Brunch & Budget

b&b 237: Pros & Cons of Workers Co-Ops w/ Ajoke Williams & Ahn-Thu Nguyen

October 03, 2020 Brunch & Budget
Brunch & Budget
b&b 237: Pros & Cons of Workers Co-Ops w/ Ajoke Williams & Ahn-Thu Nguyen
Chapters
Brunch & Budget
b&b 237: Pros & Cons of Workers Co-Ops w/ Ajoke Williams & Ahn-Thu Nguyen
Oct 03, 2020
Brunch & Budget

As part of our COVID-19 relief and business saving efforts, DAWI is launching a hotline  this month for small businesses, especially in communities of color, interested in converting to worker ownership,  and we're doing it in partnership with NYC Department of Small Business Services.

Show Notes Transcript

As part of our COVID-19 relief and business saving efforts, DAWI is launching a hotline  this month for small businesses, especially in communities of color, interested in converting to worker ownership,  and we're doing it in partnership with NYC Department of Small Business Services.

Dyalekt:

Just like hotpot and hopscotch on the block justice is best served when everybody gets a shot. This is brunch and budget, the show about personal finance and racial economic inclusion with your host, Pamela Capalad, a certified financial planner and accredited financial counselor here to take the bite out of your budget. Brunch and budget is part of the race and wealth Podcast Network reporting live from where we reside, but also from the prosperity summit 2020. We're here it's here, we're here to give it to you. I'm your sound provider Dyalekt. And here's your host, Pamela Capalad.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Thank you, Dyalekt. And thank you everybody, for tuning in. We're super excited to be here. And we cannot wait to talk about the topic today. So we're going to talk about how POC small business owners can create alternative work structures. And we have two experts here.

Dyalekt:

We should talk about how we got into this mess. Oh, I think that's the interesting thing about this deck. This is great stuff that we want to talk about some very exciting show. And we've been saying earlier, like we don't actually know a lot about this industry. So we're going to be we're on the same place as everybody else's listening. So we're totally excited to listen all these things. Yes. But like, How did this happen? Again?

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Well, we were on a panel.

Dyalekt:

We were on a panel, we do panels sometimes ya'll.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

We do panels sometimes. We were on a panel with

Dyalekt:

Fools theory, but the bail festival it's a really great Theatre Company out in the Bay Area. My show the Museum of Dead Words was supposed to be in that Theater Festival then of course, with everything going on they went virtual. They had a panel.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yes, it was on labor ethics and finance reform. We're on a panel with Daniel Park. And he just blew our minds. He started talking about workers co-ops in particular workers cooperatives, and I've never heard of workers cooperatives. I was like, What is that? And how can I make my business a workers cooperative. And so we knew that we had to have a US federation of workers cooperatives on the show. And then he also introduced us to Ajoke Williams, from the US federation of worker coops. And then also Anh-Thu Nguyen, the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Democracy at Work Institute two experts who will help us guide us through what we can do instead, right, because we're really in a place right now where freelancing seems to be the default for a lot of people, a lot of POC are in situations where they want to freelance or they have to freelance and I feel like workers rights have been quickly getting eroded with this kind of status.

Dyalekt:

You know, what was the funny thing about is like, the way that you framed it, it's like it used to be that freelancing was a workers option. And now freelancing is an employer's options. And I think since the game change there, it's now put us in a position where we're all scrambling, rather than even hustling, it's more scrambling.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yeah, exactly. So thank you for joining us.

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yes, we're so excited to have you. And I think that we're all looking for what needs to change and what already exists that people don't know about that we can move into. Right. Tell us a little bit about your background, and why you're passionate about this work. So Josie, why don't we start with you,

Ajoke Williams:

Hi everyone, my name is Ajoke Williams. I'm the project manager of Gilded which is a freelancer cooperatives. And it's an initiative started by the US federation of worker cooperatives. So gilded was started as an analogue to what is currently happening in Belgium and other European countries with Smart. Smart Co Op is a co op developed also for freelancers. And it was created in order to provide freelancers with a benefit Social Security net that they typically don't have, because of their status as not employees. So in a lot of European countries, if you're an employee, you get access to federal subsidized benefits, such as health care, free health care, access, help with your pension accounts, sick days, and also tax benefits. But freelancers don't get that. So what Smart does is they turn freelancers into employees for the duration of their contract. And in addition to that, they provide payment advances. So if you were a freelancer, and you had a project that was going to last three months, but only get paid at the end, smart would divide your payments up into equal installments and pay out in installments that way. So Gilded is trying to replicate that security net for US workers here. Of course, there are some caveats being that the US doesn't have a national health care system. So we're working around that. And I come to the this field, mostly doing cooperative stuff in the DMV area, and also as a technologist, I've mostly interface online platforms with social activism and movement work and see how tech can work for good.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

I mean, so many questions. Yeah.

