Board Report: "Shift Change"

At the October board meeting, during the education segment, we watched the documentary "Shift Change." In it, we observed a wide variety of co-operative businesses, mostly worker-owned.

In the Basque country of Mondragon, Spain, there are 120 independent co-operatives, employing 84,000 people and earning $25 billion annually. Mondragon has the lowest unemployment in Spain. They have the largest supermarket chain and one of the world's largest construction companies, a university research institute, and a machine tool company among other giant manufacturing businesses.

They also have a small co-op which assists women in starting their own co-op housecleaning businesses with a two-year incubation period. As some of these businesses are now in their fourth generation of ownership, there is concern that the younger people may lose sight of the original importance of the cooperative structure. 

Spain's co-op movement was started in 1941 by a visionary priest. In 1956, the first industrial co-op was formed by five graduates. In 1959, a co-op bank was started with profits going to workers. Now, all of Spain's co-ops gather at an annual congress in Mondragon to address their common issues.

Benefits of working for the co-ops include everyone being a part of the decision-making process, one person/one vote. CEO's only earn three to five times the wages of lower level workers (In the US, that difference can be as much as 300 times more for the CEO). More people making decisions about the company has meant that no one is fired when it is a rough year.

A number of US co-ops were included in the film as well.  Isthmus Engineering, Union Cab, and Community Pharmacy in Madison, WI were among them. Union Cab uses gas-saving Prius cars. We observed Evergreen Co-op Laundry and Evergreen Energy Solutions, worker co-ops in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as Equal Exchange Coffee company. Clearly, just about any business can be run in a co-operative manner.

After the film, the board discussed how worker-owned and consumer-owned co-ops are different. The main difference is that Bloomingfoods exists primarily to satisfy the needs of the consumers while still trying to create a good employee environment, whereas in the worker-owned models, keeping people employed (including decisions that lower everyone's wages during stressful times) is the prime objective.

Last month, you, the member-owners of Bloomington Cooperative Services, elected three new board members. Each of you had one vote.  Your board will continue to make decisions based on the shared values of our member-owners outlined in the Ends Statement, Co-op Principles and Mission Statement published in every issue of our newsletter. Thank you for participating in this democracy.

Carol Bridges
for the Board of Directors