Another great article is up on the blog of Shift Change, a documentary film in progress telling the little known stories of employee owned businesses that compete successfully in today’s economy while providing secure, dignified jobs in democratic workplaces.
Madison is the state capital, seat of the University of Wisconsin, and home to several worker cooperatives that have been in business for over 30 years. Rebecca works at Union Cab, founded in 1979, which now boasts 228 worker members – drivers, mechanics, office staff, and dispatchers. Committed to environmental sustainability, they are replacing gas guzzling Crown Victorias with hybrid vehicles. And they designed their own computerized dispatch system to respond to calls for service with the nearest available vehicle, reducing mileage and improving service and efficiency. Rebecca drove us around and pointed out other long standing Madison coops like Nature’s Bakery and Community Pharmacy. “Worker cooperatives are sustainable businesses, especially in hard times. They are more flexible with changes in the market and give the highest priority to people working in the business. In the U.S. few people are aware of worker cooperatives, but with the economic crisis we are finding lots of interest.”
Inspired by Mondragón’s example, Isthmus Engineering was founded 25 years ago. The cooperative designs and builds state of the art automation systems for a broad range of industries. With 50 employees, the majority worker owners, Isthmus is highly project oriented. Self-directed teams of mechanical and controls engineers, plus highly skilled electricians and machinists, collaborate to design, build, and test equipment that meets their customers’ needs. “The core principle is one worker one vote, not each dollar one vote,” says founder John Kessler. “We’re not giving up anything by being a worker cooperative. It’s an excellent way to run a business.”
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