Dyalekt:

Well, I'm just thinking about how many times I really could have used like, I feel like my income is more regular and understandable now than it was before. And it was those times where like, you're getting those like five and $10,000 checks and then there's like nothing forever. Because it's just like, here's the project thing. And then you're like, Oh, my, and then you do yeah, budgeting that is ridiculous.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yeah. And it's a lot to ask of anyone, and especially someone who's like, I actually just want to do the work. I just want to get paid to do the work that I'm doing. Why am I also the accountant and the bookkeeper and sending the invoices and chasing after people, and I have to manage my health insurance and have to worry about retirement and all of this stuff.

Dyalekt:

Alright, so remember that if that $10,000 check came in that three of that is taxes?

Ajoke Williams:

Exactly. And that's part of what guilded tries to address that we want to take the accounting and administrative burdens off the freelancer so that the freelancer can do their job, and that they can advocate for themselves a bit more as well. Because you know, as a freelancer, you have to both be you're selling your product, and then you have to be the middleman for yourself and your client, you know, ask them really hard questions about payment.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

And it's like, it's a responsibility that I feel like someone who's a freelancer, we're not told that explicitly, we kind of know it. And we're like, oh, I guess that's a thing that I'll just like, learn how to do. But it also is a responsibility that shouldn't fall on someone who's just a maker who just like really wants to do the service or make the product that they intended to do. Right.

Dyalekt:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I guess the option shouldn't be either I have to do everything or allow myself to be exploitive?

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

I love that. And, Anh-Thu, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came into this work?

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

Sure. So my name is Anh-Thu Nguyen. I am with the Democracy at Work Institute, we are a spin off from the US federation of corporate cooperatives. And in my role, I have supported the development of radiate consulting cooperative, which is a cooperative franchise. Cooperatives for specifically, young immigrant graduates who are working in professional services. My background, both my parents were Vietnamese refugees. And so a lot of my work has focused on centering immigrant and refugee communities in the US, communities that have a lot of hustle and also a lot of struggle as well, with regards to lack of access to capital with regards to all the issues that come up with having an unstable immigration status, or just getting mixed status, generally speaking. So a lot of the work that I've focused on in the past has come with me to dawie, and really is kind of like come to fruition with the development of Radiate Consulting. So in short, what we do is that we bring together young professionals who work in places, whether it's things like bookkeeping, financial services, they're also freelancers. But it's less, it's creative in a different way. It's less like traditionally, like folks working in the arts and more people who work in spaces like interpretation, admin, like project based consulting work. Most of them are immigrants. So it's really immigrant centered, especially and quite a few folks like have a have a past where, you know, they come from a mixed status background, so they really have to hustle and struggle in order to be able to succeed and work together. And a lot of that, like cooperatives spirit and energy that comes from like, that kind of youth organizing really comes into the economic space as well, where they're combining resources. And we see this a lot in immigrant communities, right? When people bring together resources in order to start a business Spanish, they're called like, you know, banda the money we put together a pot of money in Vietnamese are called Wye and a lot of African cultures that are called sous sous. So like, it's something that has a real lineage and a real background. And now you're seeing folks doing it in the US who have from that background as well from immigrant backgrounds. And similar to Gilded the idea is that people are able to do the work that they are great and talented and doing. But by pooling their resources together as a worker owned agency, they can pay for people to provide back office services to pay for insurance like especially things like liability insurance, health care, things that and like licenses, things that people don't necessarily think about when they start their own LLC and then they realize oh my god, it costs so much money to like pay for things like incorporation, liability insurance, like these things, but as a group of people, they can pull their resources to go to make this happen. Also going out getting contracts using like the same brand to market their services under and then also get support with regards to their taxes and just like navigating the the minefield of running a small business in the US.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Whoo, oh my god, just like give me flashbacks about setting up my company. And like all of the pitfalls, and I'm a financial planner, who has taught people through setting this up and when you do it yourself, I feel like that you realize how many ways it could go wrong and how expensive it really is to actually start something up right. There's so many like, you know, rags to riches stories. People were like, I started with nothing. I started with the shirt on my back. But the reality is there are so many costs and so many administrative things that it takes to actually be a successful business that it's so difficult to, like get past that first year get past those first two years.

Dyalekt:

Yeah, well, and the rags to riches story is the thing that kind of gets the stars in your eyes. Yeah, as Pam was flashing back to her own business, I was flashing back in my early days as a creative where I'm at the rap show with the other rappers I remember this open mic. It's like all friends of ours, we'd all be jam. We all love each other help each other move and stuff like that. And we tried several times to make an album together with all like 20 or 30 of us and we like to do it together. It's a cool time together cooperative effort. And everybody had their own stars in their eyes, rags to riches idea that they would do it themselves. And we were unable to pull that off, even though logistically that would have been like so much.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So let's start with what a worker cooperative is, what is the worker cooperative? How do they work? And what are the pros and cons?

