midwest

Union co-op group taking root in Cincinnati | Cincinnati.com

College Hill farm is first of several planned worker-owner initiatives to include pipe fitting, manufacturing

By Mark Curnutte

COLLEGE HILL — Zeke Coleman, laid off from his previous job in the food industry, has found a living wage and his passion in an emerging local jobs program that has attracted international attention.

Coleman, 33, of Hamilton, is one of 10 worker-owners of the Our Harvest Food Hub Co-Op, a food packaging and distribution center based on an incubator farm off North Bend Road in College Hill.

“I love vegetables, and I love this work,” said Coleman, who spent Wednesday packaging crops harvested this fall – turnips, cilantro, winter squash, kale – at the farm and delivering 51 bags or boxes to three distribution sites. There, some of the 200 consumer subscribers in the Community Supported Agriculture program will pick them up.

Our Harvest, which opened on the farm in April 2012, is the most advanced of the eight projects that are part of the Cincinnati Union Co-Op Initiative. Based on and developed with help of the Mondragon Worker-Owner Cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain, the Cincinnati Union Co-Op hopes to develop hundreds of family-sustaining union jobs in the next few years in multiple industries: railway manufacturing, energy jewelry, renter-equity housing, food service and home health care.

Read the article and watch the video from Cincinnati.com.

More Than Zucchini | AFL-CIO Our Values @Work

By Kenneth Quinnell

A couple of unions and a worker-owned co-op are teaming up to grow a new sustainable farming model in Cincinnati, and Stephen Dienger couldn’t be happier. An apprentice farmer at the Our Harvest Cooperative, he came to the co-op in 2012 after working at farms in St. Louis and Cincinnati, where he developed a specialty in sustainable agriculture. His supervisors say he’s enthusiastic and hard-working and that he is now a major force on the co-op’s farm team. In the warmer months you might see him working the farm, free of socks and shoes.

“The thing I enjoy most about my gardening job is being able to work barefoot,” Dienger says. “There is no better feeling than sinking your toes in the dirt and connecting yourself directly to the earth.”

Dienger is a member of the growing team at Our Harvest, a worker-owned sustainable farm in Cincinnati that serves as a distribution center for locally grown products for grocery stores, restaurants and area families. The Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative (CUCI), a prototype union co-op incubator created by Mondragon International USA and the United Steelworkers (USW), sponsors the co-op. CUCI is based on a highly successful Mondragon cooperative in the Basque region of Spain. Over the past 57 years, Mondragon Corp. has developed a worker-owned and -run co-op that the company wants to replicate in the United States. The USW and other unions think the Mondragon model can work in this country, and the early successes of CUCI suggest they are right.

Read the story from the AFL-CIO’s Our Values @Work.

Can Unions and Cooperatives Join Forces? | Truthout.com

An Interview With United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard

By Amy Dean

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard talks to Truthout about the challenges and opportunities of a new labor model: the union co-op.

As the economic crisis festers for many long-term unemployed and underemployed people, the idea of worker-owned and worker-run cooperatives has become ever more appealing as a possible pathway toward an economy that works for everyone. Theorists such as Gar Alperovitz have argued for the importance of cooperatives in providing a nuts-and-bolts alternative to dominant methods of economic production: They offer an example of a different way of doing business that people can see and experience in their own lives.

As someone who loves to see organized labor on the move in any form, I am interested in the role that unions can play in promoting co-ops – and I have been excited to see the United Steelworkers take an especially proactive role in bolstering the cooperative movement. I spoke with Steelworkers President Leo Gerard about how union/co-op hybrids could change the experience of work for those who clock in every day and about the depth of vision it will take to make union co-ops a serious part of the American economy.

Given that cooperatives currently make up only a tiny percentage of our economy, I first asked Gerard whether he thought co-ops could be viable at a larger scale.

“People don’t realize there are millions of people in the United States and Canada that are already members of co-ops,” he said. “When I was a kid growing up in northern Ontario, my parents used to shop at a food co-op. I think that there are already a lot of these businesses; people just don’t know it.”

Gerard next discussed the structure of “union co-ops” that the Steelworkers have begun, in partnership with Spain’s Mondragon cooperatives. Here’s how it works: Employees can join the union of their choice, and they are guaranteed a living wage, benefits and a collective bargaining agreement. In some of the new union co-ops, workers get ownership shares in the enterprise, which they pay for a little at a time out of their paychecks and which accrue equity over a period of six or eight or 10 years. Workers vote on the composition of the management team and collectively bargain with that team to set workers’ wages, benefits, and procedures for handling disputes.

Read the full interview via Truthout.

 

New Michigan Energy + Technology Center to focus on developing Muskegon’s port and B.C. Cobb site | M Live

CHICAGO – The Michigan Energy + Technology Center consortium of companies announced a formal partnership Monday and outlined plans to work on two initial projects including development of Muskegon’s port facilities.

The agreement joining Consumers Energy, Rockford Berge, Michigan State University and other Michigan-based energy-related companies was outlined at the first day of the American Wind Energy Association national conference in Chicago.

METC will begin working on port development in Muskegon by branding the state’s only deep-water port on Lake Michigan “43 Degrees North@Muskegon.” Muskegon’s port will be developed for alternative energy logistics and manufacturing – especially with the wind turbine industry, METC members said.

Jump starting Muskegon port development is Consumers Energy’s commitment to allow METC and its members access to the coal dock facility at the B.C. Cobb Generating Plant on the east end of Muskegon Lake. The Jackson-based public utility’s 1,800-foot dock, which can handle the largest Great Lake freighters, now serves a coal-fired power plant the company plans to “mothball” beginning in 2015.

The other project METC will begin to develop is a “virtual” technology center called METC@MSU. This pilot program brings MSU into the alternative energy consortium for the first time.

