We want to live in a society where enterprises and assets are owned and controlled by the communities that depend on them for livelihoods, sustenance, and ecological well-being.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center's Cooperatives Program works to vastly expand the legal resources and cultivate a fertile legal landscape for the growth of cooperatives for the benefit of workers. We provide education, advocacy, research, and advice for worker centered cooperatives, including the creation of legal documents and guidance for best practices.
COOPERATIVE PROJECTS & RESOURCES
Find our worker centered cooperative projects and resources for starting, supporting, or cultivating worker cooperatives below!
Peruse our Law Center's legal resource library for cooperatives, Co-opLaw.org, which provides a forum for sharing, organizing, and making sense of information related to the legalities of cooperatives, including sample bylaws, operating agreements, and plain english guides to coop law.
Find resources for worker self-directed nonprofits, that is nonprofit organizations seeking to provide all workers with the power to influence programming, change the conditions of their workplace, have voice in the direction of their own career paths, and provide guidance to the organization as a whole.
Find information on our project, Democratizing the Invisible Workforce, which works with low-income and immigrant communities to cultivate cooperative enterprises that meet the needs of our elders and people with disabilities and the workers that support them. Our first step in realizing this vision is to support the creation of a domestic care worker cooperative.
Read and download our facilitator guides so you can host your own intro workshop on the legal nuts and bolts of starting a worker cooperative called "Learning to Think Outside the Boss!" It includes a facilitator guide, skit, and powerpoint slides we've created to explain how the law works in, against, and for worker cooperatives.
Find more information about our critical work in partnership with Propsera, the Democracy at Work Institute, and others, to fill the gap in legal and cooperative resources to support immigrant leaders building economic resilience and job stability for their communities.
Find information on the San Francisco Bay Area's first Worker Coop Academy, an intensive multi-month training course for teams who want to operate democratically-run, worker-owned enterprises, including replication resources and links to Academies across the country.
Find our downloadable legal manuals in both English and Español on how to create and run a worker-owned enterprise.
Through our Law Center’s Resilient Communities Legal Cafe, we provide one-time legal advice and consultations multiple times per month across the San Francisco Bay Area. This is a space to come and discuss your cooperative enterprise at any stage of its development, from idea to conversion to operation. We also provide long term representation to a very limited number of clients. For those building worker cooperatives interested in longer term representation from our Law Center, please contact Ricardo S. Nuñez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COOPERATIVE POLICY ADVOCACY
Find out about the Law Center's cooperative policy advocacy campaigns that put our livelihoods back in our control!
Current Advocacy Projects
- Oakland and Berkeley considering adopting unprecedented programs to support local worker cooperative development.
- Everyday worker coop members are learning how to intervene in law and policy to advance the coop movement.
Past Advocacy Projects
COOPERATIVE POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
Our Center prioritizes cooperative ventures for a simple reason: We believe that enterprises and assets should be owned and controlled by the communities that depend on them for livelihoods, sustenance, and ecological well-being. The legal architecture of organizations and enterprises is, in many respects, the architecture of our economy. Legal structures dictate how wealth flows through our organizations and how decisions are made. Traditional enterprise models are designed to grow the wealth of people who already have wealth, giving all decision-making power to those same individuals. By contrast, cooperatives put wealth and decisions into the hands of workers and consumers, building community well-being and transforming local economies.
Want more info about our Center's Cooperatives work?
Contact Ricardo Nuñez - email@example.com
UPDATED JULY 2017
AB 816 PASSED BECAUSE OF YOUR SUPPORT!
Because so many of you signed the Coalition's petition below the legislators in Sacramento knew that their constituents, YOU, wanted to see more cooperative enterprises take root in California!
NOTE: If you'd like to keep up to date with future worker cooperative state or local policy initiatives, SELC's worker cooperative publications (like our legal guide for Cooperative Conversions), or receive invitations to educational events about worker cooperatives, please sign up below! Thanks!
What is AB 816?
AB 816 will help small businesses, create jobs, and empower California communities by providing a business entity specifically for worker cooperatives within the existing Consumer Cooperative Corporations Law.
Read a detailed summary of the bill prepared by the California Worker Cooperative Policy Coalition.
How did people like you get involved?
They signed our petition below! We took the petition signatures to the California State Capital and told the assembly members and State Senators Californians wanted clearer paths to creating economic democracy at home!
