacks high speed Internet.

By contrast, 90% of significantly populated areas have that access.

This is about a whole lot more than streaming porn and playing online games.  It many ways it’s about the life of rural America, much of which faces a depopulation crisis.

Good broadband just may cure that.

Nobody thinks broadband alone will keep folks on the farm. But a lack of broadband just may be enough to send them packing.

Where do co-ops fit in? As heroes in fact, roles played in much of the country by both electric co-ops and telephone co-ops (of which there are many hundreds by Mitchell’s count).

A few decades ago the telephone co-ops began to offer broadband. In the last decade the electric co-ops – generally much bigger companies with deeper pockets – have entered the picture.

Mitchell expects a stampede of co-ops entering the fight.

This all is reminiscent of the rural electrification project that brought light to the countryside in the FDR New Deal.

It worked then. Mitchell believes it will work again and is optimistic that rural America doon will enjoy quality broadband, very possibly better than what urban America gets.

“The solution is in view,” Mitchell said.  “There’s little that would stop co-ops from solving this problem.”

 Like what you are hearing? The Cooperators Podcast seeks sponsors and supporters to help us spread the word about cooperatives and how they often are the better way. Contact Robert McGarvey to find out what you can do to sustain this podcast.