The 2013 Western Workers Co-op Conference

Following the success of this summer's Eastern conference, the bi-annual 2013 Western Workers Co-op Conference is hot on its heels.  The September 2nd through 4th event will be...

Following the success of this summer’s Eastern conference, the bi-annual 2013 Western Workers Co-op Conference is hot on its heels.  The September 2nd through 4th event will be held at the worker-owned Breitenbush Hotsprings in Detroit, Oregon.

Workshops and Presenters

28 Questions for Coop Founders
Are you starting a new coop or coop conversion? Have you met with a lawyer yet? Wait, because there are at least 28 questions you should ask yourselves first! Many legal & financial professionals are unfamiliar with worker cooperatives. Spend time on these questions before you incorporate to save money and spare yourself headaches.

  • Are you worried about taxes?
  • Do you want a Board of Directors?
  • How will you distribute patronage?
  • Will members be employees or contractors?
  • Do you want to use the word “cooperative” in your name?

In this discussion-based workshop, we’ll introduce the concept of “choice of entity” and explore some of the decisions founders will have to make.
Led by Alison Booth Gribas

Being An Ally Without Being A Knight In Shining Armor
A workshop for men regarding how to take responsibility for countering sexism and supporting full cooperative participation by all members. Topics of discussion will include when to step up and back as well as how to be an authentic ally rather than acting out traditional male narratives of rescuer/hero/spokesman.
Facilitated By Tim Huet

Being Loan Ready
Get the inside scope from a veteran loan officer about what financial institutions look for when assessing a loan application/business plan.  This workshop will have most immediate relevance for established cooperatives looking to fund growth.  But for start-up entrepreneurs, it is also beneficial to understand what benchmarks financial institutions have in mind for refinancing/expansion (while regulated financial institutions like banks and credit unions rarely can finance pure start-ups, one proven development course is to gather start-up equity from many small sources with an eye towards refinancing and obtaining expansion capital once the business has established a track record).
Led by Randell Leach

Building a Cooperative Economy
Amy Johnson will share findings from the joint US Federation of Worker Cooperatives/Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation study regarding what successful worker cooperative movements from around the globe are doing to building institutional supports for worker cooperative growth.  Amy will share news of initiatives underway in the U.S. and lead group discussion regarding needs and hopeful developments out West.
Led by Amy Johnson
CECOSESOLA: How a small co-op grew big, helped transform a nation, and stayed true to its roots
CECOSESOLA began in 1967 as a small funeral co-op for low-income residents in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Since then, it has grown into an “integrated organism of cooperatives” with more than fifty integrated co-ops that provide housing, food, and health care to their members, while embracing consensus and influencing national cooperative policies. In 2012, the Olympia Food Co-op sent two staff members to Venezuela to live and work at CECOSESOLA, and then welcomed five CECOSESOLA members to Olympia, WA. to do the same. Come learn about the inspiring story of CECOSESOLA, the worker exchange with OFC, and how the experience has changed OFC’s role in their community. To find out more, check out:

Presented by Alejandra “Ale” Abreu and Emily Van Kley

Creating Cooperative Culture at Equal Exchange and Mondragon
Some of the most mature and successful coops profiled in SHIFT CHANGE, the documentary about worker cooperatives, discuss concerns about preserving their cooperative culture. What does it mean to have a strong cooperative culture? Does your coop have one? Do you hope to contribute to a more self-organized, democratic society at large? We will screen brief selections from SHIFT CHANGE to illustrate how two of the featured coops—Mondragon and Equal Exchange—approach cooperative culture.  For more about the film and on-line preview, check out these links:, Facebook: (, and Twitter: Join us as we define, discuss, and explore this topic.
Led by Melissa Young and Alison Booth Gribas

DAWN Presents: The Coop Index
Meet the Coop Index, a powerful tool to assess your coop’s strengths and weaknesses. The Coop Index is an open source tool developed by St. Mary’s University in Canada. Using 172 questions, the Index measures coop members’ perceptions about everything from cooperative values to fiscal viability. In this workshop, certified Peer Advisors from the Democracy at Work Network will show you how we use the Coop Index to evaluate established coops in areas like worker satisfaction, accountability and sustainable practices. We will present sample questions, charts and graphs, and invite you to interpret them. Then, we’ll discuss how DAWN PAs can help you use the results to move your coop forward!
Led by Kathy McCrate and Alison Booth Gribas

