Barista Magazine

OCT-NOV 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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Page 80 of 115

own security. We don't have a lot of avenues in our community for making change." Kateri adds that work-life balance remains a struggle even as the co-op is doing better fi nancially, noting that co-op ownership often means working multiple full-time jobs. Michael Dunican is a founding worker-owner of the Philadel- phia-based co-op W/N W/N café and bar. In the past, worker-owners were paid on a needs-based salary, and during that period, Michael focused on taking as little salary as possible in order to pay others more. "Now, all employees are paid fairly standard for the industry, with a very low tip-based minimum wage, plus tips." To get there, though, Michael and his co-work- er-owners had to re-examine what was possible regarding sourcing and costs. "One huge challenge was the dynamic of the industry in which we exist and need to compete: It took a long time to realize that sourcing better, paying better, and charging less was not a sustainable equation." At Alchemy Collective, everyone starts at a basic hourly wage. They can earn a higher hourly wage for doing "non-barista work," which can be anything from picking up groceries to organizing events or doing bookkeeping. Each quarter, if there is a surplus in the bank, every member gets a percentage of it based on hours worked. In order to keep wages equita- ble, Thread has a rule that no one can make more than twice what the lowest-paid worker makes, so wages tend to get raised from the bottom up. Employees earn a low- er wage than worker-owners, as worker-owners have more respon- sibilities and are expected to be on call to deal with time-sensitive issues. All workers, however, have a pathway to ownership. DEMOCRACY IN ACTION One challenge of running a co-op is that decisions get made as a group rather than by the person at the top of the hierarchy. While that's the fairest way to operate, the method can breed a poten- tial for bureaucracy, and typically requires a higher level of interper- sonal compatibility than traditional hierarchical decision-making processes. "We operate on a consen- sus-based structure, but we also recognize that sometimes decisions just have to get made in order to run the business," says Casey of Thread. "We leave big de- cisions for meetings and empower people to make smaller decisions specifi c to their job. For example, we all participate in deciding which farms to source from or whether to give ourselves raises, but wouldn't need a meeting to decide how to reorganize our storage area or whether to schedule a meeting with a customer." In that way, they minimize bureaucracy while maxi- mizing fairness. Alchemy's structures are a little more formal, but with a similar aim. For smaller decisions, the work of the company is split into various committees, each run by two to fi ve people with one lead. Committees have the authority to make smaller decisions, like planning an event, autonomous- ly. If they need money for their smaller decision, they ask the fi nance committee for a budget and can still move forward. If for some reason someone has an issue with anything done by a committee, it then becomes a larger conversation and members can vote on issues as a group. Each co-op member typically belongs to two or three com- mittees based on interest and ability, so no one has a chance to operate in a vacuum. For bigger decisions, members have at least one meeting a month in which they vote on proposals. If an issue is more urgent, they sometimes tally votes through email or Slack. While bylaws state that a mini- mum two-thirds vote is required to pass proposals, the group often CO-OP PROS & CONS Co-ops are born from worker-owners' desire to bring positive change to their communities large and small, and this com- mitment creates very meaningful relation- ships with work. MONEY Pro: When times are tough, workers are in it together, and incomes are relatively similar. Con: Its hard to make money happen without loans or investors, which can leave members overstretched and vulnerable. DECISION-MAKING Pro: Workers have a real say over ev- erything that happens, creating very high buy-in and commitment. Con: The process can be time-consuming or bureaucratic and requires a team to work together very well. OWNERSHIP Pro: Co-ops provide one of few viable pathways to business ownership for vari- ous marginalized groups. Con: Ownership can be stressful and it's not always easy to fi nd worker-owners, especially when there's no real money coming in. comin g in . 81

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