Worker co-ops brings breath of fresh air to Ohio

An innovative project in Cleveland, Ohio has brought a breath of fresh and green air to its’ local community.

An innovative project in Cleveland, Ohio has brought a breath of fresh and green air to its’ local community.

The scheme is made up of three worker co-operatives known as Evergreen Cooperatives; the first two were launched in 2009 as the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry and the Ohio Cooperative Solar.

In 2011 a new co-op was opened, a hydroponic greenhouse called Green City Growers.

“Evergreen changed my life, it changed my life for the best because if it wasn’t for Evergreen and the co-op right now, I don’t know where I’d be;” said James Harris, a member of Ohio Cooperative Solar.

The project was created by a working group of Cleveland institutions including the Cleveland Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and the municipal government.

Taking inspiration from the highly successful Spanish co-operative the Mondragon Corporation, Evergreen Co-operatives wanted to create financial assets for poor and working people in low income neighbourhoods.

Ted Howard, from the Cleveland Foundation explained: “Traditionally in economic development in this country, what we do is we train people for jobs and then at the end of that pipeline there may not be a job there.

“Evergreen stands that model on its head, we’re building the green businesses first, we know what the 50 jobs will be and then we recruit people into those positions.”

Evergreen Cooperative Laundry is the greenest commercial-scale health care bed linen laundry in Ohio. It employs 50 residents and has the smallest carbon footprint of any industrial-scale laundry in northeast Ohio.

Ohio Cooperative Solar is a community based solar energy company that will ultimately employ 75 people. OCS owns and maintains solar generators on the roofs of the city’s biggest non-profit health and education buildings and the institutions purchase the energy over a 15 year period.

Green City Growers opened in 2011; it is a 3.8 acre hydroponic greenhouse that will provide fresh vegetables and herbs to the local community.

Within each co-operative new potential members are hired as probationary or temporary workers. They work for 6 to 12 months and as Ted Howard, from the Cleveland Foundation explained: “During that time you prove yourself. Do you show up? Are you a good team player? Do you buy into the Evergreen concept?”

The members then go on to vote on whether or not new workers get in. If they become a member then they get a raise, and qualify for no-cost health care benefits.

Part of their raise goes towards purchasing shares in the business and a percentage of the profits are allocated to ‘capital accounts’ owned by each member each year.

Evergreen Co-operatives have received praise from around the world. They have been featured in the Economist and Time magazine.

They see it as bringing the future to today. At the opening of the Green City Growers, the Mayor of Cleveland, Frank Jackson said: “As we move ahead we look at our economy and where it’s going, we want to be at the forefront and this project helps us to do that.”

The model has even made members think about setting up their own co-ops.

James Harris, said: “I think that everybody should get into the whole co-op thing; maybe in due time once I get a little older and have more experience, maybe I can start another co-op doing something else in Ohio.”

“You have to grow, you have to nurture, you are instrumental into what it becomes and that’s the difference between working at Evergreen and somewhere else;” said Medrick Addison, from Evergreen Co-operative laundry.

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