AB 816: The California Worker Cooperative Act
AB 816 clarifies that the existing Cooperative Law applies to cooperatives in general, not just consumer cooperatives. It also creates more visibility for worker cooperatives and provides a framework for worker cooperative business formation. Worker cooperatives that organize under the amended Coop Law may elect to be governed as a worker cooperative, ensuring that workers will control the business in the future. AB 816 also raises the existing exemption from securities registration for the sale of memberships up to $1,000 (the current law only allows $300). That means you can crowdfund from your local community to invest (that's right, not donate, but actually invest!) in the creation and expansion of democratic, worker-owned businesses! AB 816 also provides strict guidelines for those outside investors regarding voting power and influence on the business.
AB 816 Provisions
Read the full current bill language and record of amendments.
We held an informational session regarding the 2015 Worker Cooperative Act on March 3rd, 2015 and recorded it for your viewing pleasure. Watch below at your leisure!
Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives * East Bay Community Law Center * Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NoBAWC) * The Sustainable Economies Law Center * U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives * Democracy at Work Institute
Thank you for signing our Petition!
Those below added their names because they believe that cooperatives can build community wealth while providing just and dignified livelihoods. It was their voices that let legislatures know we not only want but demand more worker owned businesses in our communities!
NOTE: The first time you sign into SELC's website, if you uncheck "Send me email updates," you will be unsubscribed from ALL email updates from SELC.
SELC does not have the ability to text you about this campaign.
At a time when immigrant communities are facing multiple threats and vulnerabilities, it is critical to fill the gap in resources for immigrant cooperatives and to support the leaders who are building economic resilience for their communities.
|Photo Credit: Boss Tweed|
What if you were forced to leave everything you had ever known and move to a completely new place? What if this new place didn't value your contributions and demonized your community? Unfortunately, that's what's happening now. There is an increasing hostility toward immigrants in our workforce and in our communities. This resentment is pushing immigrants to find new pathways toward economic stability and self-determination.
In the past few years, immigrant-owned worker cooperatives have emerged as a vehicle for asset building and community resilience. Cooperatives are unique in their legal, financial, governance, and management structures, and they need regular support just like conventional businesses. Around the U.S., the growth of immigrant-owned worker cooperatives have outpaced that of cooperatives owned by non-immigrants! Those cooperatives, and more in formation, are seeking technical and legal support but finding little to none.
Immigrants have started building cooperative economies, but they lack culturally relevant and accessible resources to scale. That's why we're collaborating to fill the gap.
Collaborating to Fill the Gap
Sustainable Economies Law Center and Prospera, two backbone organizations supporting immigrant-owned worker cooperatives, have joined forces and began mapping out how to meet the needs of our immigrant-owned cooperatives! Read here about some of our past work with Prospera.
Prospera has helped establish more than a dozen immigrant-owned worker cooperatives over the past decade, and in recent years, has developed a range of programs to train and support immigrant leaders and entrepreneurs in developing cooperatives.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center is one of the only organizations in the U.S. that provides free or low-cost legal services and resources to worker cooperatives, and the Law Center is widely viewed as a leader in developing legal structures, policies, and other strategies to support the growth of a worker cooperative movement.
Prospera and the Law Center are now collaborating to develop trainings, events, support networks, clinics, and resources to meet the initial and ongoing legal and technical support needs of immigrant cooperatives. We are planning on rolling out these resources for Spanish and Tagalog speaking cooperatives in the Bay Area that will then be replicated for cooperatives across the country.
Prospera and the Law Center are planning on:
Building leadership and training peer support providers: We plan on training Spanish and Tagalog speaking cooperative members on legal, financial, governance, and operational matters essential to the success of cooperatives. This will provide a growing team of cooperative members the ability to provide leadership within their own cooperatives and support their peers in other cooperatives. In addition, the Law Center will provide substantial legal training to one or more members of Prospera’s cooperative development team.
Training lawyers and other professionals to support cooperatives: We plan on providing training to Spanish and Tagalog speaking lawyers and other professionals, in order to begin growing a network of technical support providers. The Law Center has provided similar training to lawyers across the U.S., helping the legal community gain cooperative literacy, but have been unable to connect with bilingual or multilingual lawyers to serve our immigrant communities.