Ajoke Williams:

So a worker cooperative is like a business entity. In some states, there are legal formation that you can take in other states, there aren't you write the provisions of your bylaws, but the essence of it is where the workers own the company, they have ownership in the company, they also have similar to how a shareholder in a business would have power in terms of like how money spent, investors would have power in terms of some of the decisions that they make, instead of giving the power to people who invest capital, you give power to people who invest their money. So it's all about making sure that this disconnect t at generally happens, capitalism or capital talks more than act al people who produce what ma es capital possible. Labor is he origin for wo

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

So basically, with worker co Ops, then I just want to dig into the structure of it a little bit. So are the people who form the workers Co Op one, can any group of people come together and decide they want to do workers Co Op, and then their owners? And then they're also employees?

Ajoke Williams:

Yep. Yep. So one part is like, so if you find a worker Co Op, you can follow up a co op in different legal entities. So you can have a nonprofit worker coop, you can have an LLC, worker Co Op, which is what they do, and these different formations, fit whatever you're trying to do, they should correspond to you. And all that's actually needed is just provisions in your bylaws that tell what are the guidelines for someone being a member? What are their responsibilities when they're a member? What are they entitled to in terms of the equity and economic value value that they get on the business as a member? And Anh-Thu can talk more and might want to add to that.

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

Yeah, I would break it down to two components. One is agency and the other is ownership. And that's what makes a worker cooperative business different from other businesses. So for example, you know, you see, like all these like hotshot tech startups, where people have equity, right, but they don't actually have control. You might have shares, you have vest, but it's still like Mark Zuckerberg owns and runs the operation. And you have no say over like, what terrible policies are going to be enacted next. Whereas like a worker cooperatives, the idea is that you both have like ownership, you have a stake, you get a profit share. And you get this decision making authority and that so it's a democratic workplace, what and the idea is that there's one worker, for every worker, there's one vote. And that can take a lot of different forms, right? Because democracy can take lots of different forms. So you have some small co ops that are just like run like a straight collective that I think as artists and creatives you might be familiar with in the past, it's like we sit in a room and you just figure it out. And then there's like, huge, like, really well known worker cooperative businesses. Well, they're well known on the cooperative space. So the biggest one in the country actually is based here in New York City. It's called Cooperative Homecare Associates. And it is a homecare cooperative business with about 2000 people working there, like 98% minority women owned. What makes sense it's a big company, what they do is that they the worker owners themselves, vote for a board of directors and the Board of Directors makes like the management decisions in terms of like hiring people from within the company to like take different positions of leadership. So it's like more representative democracy as opposed to like a direct collective affair. So yeah, that's kind of the the major components and then of course, like the the sharing of profits or in in Co Op, it's called surplus. There's like a surplus at the end of the year after you know, you've paid people's wages you paid for overhead etc. that money comes back to you as the worker owner in the form of like a bonus check basically

Dyalekt:

know when you talk about the larger ones and the kind of representative democracy of it you know, when you talk about Zuckerberg Have you thinking about well, you know, if I own stock, I get to like make a proxy vote is that is that like the same kind of thing I want to know. Is it a similar type of vibe or is it a little more granular? Do you feel like with the even with the huge ones, like the CHA that you're talking about? Does this one vote feel like it counts? Or are you a allowed to vote on things that aren't just like voting for the board?

Ajoke Williams:

I don't I'm don't not as familiar with like, what the HCA, what their bylaws say, but as this is something that you would write into your bylaws, so what do your members have a right to vote there have a right to vote on the board? Are there certain topics on the board that they need membership approval, in addition to the board, some majority of the board and the majority of your members have to say, yes, we're going to change the price before house before that actually gets passed. But you put a change to allow us accounts that we give all of our members if they buy their supplies. So it is very much dependent on what's in the bylaws. In addition, even if it's not in the bylaws, if there are provisions for members to change the bylaws, then it doesn't have to be listed.

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

Yeah, and another thing to your point about like whether it's a different vibe from like a startup or you know, a company, someone like Zuckerberg owns, like 50,000, let's say, I don't know, 50% of shares, or however many percentage of the shares. And so that means he has just proportionate voting power. The idea of a worker cooperative is that like, regardless of how much you make, and like your surplus, their profit share is based on how much you work or like, you know, what, what position you're in. If you've been working with a company for like 15 years, and you've moved up versus what if you just started, there's still the idea of like one worker, one vote when it comes to major decision making authority. So in like, traditional Corporation, you might have outside shareholders like, you know, just like randos who private equity firms that own a significant percentage of the company, or you have internal shareholders founders who have like a lot of power, because they own a lot of the shares. In a worker cooperative, regardless of who the person is, people might be getting paid different amounts of money based on their skills and how much they they work. But when it comes to like the actual voting power, it's still the same. So that's what makes it democratic.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

So really, like, and I'm also wondering, too, like, does that mean, for instance, like, let's say there's a back end person or an HR person or admin person, they would also come in as a member and get an equal vote to someone who's like going out there and making sales or to someone who's going out there and like, directly, like, it doesn't matter, the department position, anything like that,

Ajoke Williams:

It won't matter. But they'd have to fulfill the requirements of membership. And that wouldn't be dependent on their in their worker Co Op, it wouldn't be dependent on what they do as an employee more so but have they worked at the co op enough? Sometimes there are time limits, you need to put in so many hours before you can apply to be a member. You have to take these trainings such and such.