MSU faculty will be connected with METC members through the Internet to begin working on research that would include the university’s ongoing work with composite materials, logistics and advanced energy storage, METC members said.

Besides MSU, Consumers and Rockford Berge – a partnership of Grand Rapids-based Rockford Construction Co. and a Spanish global logistics company formed to work on wind energy issues in the region – METC also includes Energetx Composites of Holland, Sand Products Co. of Muskegon and Verplank Dock Co. of Ferrysburg.

Read the whole article from M Live.

Can Co-ops Save Unions? | In These Times

Labor-cooperative partnerships may herald a new strategy for labor–if they can get off the ground.
BY REBECCA BURNS

What has 18 owners, no bosses and high hopes for fostering workplace democracy in America? New Era Windows LLC, a worker-owned cooperative formed last year by members of United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1110.

After occupying their factory to save their jobs—twice—workers at a closing Chicago windows plant decided last year to try a new tack: running the business themselves. They purchased equipment from their former bosses and are now setting up a new factory they believe will create good jobs in the city’s depressed economy.

New Era is one of a growing number of union-backed cooperatives nationwide that could herald a new strategy for labor. In his survey of existing cooperatives, economist Gar Alperovitz has calculated that the number of workers in partly or wholly employee-owned companies now exceeds those who belong to private-sector unions—a statistic that speaks both to the perilous state of the labor movement and the promise of reviving it through new structures.

In the case of New Era, the decision to form a cooperative was the result of a long battle with management. In 2008, upon being told that their factory would be closed and they would be fired immediately without severance pay, workers staged a six-day occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory and emerged victorious. Their stand, coming at the height of the financial crisis, was celebrated nationwide. It also emboldened them to occupy once again in February 2012, when new owner Serious Energy announced that it, too, would be closing the plant. The workers’ journey from occupiers to owners was paved in part by UE’s tradition of militancy, which some progressives hoped would inspire other unions fighting mass layoffs.

The labor movement at large hasn’t reprised the 1930s-era tactic of occupying factories in order to regain a foothold in existing workplaces. But a growing number of unions, led by the United Steelworkers (USW), are exploring creation of new worker-owned cooperatives as a strategy for contending with the offshoring of U.S. jobs. Like the workers who formed New Era Windows, USW began experimenting with cooperatives partly out of necessity—as job losses mounted amidst the financial crisis, “there seemed to be an opening to consider how we might create a better model, because everything was falling apart,” says Rob Witherell, USW’s cooperative strategist. USW decided to partner with Mondragon, Spain’s famous group of cooperatives, to create a template for union co-ops.

Now, USW is helping launch several pilot projects, including a green laundry in Pittsburgh that could replace some of the 100-plus jobs lost when an industrial laundry in the area closed several years ago. Members of United Food and Commercial Workers are currently employed in an urban farming cooperative in Cincinnati, with more projects planned under the behest of the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative.

Read the whole article from In These Times.

Learn more about the union co-op model from the United Steelworkers.

Why Unions Are Going Into the Co-op Business | Yes! Magazine

Yes Magazine Coop CoverThe steelworkers deal that could turn the rust belt green.
by Amy Dean

“Too often we have seen Wall Street hollow out companies by draining their cash and assets and hollow out communities by shedding jobs and shuttering plants,” said United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard in 2009. “We need a new business model that invests in workers and invests in communities.”

Gerard was announcing a formal partnership between his 1.2-million-member union and Mondragon, a cluster of cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. (more…)

Plant, projects help Napoleon earn title of ‘America’s Number One Solar Small Town’ | Toledo Blade

NAPOLEON — Michael Peck still finds it amazing that a tiny area smack in the middle of rural northwest Ohio can have such a large solar footprint.

Granted, since last February, the city of Napoleon has been home to a solar panel-making operation headed by Mr. Peck, chairman of Isofoton North America Inc., an offspring of Spanish solar panel Isofoton.

But Isofoton North America’s $30 million plant, which employs 30 workers, isn’t the only connection to the solar industry in Henry County, Mr. Peck noted. AP Alternatives LLC, which makes and installs racks to hold solar panels, is running successfully in nearby Ridgeville Corners. (more…)

Running In The Deep – A Tale of Two Cities

Two of the hardest lessons to assimilate leading up to America’s 2012 national elections include the unchallenged devastation from extreme weather fall-out and credible domestic job creation economics by fully globalized industries such as automotive production. The first lesson is being re-learned in excruciating real-time (160 lives lost, $60 billion in damages, and counting) by the country’s powered-out, Northeast coastal populations. Today’s “Weather Security” imperatives are rechanneling yesterday’s “climate change” impasse like an action verb overshadows a noun.

In New York, the city that truly has it all with increasing frequency between reoccurring extreme weather and financial sector meltdown tsunamis, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s prophetic quip that “we have a 100-year flood every two years now” can apply both to Mother Nature and to Wall Street. Mayor Bloomberg’s recent presidential campaign endorsement represents the first and foremost “weather security” candidate pick of the 2012 election cycle.

Forget about the partisan politics, ideological polarization and vested interests distorting America’s climate change debate; hard, cold and wet reality has a way of realigning the national conversation, transforming ranting monologues into chastened dialogues. (more…)

The Midwest’s Manufacturing Conundrum | The Atlantic Cities

By Richard Florida May 11, 2012

America’s manufacturing revival is being hailed by a growing chorus of voices. Manufacturing jobs increased at their fastest rate in almost a year, according to data from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). The Boston Consulting Group is forecasting the creation of between two and three million new manufacturing jobs by 2020, which will contribute an estimated $20 to $55 billion in added economic output per year. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics is less bullish, projecting just 357,000 new manufacturing jobs will be created over the next decade). (more…)

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