Virtual event touts benefits of worker-owned cooperatives

  • Top row, left, Abbie Zell, worker-owner of South Mountain Co. of Martha’s Vineyard, and Karen Ribeiro, worker-owner of PV Squared on Wells Street in Greenfield, and bottom row, left, state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, during a virtual event on worker-owned cooperatives. SCREENSHOT

  • MARK

  • PV Squared’s offices at 311 Wells St. in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • PV Squared’s offices at 311 Wells St. in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 1/27/2022 4:42:17 PM
Modified: 1/27/2022 4:41:00 PM

State Rep. Paul Mark teamed up with state Sen. Julian Cyr and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives this week to host an event to tout the benefits of worker-owned cooperatives like PV Squared in Greenfield.

In partnership with the Coalition for Worker Ownership and Power, the hosts welcomed comments from PV Squared worker-owner Karen Ribeiro and others affiliated with worker cooperatives and their cause. Ribeiro said she has been a worker-owner for two years and she hopes all entrepreneurs find their way to employee ownership.

“Our economy would certainly be more robust and resilient,” she said.

Ribeiro, who works in design and sales, explained her experience in the corporate world — primarily in banking — was “in such stark contrast to the transparent and collaborative, roll-up-your-sleeves-together spirit of the cooperative” she now enjoys. She said the solar company is in its 20th year and has roughly 50 employees, about two-thirds of whom are worker-owners.

“We serve western-central Massachusetts and, for cooperative-focused businesses like Equal Exchange, other parts of the state or neighboring states,” she said. “We were founded as a worker cooperative and have been supported by, and have supported, many other businesses in establishing governance models, writing bylaws, sharing cooperative agreements, collaborating on market and marketing approaches, and having open-hearted conversations about what we’ve learned from the school of hard knocks.”

Abbie Zell, communications coordinator and worker-owner of the South Mountain Co., a renewable energy firm on Martha’s Vineyard, also spoke during the one-hour virtual event on Monday. About two-thirds of the workers share ownership and the rest are on that path. She mentioned worker-owned cooperatives average 33% higher wages and better benefits than businesses operating with other models.

In regards to the economic fallout caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, Zell said studies show cooperatives “weathered this storm better than others.” She also said cooperatives have lower employee turnover.

Zell also mentioned 57% of worker-owners in the state identify as people of color.

Alex Papali, political director at Boston’s Center for Economic Democracy said a key principle of the cooperative movement is the idea of being stronger together. He said he helps staff the Coalition for Worker Ownership and Power.

“We’re so proud of the work that COWOP has done over the past couple of years building out solid statewide organizing infrastructure to make workers’ ownership of their businesses — and control over their workplaces — a viable option for entrepreneurs across Massachusetts and beyond,” he said.

Papali also spoke about bills in the State House to enhance and fortify the worker-ownership ecosystem.

The first is H.2059, sponsored by Reps. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Erika Uyterhoeven, D-Somerville, which would make revenue-neutral language changes to allow workforce training programs that already exist for underemployed and unemployed workers, or those in job transition, to include training in business development, operation and management skills.

Another bill is S.1223, sponsored by Sens. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, and Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, which aims to give workers a say in their companies’ decisions by requiring Massachusetts corporations with annual revenues greater than $100 million to ensure that no less than 40% of board-of-director seats be elected by employees, with the same duties and responsibilities as directors elected by the shareholders.

Papali said the Center for Economic Democracy also supports budget amendments for $500,000 to enhance technical assistance supports for worker cooperatives under the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation’s Small Business Technical Assistance Program, as well as for $4 million to be administered by the Cooperative Fund of New England to provide grants and loan guarantees to worker-owned enterprises to secure some stability in today’s economy.

Mark told a personal story about his father getting laid off from his warehouse job two days before Christmas, and his family, due to the universal absence of cellphones at the time, learning about it on the evening news before his father could get home to tell anyone. He said worker-owned cooperatives “don’t do things like that. They engage the workers that are there.”

Cyr said he has always been keen on cooperatives due to the significant advantages and benefits associated with them. He said his interest stems from working in the restaurant his family owned in Truro for 28 years.

“When my parents were looking to get out of the business, I wish that employee-ownership was an option that they were aware of,” Cyr said, adding that worker-ownership might be the key to saving iconic and beloved local businesses.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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