Dyalekt:

Okay, that makes sense. Yeah, because I've done when you talk about like creative collectives, I've done theater things where the creative people are doing like the majority of the putting things together in the promo and things like that. And then they have what we would call a regular contract which is basically a part of the team but they're not involved in the genesis are a lot of the pushing of it. They just had to do their parts they have a meet our agreement is that they have something different that they're doing and what they can vote on decisions they can make. So that makes sense.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

All right, let's go to a song. I'm like digesting all this right now.

Dyalekt:

Yeah, it's a lot. Let's Let's jump to a song. got here. I want to go to Chicago. Let's go to Chicago, Illinois, where Liberty Jones with her joint Better Together because that's what we're talking about how we work better together. Back in a minute. We're doing this brunch and budget, part of the Race and Wealth Podcast Network. And we're back. Brunch & budget, Race and Wealth Podcast Network. That was better together by Liberty Jones from her album Peace Maker.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Okay, so we are talking with a Ajoke Williams of US Federation for worker cooperatives and Anh-Thu Nguyen the director of strategic partnerships at the democracy work Institute, we are talking about worker cooperatives. And really just thinking about how we can structure how we can structure work differently for people so that they have a voice, right, so they can advocate for themselves. And so they can access benefits thateveryone should be.

Dyalekt:

We're not only talking about how it's better together, but these guys are helping us figure out how to make together better.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

I love it. So worker cooperatives sounds like a dream. But I'm sure there are some issues that come up. So I'd love to know what the pros and cons are for joining a workers cooperative and why someone would choose to do it or not do it.

Ajoke Williams:

I can start so some of the pros would be you get out in decision making. But as you form your work for profit, so you wouldn't have to there wouldn't be one individual that profitable for figuring out how the structures in the system, you'd have a team that already committed already invested in the cooperative and in the organization. It's also a good way to get initial funds for equity into the cooperative. So to become a member you actually have to put in money you have all of the initial founders of your cooperative put in some money for equity to get the business started. Cons would be that they're still not as well known in the state that they are internationally. So it's harder to go to banks and explain the structure and explain who has ownership and who's taking out the loan. Banks typically are used to seeing one to two people who have primary ownership of the business, but we have different members who have ownership. And then in addition to having while having a worker Co Op helps lessen the burden of responsibility, especially smaller crop, you have decision making, coming to direct democracy coming into members. It also looks for profit that some degree. Now you have to figure out what is your strategy. What do you do when there isn't consensus? And in my opinion, that makes for better decision but the timelines a bit longer than if you just had one person laying down the line everyone else has to follow.

Dyalekt:

It's okay, this is more complicated. You could tell me so but like, Is there like a best practice when you go into a bank and you're like there's a bunch of us?

Ajoke Williams:

Yeah, typically what the Federation did for the, for COVID because a lot of the PPP loans were given out through banks is that we collected information from our members. And we said, which banks did you use? How difficult was the process, and we have documents on our website that people can refer to. But a good place to start would be checking out the bank site, see if they use that they have any familiarity dealing with cooperative businesses, because if they don't, you're going to be the person to educate them. So it's better to start with the bank that already and a lot of deifies, or lender,

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

Yeah, definitely echoing Ajoke point on that. There's some things that are pretty familiar with the worker cooperative model, and so are a lot easier to deal with. You want to open account. So one example is amalgamated bank, here in New York City, which is also a B Corp. So they're great to work with.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

We use them. Yeah, we love them.

Ajoke Williams:

Yeah, so their capital, just to show them?

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

Yeah, shared capital cooperative is great. Other times, you know, what I've done in the past, and I've actually opened bank accounts on behalf of worker co Ops, it's just like, you just go in as an agent, basically, you're like, I am opening this on the behalf of like, all of these workers, the worker owners, and you have the articles of incorporation and everything like that. And it definitely can be complicated, because especially at some of the bigger banks, they're like, what is this? Why do you have to why do you have 15 owners like this is, oh, it's, I don't get it. And it can be, it can be complicated and navigate. So like, finding banks that really understand the worker coop model is really important, especially because it's not really well known. And then related to that, like, in addition to the issue with opening a bank accounts getting loans, the access to capital aspect is very hard, can be hard. Because there's like a lack of understanding of how the worker Co Op model is. And because you can't raise capital unnecessarily the traditional way, which is like I have shares, so I will give 25% to some random person in exchange for money. Like, going to a VC can't go to that traditional way to like raise rounds of funding. And there are different creative ways that bigger worker cooperatives, like for example, equal exchange, wish, just coffee, Fairtrade, bananas, and chocolate, amongst other things, they've been able to raise money through, like, direct public offerings, and then some other ways to raise capital, but it's still pretty limited. And that's something that definitely needs to be addressed to get the corporate cops in this country to the scale that we'd like to see it.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yeah, yeah. cuz I've been thinking about like the bank accunt situation in particular, and I loved it there, banks like amalgamated that that stuff too, because I think that this feels like something that we need to see more of. This feels like something that because of the way that work is going, we talked about at the beginning of the show that so many people are really like striking out on their own and trying to figure out how to do this, but you can do the work part, you know, in your own way. But I feel like this feels like the best of both worlds, right? There's this feeling of like, okay, I can work how I want to, when I want to. I have ownership in something. But also, I have all this back end stuff taken care of someone is going in and being the HR person someone is going in and handling fake account someone is going in, and like doing the accounting in the books and things like that, and like the pooling of resources just feels, I don't know, it feels like a really great safety net that so many freelancers don't have?

