ILO contributes to the deliberation on the alliance between unions and cooperatives in the US

ILO Cooperatives Unit Manager provided a video message as a keynote to the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy in the US on how trade unions and cooperatives can work together to promote decent work for all.

News | 30 October 2019
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC), the national grassroots membership organization for worker-owned cooperatives, and its Union Co-op Council (UCC) organized the 2019 Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy (ECWD) at the Baltimore Law School, Maryland on 18 October. It brought together several hundred cooperative members and developers to stimulate thoughts and understanding on how cooperatives and trade unions can collaborate for worker empowerment.

The session opened with a video message by ILO Cooperatives Unit Manager Ms. Simel Esim. At the beginning, she noted that the ILO has recognized the relevance of cooperatives in promoting social justice and decent work for all since its establishment in 1919 and supported the cooperative development through the ILO COOP Unit. With regard to the collaboration between trade unions and cooperatives, she introduced an ILO study that identified the interest of many unions in setting up cooperatives for workers well-being, especially for provision of financial services. In addition, she highlighted examples of emerging worker cooperatives around the world being formed by informal economy workers like care workers, domestic workers, waste pickers and taxi drivers to secure their livelihoods and improve working conditions. The full message is available here.

Speakers at the session included Ms. Neil Galdstein of the International Association of Machinists (IAM); Mr. Dennis Olson of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); and Mr. Flequer Vera of the Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative. Ms. Rebecca Lurie of the City University of New York, School of Labor and Urban Studies led with an overview. They provided insights on various ways trade unions in the US are supporting cooperative business development and design of solutions that increase worker power and community wealth by bringing resources to the development process. For instance, the IAM linked a local lobster trappers’ union with a cooperative enterprise and applied its researchers to help them understand legislation and market opportunities and assemble training and financing. Similarly, the UFCW has put its resources to explore how farming and supply chain approaches can be used with the cooperative model to increase workers’ capacity to organize and improve income and working conditions in the food industry.

The Union Co-op initiatives are being formed in cities and states around the US where trade unions include the cooperative business model into their toolbox for solving challenges faced by the industry and workers. The Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative in Ohio is one of the strongest cooperative examples with support from the United Steelworkers and the Mondragon Corporation in Spain. In New York City, more and more unions, including the IAM and the UFCW, are including the cooperative model as a tool for problem solving.