Designers + Developers + Clients = !!!
The collaborative process can be challenging — join us for a presentation on successful projects and a discussion on lessons learned. Design Action Collective members will present case studies of successful collaborations between designers, developers and clients highlighting best practices for creating websites for co-ops. Participants of this workshop are invited to come with questions to ask and challenges to share in a discussion so we can help each other come away with new insights on effective collaboration.
Led by Ria and Daniel Owens

Growth: The Benefits and Challenges of Scaling Up
An examination of whether/when growth in size might be beneficial and how to grow such as to maximize benefits while addressing/limiting organizational costs. Discussion will be lead by presentations from Alvarado Street Bakery, Cheese Board/Arizmendi, Olympia Food Cooperative, and Rainbow Grocery.
Presented by Joe Tuck, Jayne Rossman, and Martha Wold.

Inclusive Strategic Planning – On a Budget!
Strategic plans needn’t be dusty documents drummed up by Boards of Directors or high-cost behemoths produced by outside consultants. Done right, a strategic planning process inspires new ideas, questions assumptions, builds consensus, and provides a shared foundation for making difficult decisions (like creating budgets!). In this workshop, we’ll briefly review what a strategic plan is, and what its purpose should be. Then we’ll discuss tools and tactics that you can use to plan a strategic process that is low cost, inclusive, and results in a useful final product. Examples of strategic plans and suggestions for further reading will be provided.
Led by Jayne Rossman

Infiltration: How the Values of Oppressive Systems Tend to Arise in Co-ops (and what we can do about it)
In this workshop, we’ll use visual metaphor to map what it looks like when the values of systems like
white supremacy, patriarchy, classism, homo and transphobia, ableism, etc influence and affect the operations, practices, and policies of worker co-ops. We’ll share key questions to ask, indicators to look out for, and tactics for interrupting these effects to build workplaces that are based in values of justice and collective liberation.
Facilitated by Kiran Nigam

Making Finances Fun Again
Financial matters in coops aren’t usually the first thing people want to talk about, until there’s a crisis. Learn how to implement fun, engaging activities around financial literacy, budgeting, and bookkeeping/accounting. Come prepared to share your own struggles with finances in your coops and develop interactive, empowering ways to make finances fun.
Led by Stephen Switzer

Meeting Process and Facilitation
Why is clear meeting process key to a democratically run collective or cooperative? What helps you and others participate more fully in meetings? What makes it hard for you and others to partipate fully in meetings? What is the role of the facilitator? How can the facilitator help a group have more efficient, effective and highly participatory meetings? What are some common pittfalls that facilitators can learn to avoid? We will explore these questions and others through a combination of brainstorms, discussion, and group exercises. Kirsten will present from her experience at various collectives and give you lots of handouts as well!
Led by Kirsten Marshall

Personnel Policy, Accountability, and Evaluations
Using the example of two differently sized and structured cooperatives, Emily Conner and Madeleine Van Engel will share their experience with personnel policy, accountability, and evaluations. They will cite specific examples of refined methods for evaluating, as well as personnel policies and structures for accountability. Discussion will be based around challenges and advantages of each system.
Led by Madeleine Van Engel and Emily Conner

Popular Education & Training Techniques
Lecturing about a topic is one of the least effective ways of engaging adults to learn. Come prepared to learn how to make your trainings more interactive and effective, and to practice the basics of popular education. We’ll share resources and, as time allows, discuss your future workshop plans.
Led by Stephen Switzer

Talking to Each Other When Stuff Comes Up: Direct Communication Practice
Everyone working in the coop sector has the need and the capacity to be able to recognize the needs and feelings of coworkers and customers. Direct communication supports empathy between people and emphasizes connection. We all strive toward the ideals of empowerment, equity and collaboration. However, we aren’t all well-versed in practicing those ideals. Good communication, in all of its myriad forms, is one crucial element to maintaining the integrity of a visionary and idealistic culture where things get done well. When we are able to listen openly, communicate needs and make requests that can be met, we can help build trust in our cooperative environments and create smoother workflow. Perhaps we were not all acculturated in ways where this kind of communication comes naturally, so let’s practice! Practicing direct communication helps prepare us to do it in a skillful and caring way, whether for small issues or large ones. This will be a highly interactive, verbal, practice-based workshop.
Facilitated by Padrice Stewart