Dyalekt:

Well, and Well, I mean, I don't know the word of safety net, I think, I think community at least Yeah, you know, having folks, I hear so many times in freelancers, and even small businesses where it's just two or three people where they're like, it feels like there's nobody to bounce things off of. And I'm just in here in my mess. And when things are tough. It's so tough. And I really appreciate when I asked you guys about like, what are your best practices but he thinks is to say go to the banks that are already rocking with you. We also as freelancers, especially as creative you don't have to like reinvent all the wheels that we always have. Because we always were told that we're pushing rocks uphill, so we just take that on and we're like, we're gonna do that. But yeah, work with the people who already are doing it and help grow those things rather than trying to fight every time.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yeah, yeah. And love it. That's so amazing. So I'd love to circle back Anh-Thu to your work in terms of working with immigrants specifically because you're so right. I mean, I am I moved here from the Philippines when I was Two years old, my parents are immigrants and children of immigrants. And I feel like I know, with my parents in particular, there was this fear, I like worked myself up for months to tell them that I was going to quit my stable job with health insurance to start my own business, and who knows what's gonna happen? Right. And so I feel like that, um, I think a lot of the issues that immigrants face is is not understanding the system not being from here. And also Yeah, and also, just like the mixed documentation status that you mentioned like, how, how can they empower themselves?

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

Right, totally. I mean, what's funny about the immigrant experience in the US, at least like for my family is that entrepreneurship is something that happens out of necessity. It's not like, it's like if you can get a job that gives you good benefits. Please keep that job. Start your and run your own small business. We didn't want to do it. But we opened a business like my family started a business, they both my parents were dental technicians. They were not dental technicians in Vietnam, teeth became the thing when they came over here. But they started their business out of pure necessity, no place was going to hire them, no place would accept their degrees. For my mother, who was a doctor in Vietnam, her English just wasn't good enough for her to be accepted into residency programs, even though she had passed her equivalency exams and all that stuff. So she ended up making teeth and then later on working the factory. So we had the idea of like me, her only child going off to like, you know, get involved in like startups and be in a very precarious I worked in a few projects where I did not have health insurance. And things are quite precarious for a while until I landed at a startup which ended up paying me well, that yeah, it's it's definitely a lot of a lot of immigrants are like, don't do it if you have to. And yet, at the same time, it provides a major opportunity, especially if you're locked out of having a good job, or even a job to begin with, right, like entrepreneurship is the way that a lot of immigrants are able to find work in the US and to take care of themselves and their families. And in the worker cooperative space, which, up until around like 20 years ago, a lot of it was the same even though there's a long history of worker coopsn being a means for black liberation. And for worker organizing in the 19th and early 20th centuries. By the mid 20s, mid late 20th century was it became associate with like, basically, white hippies, middle class hippies, like kind of like you ticket, the crunchy Co Op kind of when you think of that. But um, in the last 20 years, like worker coops have become a major vehicle for contingent workers who like freelancers, you know, gig workers, in cleaners, construction workers, etc. And the gig economy to be able to organize themselves get benefits get paid better, and be able to like advocate for their rights as business owners and as workers. And that's like really informed our work as organizations and issawi. In, in working with, like, the next generation with like young professionals with freelancers who are seeing like the same problems that they have, that their parents had, as like small small business owners, or as like, no gig economy workers, where it's like, I don't have protections. I'm not able to access like, you know, building wealth in this economy, like people who are born in this country or people who have a measure of privilege. Like I going back to your kind of what you're talking earlier about rags to riches, most of those rags to riches stories are bullshit, for the most part, like let's be honest, it's it's like, what was it? Mitt Romney being like, I had to eat dinner on a folding card table in college and it's like your dad was the governor of Michigan and the head executives of an automobile company.

Dyalekt:

I don't even know he gave to you.

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

There's a lot of like, mythmaking about how people are able to or you know, even Mark Zuckerberg, right, he had a lot of privilege and he started Facebook, they still had a lot of privilege beforehand. So like the coop structure, I think is like really a way for people to use something that's that's like pretty familiar, like, you know, in a variety of immigrant communities, people are already working together through pitching in through lending circles or just mutual aid and caregiving and so forth. And then being able to be like you can also apply this to your business and that gives it the kind of safety net or whatever you want to call it. So that you able to like you know, do what you want and achieve the American dream that you know we came here for, I suppose.

