So… what is a cooperative?
Technically speaking, a cooperative is any business organization which is owned and controlled through it’s members. The members are those who participate in the business as consumers, workers or producers. Membership usually requires the payment of a membership fee. The profits are distributed to the members on the basis of patronage (buying at, working at or selling through the business). Control of the business is excercised by the members through democratic election of the Board of Directors on a one-person/one vote basis.
A co-op is a nice alternative to a conventional business. A conventional business is owned by outside shareholders. The shareholders may have more control over the business based on the amount of money they’ve invested and they may not have anything to do with using the goods and services of the business.
Casa Nueva is a certain kind of co-op, called a “Worker Cooperative.” This means the workers of the cooperative have joined together to produce good and/or services for sale. The workers being the only members of the cooperative, elect the Board of Directors and share whatever profits are earned by the business.
Open Communication — Practice open communication. Protect the rights of others and be a good listener. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. Think about individual and personal factors. Be flexible enough to perceive where the other person is coming from. Use your powers of patience and compassion when communicating. Regularly scheduled hypes and gripes sessions are a forum for the expression of feelings. Feedback is important.
Avoid Power Plays — Avoid power plays such as “all or nothing,” copping out, intimidation, rigidity, self righteousness or martyrdom, lying, sabotage, creating a crisis, or acting defensive. When power plays occur, make sure they are defined and worked through as soon as possible.
Equal Rights — Remember that everyone is equal. There are no bosses here at Casa. Work to avoid behavior based on hierarchical models positionwise, personalitywise, or shiftwise. And the wiser we will be.
Participation — Participation is a responsibility of all co-op members. Involvement in the decision making of the co-op as well as restaurant operations is encouraged. In decision making all opinions must be considered with respect. Efforts should be made to find common goals. When necessary, try to compromise in such a way that everyone’s needs can be met.
Positive Attitude — Develop a positive attitude toward and take pride in your work. This attitude will communicate itself to both customers and co-workers. This is especially important for wait staff, who function as PR representatives for the business.
Know your Limitations — Be aware of your own and others’ limitations. Don’t take on responsibilities you can’t handle, or more work than you are capable of. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it, and don’t wait until it’s too late and you’re swamped.
Dealing with Conflicts — When you are having a problem with a co-worker, deal with that person directly, and as soon as possible. Don’t allow tension to grow.
Acknowledgement — Acknowledge and praise a job well done. Offer support and constructive criticism when needed, and right away.
Personal Responsibility — Remember that you job performance reflects on every other member, and in our collective income. Make it a point to be aware of your own work responsibilities such as your schedule, job description, side work, etc. Be on time. Furthermore, develop an awareness of the “big picture” as well as your own job description. Be willing to step out of your job description when necessary to make co-workers’ jobs easier, or to contribute to more efficient operations.
We are always working to be as cooperative as possible, since we ARE a cooperative! There are two sets of cooperative principles that we strive to follow. The first are the seven co-op principles, adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance in 1995:
Seven Cooperative Principles
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use its services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
2. Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative—who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.
3. Members’ Economic Participation
Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. This benefits members in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.
4. Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintains the cooperative’s autonomy.
5. Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.
6. Cooperation among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7. Concern for Community
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.
The governance structure is based on established models, including those developed by the Industrial Cooperative Association in Boston, and in the larger sense, the Mondragon system of cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. However, our success as a cooperative rests firmly on our ability to adapt these models to the goals and needs of the business and the individual co-op members.
Everyone who works at Casa has a voice that is listened to and respected. However, only the members (worker-owners) of the co-op have a vote. Each worker-owner owns one non-transferable share of the business and one vote. We are a cooperative, but there are still decisions to be made and people to hold accountable for those decisions. This is our structure (which may or may not be considered hierarchal):
The voting procedure we use is called consensus/consensus minus one. This means that when a proposal for action comes to membership, all members must vote in support of it except for one person, in order for it to pass.
Our ways of voting include:
Full Support: Used when the voting member completely supports the proposal. This is an approval vote.
Reservations: Used when the voting member is mostly in support of the proposal, but thinks there could be some improvements. This is an approval vote. Stated reservations will be recorded in the meeting minutes.
Stand Aside: Used when the voting member has serious concerns with the proposal or has a conflict of interest regarding the proposal, but does not want to stop others from going ahead with it. This is an approval vote. Stated reasons for standing aside will be recorded in the meeting minutes.
Dissent: Used when the voting member thinks that passing the proposal would be detrimental to the business. This is not an approval vote. Stated reasons for dissenting will be recorded in the meeting minutes.
Proxy: Members who are not present may cast a written vote prior to the member meeting only for BOD elections. All proposed decisions will honor the right of non-present members and trial members to be heard with a written statement and their non-binding vote read aloud during discussion. These proxies are not counted as part of quorum or as an official vote.
If there are members who are uncomfortable with a proposal, they have a couple of opportunities to voice their opinions. They may speak up during the Q & A session or go-around (where we go around in a circle and everyone has a chance to speak) that follows the reading of the proposal, or after the vote in order to defend their position.
If only one member is uncomfortable passing a proposal, the proposal will still pass. If several members are uncomfortable passing a proposal and dissent, the proposal will not pass. Instead of killing the proposal, the authors of it must meet with the dissenters to figure out a way to make the proposal make everyone happy. Of course, if the dissenters cannot be made happy, the proposal will probably die.
We use the consensus decision making process in order to empower decision making members, deepen our commitment to each other through thoroughly dealing with all concerns, encourage compromise and collaboration, and strengthen cooperative culture.
For more information, please check out On Conflict and Consensus: A Guide To Formal Consensus & Wikipedia’s “Consensus Decision-Making”
So, you’re interested in starting a co-op of your own? Casa has at least decades of experience, and we are happy to help you learn. You are welcome to peruse through our articles on this website, to look at our by-laws and ground rules of cooperation and such, but it would somewhat diminish the ‘personal feel’ of learning about a worker owned small business.
All that good info is nice, but talking to a few members and associates about how it all works together is another thing – it helps a novice understand the synergy of the parts. We welcome you to join us for some meetings, some Q&A sessions, and whatever else you need. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up some time with us!