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Worker Cooperatives celebrated at Rhode Island State House



Worker owned cooperatives were celebrated on Tuesday at the Rhode Island State House, with a press conference, resolutions read in both chambers of the General Assembly and exhibitions from local cooperatives and supporters of cooperatives. The events were coordinated by Fuerza Laboral, the Central Falls Labor and Community Organization, and the Center for Employee Ownership, a group working to promote and support Worker Cooperatives.

Worker owned cooperatives are businesses established and rooted in communities within Rhode Island. These jobs don’t leave the state. Cooperatives are local, promote worker-owned job creation, and are democratic in nature. These jobs are also sustainable and green, such as the Healthy Planet Cleaning Co-op in Central Falls.

Judith Careño emceed the event

“Last year we were successful and incorporated the first workers’ cooperative here in Rhode Island. It’s called Healthy Planet Cleaning Co-op. It has the most talented people here in the industry sitting right here from in the yellow shirts,” said Raul Figueroa, an organizer with Fuerza Laboral. “If you support them, if we help them grow, you will be opening up the opportunity for many other [worker co-ops] in the future. We don’t want to stop here. This is obviously the first one and we want to form many more.”

“These workers cooperatives encourage workers to become owners of businesses,” said Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket), who introduce legislation making it easier to establish worker cooperatives in 2017. “These are are worker owners that live in our communities. They live among us and because they own their own business they of course are the best workers that you can ever get.”

“Over the past six years we’ve installed solar for more than 400 projects in Rhode Island,” said Eric Beecher, founder of Sol Power. “We’re up to seven owners in the business now and three more employees are on the track to becoming owners. So we’ve been a lot of putting a lot of green energy onto the grid but at the same time also providing really quality green collared jobs.”

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“Years of stagnant wages have led to Rhode Island being one of the worst income inequality states in the country. That means our businesses in the state are doing very well, but our local Rhode Islanders are not faring as well,” said Rachel Flum, executive director of the Economic Progress Institute. “Workers cooperatives are a great way to help reverse that trend because we know that small, local, democratically owned cooperatives are able to build assets, which means wealth, for the workers themselves. It also it has significant impacts for workers of color and not just the workers and their families but also the communities that they are organized in.”

“Today in Rhode Island General Assembly there is a Local Ownership Opportunity Act that has been introduced and passed in the House,” said Ellie Wyatt, part of the Center for Employment Ownership. “It’s ready to be heard in the Senate. The Local Ownership Opportunity Act would give workers ample notice when a business is closing and [provides] the information to workers and employers on how the enterprise could be sold to the employees should both agree that this is a desired outcome…

“Tell your Senators you want to see it passed…”

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa:

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.