Dyalekt:

I really wanted to highlight that's really dope how you mentioned how this is marketed as a crunchy white middle class hippie thing, just like Occupy Wall Street, just like the actual hippie movement, just like they're actually doing today with Black Lives Matter as a movement. That's like a constant thing they do is say, hey, these tools of liberation for people of color, you don't actually want that. It's actually the laziest type of white person that we can invent who does that. And they're doing that to mess with you. It's always a running theme with these.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yeah. Oh, my God, it's so true. Yeah. Well, and I just think about the idea of like, collectively pooling your resources is something that's so frowned upon in this country, right? The idea of saying, like, oh, we're going to even just the idea of Sue Sue, anytime I explain it to someone, they're like, wait, I don't get it. Can you explain it again? What do you mean, I like put my money, and then someone gets the money first. And it's this whole foreign concept?

Dyalekt:

Well, and the thing about it is, is like when we talked about a lot of times, it's a they can't tell the difference between a Susu and a pyramid scheme. Yeah. And it's because the Susu does not create a winner, it doesn't have a situation where if you are better, or you are deemed more worthy, you will get the thing you will rise up. No, it's about us collectively having something together. And they often get tricked into suesue, because not the suesue, the pyramid schemes. They're like, it's like a Susu. Except you get to win.

Ajoke Williams:

I think just jumping in on that. That's part of what makes cooperatives so powerful, and that you in build that feeling of community shared profit shared with, you know, companies, you only get the risk, right? So if the company's not doing well, then your salary gets cut, and people get fired. But if it's one vote, one, one person, one vote, then you get to make those decisions, like what's happening when we're not prospering. And what do we need to cut back on? What can we do? And similarly, just to jump on a really good point that I think on to made about immigrants using entrepreneurship as a way to circumvent being discriminated against what actually missing is just that sense of stability, because a lot in the white community, but they are more privileged communities, what they end up doing is using entrepreneurship as a way to move up in the social ladder. But they work at a stable company for a while they develop the expertise, they get the client tab, and then all of a sudden, their private, firm, but it's not as possible for immigrants. So things like radiate. What they do is kind of provide that stability that's needed to make that transition. So you're not worried you're not taking just any job where you can't get professionalized skills, you can't just build on what you're learning, but you can, you know, be a bit more strategic and kind of start to build a platform that already got to have that. Yeah. Back to the outside is mostly that part of that cooperative and freelancers are kind of dual pronged in terms of fighting against capitalism, because freelancing is a way to reclaim your work in a way, you know. And what typically happens is, but after the Treaty of Detroit, where there were lots of scrapes, and people went to the big three motor companies and said, Look, you need to start giving us more security, and then we will change our labor. And then they started eating the fat eating back at the 40s. freelances, the way to stay low. We actually, you know, we used to own our labor before they were in large corporations. And we would like to only up again, and we would like to, and now we're back to fight for it. Well, if you want to our time, then we need to make sure we have all the security that we need in order to do that, but

Dyalekt:

So well, so because you know, because well, cuz, I mean, great Jones, but also, you know, you said some real stuff about you know, working together two pronged attack fighting against capitalism. And so I figured since you know, we're talking about reclaiming you saying workers reclaiming the stuff that has been poached from us, then we should talk about the elephant in the room. So when we talked about this, like button capitalism and the workers and the workers own workers get, what do you say when folks start getting scared about socialism and communism? Because I feel like that after a lot of the stuff that you just said, people will come out with that or be worried about those things. So what do we say when we talk about that? And I know that that's like its own whole nother

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

So we use the language of shared capitalism, thing. which is that and or inclusive capitalism, like, why should it be an aristocracy of like five people who own everything? And, you know, what does it mean to have entrepreneurship and ownership available to all people, you know, like, it's a business, it's still making money. The difference is that you're, you know, focusing on making it accessible to everybody and putting our community that way. It's definitely a people can get triggered by. So they're like, Oh, yeah, it does. You're right. Sounds like it sounds like socialism. It's like no business. It's just now it's accessible to everybody.

Dyalekt:

Oh, that's cold. I love that it's business. It's now accessible to everybody shared capitalism. we've long said on this show that when people talk about zero sum capitalism, the problem with zero sum capitalism is that it does capitalism wrong. And that capitalism when done well, you know, as a hip hop, or I liken it to a rap cipher, it's a thing where it's a circle thing, where it's not about me having the best and having everything, it's about me having something that I can share with another share with another that we all create something together, and it can be competitive, and we can have markets and we can have money that we you know, we're trying to get better. And also, you might use some of yours, and you can do all the capitalism stuff without the exploitation.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yeah, I want to circle back to to the phrase freelancing as a way to reclaim your work. And I think that we've been so beaten down with the idea of, I just have to accept what the boss gives me, I just have to accept what the company gives me an even with the gig economy and the gig where I just have to accept what these big companies give me, because this is all there is and to think of freelancing as something and bring it back to something that truly is empowering, right? Where you do have choice, but you also have these benefits that all workers should honestly have, at the end of the day. And I think that's super powerful. So Yeah. Um, but yeah, I think that that is something that we are seeing how freelancers have been so taken advantage of in the last couple years, in particular, I'd say in the last decade, how do we reclaim that it feels like worker co ops is the way to do that.