The Way We Do the Things We Do: Healthy People Build Healthy Workplaces
How do we sustain our vision for change and not get lost in the day-to-day grind? How do we prevent burnout and a frenetic pace of work when there is so much to get done? How can we build real care and support into our workplaces? Using a radical mental health framework, we will explore ways to integrate the values of promoting mental and physical health and wellness and preventing burnout into our work building the solidarity economy. We’ll talk about why and how co-ops are uniquely structured to do this, and share tools, activities, and ideas to take home to your co-ops so that your work can set you up to thrive! Come with questions and ideas and leave with new strategies! This is an interactive, two-part workshop. As much as possible, we ask that participants attend both parts of the workshop. Note: This is a two-part, in-depth workshop.
Led by Kiran Nigam

Keynote Speaker and Anti-Oppression Workshop Facilitator:
Kiran Nigam’s work as a core organizer for the 2010 US Social Forum inspired her to deeply examine how we do the work we do. She has transformed into a cheerleader for slowing down, so that our work building a better world for tomorrow helps us thrive today. Kiran is an educator, facilitator, and founding member of AORTA, the Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance. She is committed to building movements for social justice and a world that centers health, wellness, and care for all people.

In 2010, Kiran was inducted into the NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation) Cooperative Hall of Fame for her contribution and commitment to cooperative education and training. Kiran has worked as the Director of Education and Training for NASCO. She has served on the Boards of NASCO, the US Solidarity Economy Network, and Common Fire.

In her community work around care, Kiran acts as a support person for survivors of trauma and sexual violence, mediates conflicts, feeds people nourishing foods and herbs, and volunteers with the Icarus Project, a peer-based mental health support network. She loves cuddling with her cat and biking, and dreams of someday biking through the streets of Oakland, with her cat.

Presenter Biographies

Alejandra “Ale” Abreu comes from a long line of teachers, grocers, and social activists. It is no surprise that Ale “grew-up” to become a proud member of the Olympia Food Co-op’s staff collective. In 2012, Ale traveled to Venezuela to share in the experience of the cooperative movement. As a result, her life was forever changed. Whenever she is asked what her occupation is, she proudly answers “Cooperativist!” Ale is a graduate of The Evergreen State College, where she studied Experimental Media and Political Economy. She is committed to exploring intersections of oppression that link her to the world. Ale relishes in transforming and healing herself with her communities through the practice of art, performance, play, and non-hierarchical modes of collaboration.

Emily Conner is a worker-member at Box Dog Bikes. She likes her dog a lot and doesn’t like to tell people what to do.

Martha Wold Cornwall was recently elected to the Cheese Board’s Business Council, a body charged with restructuring the Cheese Board to deal with complexities her collective faces now that they’ve surpassed the 50-member mark. In 1997, Martha was a founding member of the first Arizmendi “replication” of the Cheese Board. She was a part of the training teams for two other Arizmendi start-ups. Martha has also served on the Cheese Board/Arizmendi Conflict Resolution Team.

Alison Booth Gribas has been a worker-owner at Equal Exchange since 2002, and has served on the Board of Directors and Worker-Owner Cabinet. She currently lives in Seattle and works as a Café Manager and Foodservice Sales Rep. In 2011, Alison joined the US Federation of Worker Coop’s Democracy at Work Network (DAWN) and is now a Certified Peer Adviser and Intake Coordinator. She joined the Steering Committee of SLICE, a Seattle-area cross-sector coop network, in 2012. Last fall, Alison made her film debut in Shift Change. She still finds it strange to watch herself on the big screen!

For more info about DAWN, look up at, Twitter @DAWNpeeradvisor, or on Facebook.
For more info about SLICE, check them out at, on Twitter @getyrslice, or on Facebook. For more info on Equal Exchange, visit them at, on Twitter @EEEBallard, or on Facebook.

Tim Huet is a founder of the Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives. As a member of the Association’s staff collective, he provides trainings and technical assistance for the Association’s member cooperatives.

Amy Johnson is the Membership and Advocacy Director for the USFWC. Amy recently completed an MPA in sustainable management at Presidio Graduate School, and she brings several years experience in issue advocacy campaigns and membership management for progressive organizations

Randell Leach, with over 17 years of experience in financial services, serves as One PacificCoast Bank’s deputy chief credit officer. Randell served as director and development chair for the highly successful nonprofit Friends of Trees, whose colorful tags on new plantings can now be seen in nearly every Portland, Oregon neighborhood. Randell has also served as treasurer and board director for Cascadia Green Building Council, where he provided legal, financial, and operational oversight during the organization’s extraordinary growth period.

