2019 Q&A: Esteban Kelly on worker co-ops

Esteban Kelly, executive director for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives

 How was 2019 for worker co-ops in the USA?

 2019 was a powerful year for worker co-ops in the US. For 15  years the US has seen an annual net increase in the number of worker co-ops, meaning that there hasn’t been a single year where there were fewer worker co-ops than the previous year since we began tracking this data. This is spurred in part by the foundation of the US Federation of Worker co-ops back in 2004, and the increasingly connected community of co-op developers, technical assistance providers, financiers, and advocates for the model in both the public and private arenas.

What were the key issues you campaigned for and what are the main challenges for the sector going forward?

 This past year, the USFWC brought members to Capitol Hill for our first advocacy day in Congress. Our efforts helped to recruit a new member to the relaunched Congressional Co-op Business Caucus, Freshman Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Both on the Hill and back in home districts, our members continued to advocate for the implementation of the Main Street Employee Ownership Act, signed into law in 2018. The Trump administration’s Small Business Administration, which was at the centre of the new law, continues to obstruct many parts of the law which is meant to facilitate co-operative growth.

Can you give us any details about your future projects?

In 2020 our coalition will continue to push for co-ops to be able to access SBA loans to finance business conversions to cooperative ownership. Meanwhile, new initiatives are underway attempting to address
co-op development opportunities in the massive retirement of aging business owners (aka the “Silver Tsunami”) and organising freelancer co-ops to address the gig economy and the future of work.