Hosting regular gatherings and events to serve as a “one-stop-shop” for immigrant cooperative members seeking legal support: At least every six weeks, cooperative members and entrepreneurs in the Bay Area will be invited to attend an event that will combine workshops, discussions, a legal advice clinic, and a space in which cooperative leaders can build community, support their peers, gain access to a wide variety of resources, and build power for a growing immigrant cooperative movement. The Law Center has already provided legal advice to more than 700 entrepreneurs during similar events (called “Legal Cafes”) over the past four years. Early this year, the American Bar Association gave the Sustainable Economies Law Center the Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access, in recognition that this model of service provision has been highly effective in meeting legal and other needs of low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs. Now, Prospera and the Law Center will collaborate to host similar events in which most or all content and advice will be delivered in Spanish.
Developing multi-lingual trainings, webinars, videos, online resources, and sample legal documents for immigrant cooperatives: Prospera and the Law Center are collaborating to develop a suite of linguistically and culturally appropriate resources for immigrant cooperatives across the U.S., including highly accessible and engaging legal documents, such as this cartoon LLC Operating Agreement, which was created by the Law Center for a cooperative incubated by Prospera. Resources will be made available on both organizations’ websites and on Co-opLaw.org (a resource site maintained by the Law Center).
Providing direct, ongoing support to immigrant-owned cooperatives: Both organizations plan on providing critical legal support and technical assistance to cooperatives in the Bay Area and beyond. This would include assistance with matters such as employment law, contracts, entity structure, financial operations, tax, governance, management, member training, workplace culture, and enterprise development.
Providing support to other cooperative development organizations: A growing number of community-based and economic development organizations have been reaching out to Prospera and the Law Center for help to develop programs to support or incubate cooperatives in immigrant communities. We plan on continuing to provide training and assistance to these organization as they develop their programs.
Building a National Ecosystem Supporting Immigrant-Owned Cooperatives
More info coming soon!
Why Immigrant-Owned Cooperatives?
To address the root causes of wealth inequality and institutional racism, we need to put ownership and control back in the hands of those most marginalized by the dominant economy. We are working with communities across the Bay Area and beyond to create new models of equitable development that build community wealth (not just individual wealth), empower everyday people as agents of positive change, and embed democratic control in the very fabric of the economy.
In the Bay Area, for example, there is currently no native Spanish speaker providing legal services to immigrant-owned cooperatives and there is no where immigrant cooperative members can go for legal advice, technical assistance, or peer support. Across the U.S., there are very few Spanish-language legal resources, guides, and sample documents for cooperatives. We are here to change that and build the cooperative economy that is centered on those marginalized by our current legal and economic systems.
UPDATED JULY 2017
We need economies made up of democratic workplaces that provide meaningful, dignified livelihoods to all people. That's why the SELC, Project Equity, and the East Bay Community Law Center created the Worker Coop Academy. The Academy catalyzes the formation and expansion of worker-owned businesses that will provide good jobs for low to moderate income workers.
Won't you help us reach our funding goal in order to build the cooperative economy of the Bay Area? Your funding will not only support facilitation of the Academy, but also the accreditation of its curriculum. We are working with Laney College to accredit the Worker Coop Academy so it can be offered for college credit across California! Give today!Donate
We need YOU to show the City of Berkeley that you care about worker cooperatives. Will you submit a letter of support and RSVP below to follow announcements about the introduction of this historic ordinance to support worker cooperatives in Berkeley?
The hearing date is still unannounced so please RSVP to this page to receive important announcements!
The Sustainable Economies Law Center, in partnership with other organizations and community members, has crafted an ordinance that will support the creation and success of worker cooperatives in Berkeley.
The Law Center's Worker Coop Policy Brigade has been hard at work with Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Berkeley City Council Members, and Berkeley City staff to push forward the Ordinance Supporting Worker Cooperatives. Berkeley City Council will vote on the ordinance this summer! The hearing date is still unannounced so please RSVP to this page to receive important announcements!
How you can help:
SUBMIT A LETTER OF SUPPORT: Click here to download the template letter of support and instructions.
CALL YOUR COUNCIL MEMBER: Do you live or work in Berkeley? We need you to call your councilmember and tell them why you believe worker cooperatives are important and should be supported by the City of Berkeley. Find your district’s representative here.