Ajoke Williams:

Right. I also say that, um, birth a bit, in my opinion of leaning against what we have now. And I wouldn't say we actually even have true capitalism, we have monopolies. The stage where they have enough money, they start to gobble up every single competitor, even people who make innovative ideas, you've heard stories, just look at Google, for example. Like, there are lots of examples in the tech industry and manufacturing of companies doing the exact opposite of what they claim capitalism is. And so worker cooperatives, actually, you know, if you're going to do capitalism responsibly, and that you want, you do want continued growth, and you don't want to destroy the environment, you don't want to destroy the community from what you might coming from. Invest in it, like all the stuff that you actually need for a sincere capitalist society, work this property to give you in a sustainable way. But what we have right now is that, you know, hoarding money and calling it capitalism, because a couple of people get get at the top.

Dyalekt:

That's the real, right. They're like, Well, yeah, no, that's amazing. I mean, it's reminder that things like you know, Tesla is an example not of capitalism. Good. Well, but capitalism failing because, you know, it's stifled an entire innovative industry for like 100 years. Yeah, that's fantastic stuff. Let's go to a song. So I feel you so let's get out of the country. We're going to Stanford to may Argentina for a hip hop collective called Cooperativa DBA and their joint politics and we'll be back in a second. Part of the the brunch & budget network. We're back, brunch and budget. That was Cooperativa DVA with Politics.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

So we just got super excited during the song about I'm like brunch and budget needs to be workers coop, everyone needs to be a workers coop.

Dyalekt:

Everyone needs to be workers coop. Dyalekt could be workers coop.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Wait, is Dyalekt workers coop or does Dyalekt need to join workers coop as a solo artist?

Dyalekt:

Both can you do both? Dyalekt is not really a solo artist. Like the flash Dyalekt is like a team.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Team Dyalekt.

Dyalekt:

Yeah, you know, so I would say that we are workers Co Op, but we can be a coop within a coop section.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

I love it. I want to I want to kind of I'm so sad we're almost out of time. I want to finish out the show with just, a lot of our listeners are POC and a lot of them who freelance are really like trying to just like make it work, right. And so how can POC freelancers and small business owners really think about structuring their work really think about structuring collectives to advocate for themselves to advocate for the people around them in their communities? Is it about joining a workers coop? Is about starting workers CoOp, like, where can people start?

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

So we have a lot of resources between DAWI and the US Federation. So first, I would start with doing your research. So like the US federation of worker cooperatives hosts a clinic every first Friday of the month. That focuses on startup coops how to start one what it looks like and can answer any questions. Ajokem you want to add to that?

Ajoke Williams:

Yes, I definitely would go to the clinic. I would also if the person is if they're your collective and you have extra funds, I would consider becoming a member of the Federation in order to get plugged in with other either individuals that are interested in starting a coop in your region. And I would look locally to see if they're cooperative developers using our membership directory, you can find Co Op developers in your region, like in your state are near you that you can talk to get more information on what would be needed in order to start a co op.

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

And yeah, to Ajoke's point. So if you're in New York City, for example, there is a New York City network of worker cooperatives, which is the local trade association that's connected to the US Federation. And they have all these resources of worker coops that are out there in the city as well as worker Co Op developers, nonprofits that can support you and started you know, worker cooperative business, as well as law clinics that can help you in the incorporation aspects. Also, for existing businesses, some people might already have existing LLC or you know, corporate business structures, there's an option to convert your business to worker ownership, let's say you are just kind of you know, you've been grinding for 10 years and you're like I'm out and you still have like a team of people that you know, work for you or have worked for you in the past to want to take continue, like take on the baton and keep it going. That's definitely an option as well. Democracy at Work Institute we focus a lot of our work as of late has focused on on that kind of like business conversion to worker ownership. And then resources on both our websites both of us fed and on the DAWI website of just like you know, businesses that are already existing that might be like in your in your in your wheelhouse. And you can like learn from case studies, as well as templates and research on the worker cooperative field in your area or across the US.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

I will say I want to ask because this all sounds great. And I also suddenly got really nervous. I got really nervous because it's so different from how you are taught business can be run, right?

Dyalekt:

It's so not desperate. You're taught that business needs to be desperate. You're clawing for every inch, even if you have

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

It's always been either or. Either I own the business or either I work for someone, right? And the idea of having both and getting both it just yeah, that was that was my next instinct. I was like, Wow, that sounds great. I can't wait to look at the website. I can't go. I can't wait to go to the first credit clinics and reach out to like the New York network of our culture in Brooklyn. So that's amazing.

