Monday, November 8, 2010

Affordable Weaver Street Worker-Ownership?

I had a really constructive meeting with WSM General Manager, Ruffin Slater, this morning. Among other things, we talked about the cost of worker-ownership in WSM, which is $500, compared to only $100 for consumer-owners.

I have now written and presented a proposal to the WSM Board for reducing the cost of worker-ownership, to allow more workers in our co-op to be involved in co-op discussions, and so that more workers may be able to vote in Board elections in future:

"Dear Board,

I have an idea that addresses two important questions: (a) How do we increase capital; and (b) How do we encourage equity between consumer-owners and worker-owners in the investment they make in their co-op?

My suggested answer (subject, of course, to consultation with consumer-owners, worker-owners AND workers) is to increase the baseline of consumer-ownership fees to $200, and to reduce the cost of worker-ownership also to $200.

Bingo. Equity and capital.

I had a very constructive meeting with Ruffin this morning, and this was one of the issues that I raised. I talked about worker-ownership. Ruffin addressed consumer-ownership.

At the moment, we are asking much of all of our workers, without being able to offer them too much in return. At least, not immediately.

One of the matters most addressed to me in the recent Board Election was that workers (especially new workers) find $500 for worker-ownership just too high. It does no good to talk about it being spread over a year. It's a turn-off.

Now, we want workers to be invested in all the projects underway in our co-op. Greater emotional investment = increased interest in implementing projects.

And they want to be involved. I have difficulty in finding workers who joined our co-op just because it's a job. They join because they believe in co-operation, and they want it to succeed.

Over and over, they have told me that they are up for any challenge, if they understand the reasons for the challenge, and if they feel they are a part of the team making decisions about the challenges. And they get that means being a worker-owner. But they can't afford $500.

There is a Board Policy that says the Board should encourage ownership. There is another that says that there should be equity between the two forms of ownership: consumer-ownership and worker-ownership.

The solution is simple: make the cost of both forms of ownership the same.

Do we give the same return to all worker-owners: those who paid $500, and those who pay the new level of fee? Yes. Because in both instances, the cost of ownership is returned when a worker-owner leaves WSM or divests.

Should we consult? Of course. And the consultation should be of all workers, not just worker-owners. Let's be real. I have heard more than one worker-owner say to me: we don't want more worker-owners; it will dilute the worker-owner dividend. Naughty, guys. Naughty.

But what of the consumer-owner fee? It has been the same for ... how long?

If there is one thing I have learned in standing in four Board elections, it is that co-operators respond to a challenge. Surprises the heck out of me. I respond to a holiday in the Bahamas. But both consumers and workers respond to being challenged - so long as they know why.

More often than not, I have heard fellow workers say to me, what I really want to do is be able to offer my customers the sort of service of which I can be proud. Just give me the tools, and I'll be happy. Not, give me a pay raise; but give me the tools to serve my customers.

Same thing with consumers. They know we have been through tough times. They know we don't want to go back there. They just want to know how they can help. So, tell them. Ask them to agree to increase baseline consumer-ownership to $200.

AND. Then go one further. Ask those who are already owners to make a one-off payment to bring their original investment in line with the new ownership. Just to help out.

So. That's my idea. A baseline ownership cost that is equitable, that encourages worker-ownership and that raises some much-needed capital.

Think about it during your retreat in January.

All the best,