Leslie Leyba has been involved with cooperative development for 10 years, as a founding member of the Looking Glass Cooperative aka The Lusty Lady Theater, San Francisco (2003 – 2007), a staff member at the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (2008 – 2010), and at Rainbow Grocery (2006 – present), where she has worn too many hats. This is her second time on the WWCC planning board and her fifth time attending the conference. She lives in Oakland, CA with her demanding cats.

Daniel Owens is a front-end web developer at Design Action Collective, joining in 2010. He originally hails from the hills of West Virginia, and aside from design and open-source development, he enjoys music, biking, and chasing his toddler around.

Kirsten Marshall has worked at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative for over 10 1/2 years. She works in the Cheese department and serves on the Effective Meetings Committee and the Cooperative Grant Committee. In the past she served on the Rainbow Coop committee as well as the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives Board. Previous to Rainbow she was the staff person for the Western Worker Cooperative Conference and also a worker-owner at Good Vibrations. She has been giving facilitation trainings and facilitating meetings at Rainbow, Good Vibrations, and other collectives for over 13 years. She is a coop geek and finds meeting process and facilitation fascinating puzzles to continually learn from.

Ria is the most recent addition to the Design Action Collective. Prior to her time at Design Action, Ria has worked as a freelance graphic designer and web developer. She has also lead workshops and given one-on-one trainings on the graphic design software Adobe Creative Suite.

Jayne Rossman is in her fifth year of work at the Olympia Food Co-op, which is a consumer-owned co-op managed by a non-hierarchical worker collective that uses consensus decision-making. She currently serves as the Staff Representative to the Board, Outreach Coordinator, designated spokesperson, and Expansion Facilitator. Jayne received her Master in Public Administration, with an emphasis in Non-Profit Administration, from The Evergreen State College, and thinks that working at OFC (or any worker co-op) ought to be considered a PhD program.

Padrice Stewart: “I have been a cashier, customer service activist, co-manager and the personnel manager at People’s Food Co-op for the past 4 years. My great hope for cooperatives and business in general is that human beings will learn about how to approach our dependence on the natural world with awe, respect, and active, functional care. My big dream in life was to “eat and talk,” so it seems the right occupation is at hand for the moment. Parent to one amazing human being, poet, performance artist and blessing maker, I continue to attempt to speak well and be useful in all possible ways.”

Stephen Rye Switzer has been living and working in cooperatives for the last ten years. As a hippie liberal arts student, he never thought he would find himself drawn to finances. Outside of crunching numbers, he is a herbalist, massage therapist and trainer. Stephen is a worker-owner at ABC – A Bookkeeping Cooperative and Third Root Community Health Center.

Joseph Tuck is the General Coordinator/CEO of Alvarado Street Bakery, one of the largest purveyors of organic breads and the second largest worker cooperative in the Western United States. Joseph started work at Alvarado in 1981 as a sanitation worker. He has held his current position for over twenty years. Joseph has provided technical assistance to various food processors in the Russian Federation with the coming of Perestroika. Before Alvarado, Joseph lived in the western highlands of Scotland and was employed as a shepherd/ghille.

Madeleine Van Engel is a founder and co-owner of Arizmendi Bakery on Valencia. When not baking, she provides support for the bakeries as a member of the Development and Support Cooperative for the Arizmendi Association. She is a trained mediator on the Arizmendi Conflict Resolution team, and has served on her cooperative’s Hiring and Evaluation Committee since the bakery’s opening. Her role on HEC, as well as her role as Corporate Secretary, has made it possible to help draft many of the policies that her cooperative later adopted.

Emily Van Kley works as a hiring facilitator, co-op developer, scheduling team member, and produce, dairy and deli stocker at the Olympia Food Co-op. She is passionate about the possibilities for collaboration and solidarity in the local, regional, and international cooperative movements.
Melissa Young has produced social justice documentaries for over 25 years with collaborator Mark Dworkin. Several have been broadcast on PBS. Their latest, SHIFT CHANGE, about worker coops in Mondragon and the U.S., is screening across the U.S. and Canada and helping publicize this more democratic approach to business.


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