RSVP: RSVP to this page to follow important announcements like the summer hearing date as soon as it is announced. We need you to join us at the city council to celebrate the impact of worker cooperatives and demonstrate widespread support for this ordinance!
RSVP BELOW TO RECEIVE IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENTS ABOUT THE VOTE!
2134 Martin Luther King Jr Way
Berkeley, CA 94704
Google map and directions
Because of a new California law that passed last year, starting January 1, 2017, any worker cooperative corporation with seven or more members must now obtain workers compensation insurance for its worker-owners, even when everyone serves on the Board of Directors.
Although Assembly Bill (AB) 2883 was framed as a bill to clean up ambiguities in the code, it failed to take into account its impact on Cooperative Corporations. Many worker cooperatives are now being hit with enormous insurance bills costing worker-owners as much as 20% of their income. Prior to AB 2883, worker-owners had a choice in how this money was spent, sometimes setting it aside instead for higher wages that are paid directly to workers, or using it to provide comprehensive medical insurance. AB 2883 effectively takes this decision-making power away from worker-owners, undermining worker self-determination.
This article provides background, steps that cooperatives can take to respond, and information about the worker cooperative community’s current efforts to change the law.Read more
Worker cooperatives around California are being impacted by a new law requiring worker-owners to purchase workers compensation insurance. As a result, many cooperatives will have to cut worker pay and benefits. Will you join us in the effort to change the law?
Background on the Current Workers Compensation Legislation
In 2016, the California Legislature passed AB 2883, making changes to the workers compensation law that failed to take into account and will have an adverse impact on cooperatives. Previously, workers compensation insurance was not required for managing owners of businesses. This is still true for LLCs and partnerships, but AB 2883 made a very significant change for corporations, requiring that an owner hold at least 15% of the shares in order to waive workers compensation coverage. AB 2883 failed to consider the impact on cooperatives where members manage an enterprise collectively.
Previously, some worker cooperatives in California chose not to obtain workers compensation insurance for managing owners, opting instead to apply those funds toward health insurance, long-term disability insurance, or higher wages. In some industries, such as in food businesses, the cost of workers comp insurance will reduce workers’ take-home pay by as much as 15%. One worker-owned cafe has reported that AB 2883 will cause the cooperative to lose $200,000 in 2017. This is a substantial setback for the worker cooperative movement at a time when worker-ownership has been recognized as a path to better and more stable livelihoods in California. The new Labor Code laws as passed under AB 2883 have major implications. Read our guide on how to navigate the new worker's comp law on our blog here!
Worker-owners of a handful of cooperatives, including The Cheese Board Collective, Three Stone Hearth, Home Green Home, Drought Smart, Arizmendi Bakery, and Echo Adventures Team, have convened to form a campaign working group to change the law. Right now, we are gathering support from other cooperatives and organizations impacted by AB 2883.
Sign the Petition
This petition will call on California legislators to pass a bill that would give cooperatives the right to opt out of the workers compensation requirement. The bill would essentially restore the previous provisions of the law in its application to Cooperative Corporations: In cooperatives where all members serve as officers or directors, those members will be allowed to waive workers compensation coverage.
By adding your name to the petition, you are indicating your support for a bill that would allow cooperatives to opt out of the workers compensation requirement.
By Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) Director of Economic Democracy, Ricardo Nuñez
There has been a constant stream of depressing and demoralizing news this summer. A dysfunctional political system, continuing police violence against our black and brown brothers and sisters, and an economic system that continues to exacerbate income inequality. At times like these, we only need to look within our own communities to find hope and renewal. SELC Summer Institute interns teamed up with interns from Project Equity and the Community Economic Justice Clinic at EBCLC to take a day to visit spaces of an economy that redirects wealth and control back to communities; an economy based on solidarity. Below, our summer interns share their reflections on the spaces we visited, spaces where individuals are taking collective action to live out the solidarity economy SELC and our allies are working to build.
Thank you to Design Action Collective, the Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives, Mandela Food Cooperative, Arizmendi Lakeshore Cooperative, the Addison Court Housing Cooperative and land trust, and Phat Beets for sharing your stories of resilience and solidarity!Read more
Host your own "Learning to Think Outside the Boss" workshop!
