Overview

The Insight Center works to improve job quality through a variety of ways including providing legal, organizational, resource-development, and other types of assistance to local communities to form community assets, such as a worker-owned cooperative - a business owned and democratically controlled by its workers. Worker-owned cooperatives are an important strategy to improve job quality, help transitional workers and limited-English-proficient speakers to enter the workforce, and help build community assets. We have provided legal, organizational, and business planning services to many cooperatives, including WAGES and EcoBay Landscaping LLC, both based in Oakland.

One example of using cooperative development as a strategy to improve job quality is the assistance we provided in the formation of a worker-owned cooperative among recent immigrant families in Providence, RI. As part of Making Connections Providence's family economic success program, the Insight Center provided intensive assistance over a two-year period resulting in the formation of The Labor Co-op LLC.

A grassroots group of community residents, most of whom spoke only limited English, were the founders of the emerging worker cooperative. We worked with the core members in Spanish to develop a vision, a business plan, a marketing plan, and an organizational structure for the cooperative. They became incorporated as a limited liability corporation, one of the most flexible business structures and the most appropriate for a recent immigrant cooperative.

An instrumental part of our role in this work was to establish ongoing partnerships between the cooperative's core members and local Spanish-speaking technical resource providers, including a business lawyer, the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center, and the ICA Group - a Massachusetts-based organization that supports worker cooperatives and employee-owned businesses.

Outcomes

By May 2006 The Labor Co-op LLC secured loans from the City of Providence, the State of Rhode Island, and the LEAF fund. It also arranged for a local benefactor to serve as a loan guarantor. Finally, with all legal, licensing, structural, and finance questions settled, the cooperative opened for business during the first week of June 2006, providing temporary staffing services. The cooperative immediately signed two contracts with companies contacted during the creation of the marketing plan. By August 2006 they began to add provisional members and to sign additional contracts with companies wanting staffing services. As of September 2006, the Labor Co-op had 19 provisional members in addition to the eight founding members. Most were working full-time as part of the cooperative.