Dyalekt:

What is it? What makes you nervous about it?

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Yeah, I guess it's just like changing everything up. But the idea of like, explaining to like, my current employees, for instance, right, like, Hey, we might change the structure? Is it? What does that mean? What kind of change? does that entail?

Dyalekt:

Is it that you're afraid of letting go? Is that kind of part of it? I think that like, we're capitalism, we're always fighting for ours. And when you have a little bit like this, that, like, the petite bourgeoisie, they talk about what like you got a little bit of capital, you own a little something, but you still feel like you're fighting for stuff. And I think that's the group who is like, can make a lot of change, but are afraid to.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

Well, and especially like whether or not you have employees, like being a solo freelancer, like, you know, having spent so much time building up your thing and having it feel like yours. And the idea of individualism is such so ingrained in our culture in this country to like, how do you shift your thinking into like, oh, the collective is better? I know, theoretically, it's better I know, emotionally and mentally and workwise it's better, but I've been taught my whole life to like be an individual, right? I've been told my whole life to like, you know, do my own thing.

Dyalekt:

But, is it? Is it that hard?

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

I don't know, I'm curious. I'm curious if y'all have run into any, like pushback and how you respond to that.

Anh-Thu Nguyen:

I would say that it's a both and you know, like, there there is the idea that we should be such an individual, which ultimately is super unhealthy and least being like narcissistic and sociopathic. And you see all these, like, you know, that the those qualities are the qualities that make people successful in the corporate world, which is, that's problematic unto itself. In Co Op spaces, it's about you know, it's about unlearning. And reprogramming, reframing yourself as just kind of like, I'm a person, I am an individual. Yes. And also, I'm part of something bigger. I think like, you see that and like, with hip hop collectives, right. Like, every single artist has their own thing going on, they have their own talent, they have their own flow, they have their own deck, at times. But they're also part of like a larger collective that can really like elevate everybody. And that's the see idea with a cooperative is that like, you can be your own person, you can do your thing. And also, you're part of an organism that is more more powerful as a whole.

Dyalekt:

Especially when you talk about the hip hop collective thing, it makes me think about like, one thing, one way that you can think about it is actually taking a burden off of you, you know, rather than feeling the need to say, because you know, even if it's a collective of rappers, we're all the same element. Well, we all have different things that we talked about that are important to us. And rather than bearing the burden of taking every subject matter, every vibe, and every style on, I can just say my sentence, and then we build that paragraph together. And I can trust because I've already rocked with these guys, that they're going to be able to help build something cohesive. And I can just do my part and be kind of a cog in a wheel and also get the benefits of personal.

Ajoke Williams:

And also adding to that I would I immediately thought of the phrase like many hands make light work. You get to part of letting go means you get to focus more on what's important to you in a cooperative, but then also do better and bigger thing. And yes, there is some fear. I'm not so much involved with conversions. But I have watched a couple of cop sites, note business ethics, the new one, and there's mostly fear about assuming the new responsibility being a good time being equipped to make the governance decision. But like we were saying in the beginning, that's why it's really important to do your research. Make sure you know what's out there. What are your resources? What are tools what's been done before? But you're not starting from scratch right. Right.

Pamela Capalad, CFP, AFC:

You don't have to make it up. It's a thing. It's been happening. I love it. Oh my gosh, we are out of time. This was amazing. We learned so much. Thank you both so much for joining us. Ajoke William project manager fielded with the US federation of worker cooperatives. And Anh-Thu Nguyen the director of strategic partnerships at the Democracy at Work Institute. Thank you so so much for joining us.

Ajoke Williams:

So can we shout out the website? So the US Federation is @USworker.coop and DAWI is Institute.CoOp.

Dyalekt:

That's really great and festering and it feels really good to know that we can do this together and we can take these burdens off our back and we can let it go. Coops never bothered me anyway and we're going to leave you guys with one last joint staying outside of the states we're going to Australia for an artist named EYEI with their song Workers United Will Overcome and it starts off just to give you a preview with that classic workers chant workers united will never be defeated and we'll check y'all next time. Brunch and budget, part of the Race and Wealth Podcast Network

Song:

If you act like there's no possibility of social change for the better you guarantee there will be no social change for the better. never beat a beat never beat a beat cuz he never be defamed said what cuz you know work is autonomy, the engines of the economy. You can make a difference to help fix the world. All you have to do is believe in yourself. We celebrate our great diversity never been united we feel the pain of workplace injury makes them feel the pain of worker solidarity. better education, equality, dignity, justice. To return job security face to the name variability, don't let them chip away our civil liberties with the power of workers. The people who make things run, never beat a beat 10 other people never beat a beat 10 Today, many thousands of workers coming off jobs, stopping work to come down and protest the fact that ordinary people not being given a sign in the future.