Unions and worker cooperatives have long represented distinct approaches to building worker voice. This paper draws from observations of the work of the “Co-op Exploratory Committee” of 1199SEIU, the nation’s largest union local, which is seeking to expand the development of unionized worker cooperatives. Described by Martin Luther King, Jr, as his “favorite” union, 1199SEIU has a storied history of organizing frontline healthcare workers and includes large numbers of women of color and immigrant workers among its membership. Since 2003, it has also represented workers at Cooperative Home Care Associates, the nation’s largest worker cooperative. Drawing from discussions among union officials, co-op leaders, and rank-and-file union members about the potential role of unionized worker cooperatives within the labor movement, the paper examines the creative tension between stakeholder and democratic logics in efforts to expand this model. It argues that continued union decline, heightened interest in economic alternatives, and systemic frailties exposed by Covid-19 may create new opportunities for building unionized worker co-ops at scale.
I would like to express my gratitude to the 1199SEIU Co-op Exploratory Committee for allowing me to document and join their efforts. I hope this piece does some justice to their vision. I owe special thanks to Shaywaal Amin for inviting me into the committee and for many conversations that deeply informed this piece. Thanks also to Joseph Chinea, Janice Dabney, Alethia Jones, Denise Hernandez, Camille Kerr, Michael Peck, Mike Shay, and John Schwarten for insightful and challenging comments; to Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla for stellar research support; and to Katherine Chen and Victor Chen for extremely helpful editorial suggestions. All remaining errors are mine alone.
Pinto, S. (2021), "Economic Democracy, Embodied: A Union Co-op Strategy for the Long-Term Care Sector", Chen, K.K. and Chen, V.T. (Ed.) Organizational Imaginaries: Tempering Capitalism and Tending to Communities through Cooperatives and Collectivist Democracy (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 72), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 163-184. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0733-558X20210000072007
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