Thank you for your interest in hosting"Learning to Think Outside the Boss: An Introductory Workshop on the Legal Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Worker Cooperative!" Below, find resources we've created to teach about how the law works in, against, and for worker cooperatives. This is a shorter, participatory, discussion-orientated version of our half day "Think Outside the Boss" workshop.
NOTE: These materials are updated at irregular intervals and might change from time to time. Updates are based on feedback from participants and those who facilitate the "Learning to Think Outside the Boss" workshop. Please send questions, feedback, or comments about this guide to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is it?
This workshop provides an introduction to the practical steps individuals and groups need to take to establish, build, and successfully manage a cooperative enterprise. This introductory workshop attempts to bring forward basic legal and structural questions such as what is a cooperative, what is a legal entity, what rules govern fundraising and financing for cooperatives, and more. This workshop provides an overview of the content contained in Sustainable Economies Law Center's Think Outside the Boss: How to Create a Worker-Owned Business manual.
Why Do it?
This workshop is meant to provide an introduction for those looking to support cooperative development and for entrepreneurs and activists seeking to build a worker cooperative. By the end of the workshop, participants should be able to
- have a basic understanding of the cooperative form from a functional and principled perspective,
- understand the Cooperative Principles in practice,
- distinguish cooperatives from other business forms,
- distinguish between the different kinds of cooperatives,
- understand basic questions that should be asked when founding a worker cooperative,
- and think about cooperatives as they relate to the needs in their lives.
Facilitators should use a combination of lecture (minimal), experiential learning, and popular education techniques to engage the group actively in the process of learning about worker cooperatives and cooperative business development.
Beginning in 2013, SELC and the East Bay Community Law Center have been hosting half day workshops called "Think Outside the Boss" three times per year in the San Francisco Bay Area. These Think Outside the Boss workshops provide community members an introduction into the nuts and bolts of starting and running a cooperatively owned business. We go over legal issues in an accessible way to help you understand the relationships between cooperatives, employment, and community wealth-building. Attorneys, law students, and experienced cooperative professionals give short presentations on legal issues, governance structures, financing, and more. We also typically host breakout sessions on specialized topics with attorneys, cooperative accountants, business planning specialists, and discussions led by cooperative worker-members. To find the next Think Outside the Boss workshop, please visit theselc.org/events.
This facilitator’s guide was originally prepared for the 2014 JACKSON RISING: NEW ECONOMIES CONFERENCE in Jackson, Mississippi. Their clarion call to build a broad based solidarity economy in the southern US led us to deepen our intention of making legal education accessible to those building economic democracy all around the country. With feedback from the worker cooperative community, allies, and others who use our resources, we have attempted to refine this facilitator’s guide in order to increase its usefulness to the movement. We hope this guide can introduce cooperative entrepreneurs, practitioners, and cooperative developers to the basic legal concepts when starting and operating a worker-owned cooperative.
THIS GUIDE WAS PREPARED FOR A 2016 WORKSHOP ON STARTING A WORKER-OWNED BUSINESS. THE CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE AND ACCOMPANYING THINK OUTSIDE THE BOSS MANUAL SHOULD NOT BE RELIED ON AS LEGAL ADVICE.
ALSO, SOME OF THIS INFORMATION COULD BECOME OUTDATED, AND LAWS VARY FROM PLACE-TO-PLACE. FURTHERMORE, ALTHOUGH WE TRIED TO COLLECT ACCURATE INFORMATION AND GIVE THE LAWS OUR BEST INTERPRETATION, SOME INFORMATION IN THIS GUIDE AND ACCOMPANYING MANUAL COULD EVEN TURN OUT TO BE INCORRECT OR SUBJECT TO OTHER INTERPRETATIONS BY COURTS OR REGULATORS! WE SURE HOPE THAT’S NOT THE CASE, BUT, WHAT CAN WE SAY? LAW IS COMPLICATED STUFF! THAT'S WHY WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY BEFORE USING THIS INFORMATION TO FORM OR OPERATE A COOPERATIVE.
Araz Hachadourian of Yes! Magazine covers the passing of a co-op resolution in Berkeley, CA which requires the city to create an ordinance that supports worker owned cooperatives. Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) Policy Director, Yassi Eskandari-Qajar, is quoted extensively about how worker cooperatives benefit cities and communities.Read more