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Bay Area Coops Thriving

June 7, 20110 Comments
Arizmendi Bakery

Arizmendi Bakery coop workers get ready for the day.

On our first filming trip for Shift Change, the production team set out for the San Francisco Bay Area in May. Early one morning, 5:30 a.m. and barely awake, we arrived at one of the newest bakeries of the Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives, on Valencia Street in the Mission. An enthusiastic, young crew was deeply engaged in producing the day’s offerings, from olive bread and scones to the delectable cheese rolls. We talked with a few of them, and observed their efficient and absorbing work process.

Actually there are 6 associated bakeries in the Arizmendi Association. The first was the Cheeseboard Bakery established in Berkeley over forty years ago. In the 1990s, when a group of people interested in extending cooperative employment suggested that this very successful coop expand, the worker owners refused, but instead offered training, recipes and even sourdough starter to help establish new independent bakeries. Through a well-planned process, there are now six independent worker owned and managed bakeries that collaborate to provide the financial and legal services they need, and to incubate new related businesses. They adopted the name Arizmendi in honor of the visionary priest who started the Mondragón Cooperatives in Spain.


A TeamWorks crew

The next day we met up with a very new TeamWorks Green Gardening Cooperative based in San Jose, California. In preparation for launching the business, Daniel Vásquez, along with several other men originally from Mexico, spent 6 months learning cooperative practices, green gardening techniques, and developing a careful business plan. They are now in business offering environmentally safe landscaping services in the San Jose, CA region.

Fifteen years ago Ivette Meléndez began working with a cooperative sponsored by Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security [WAGES]. Now she is an organizer and trainer for a network of five cooperatives of Latina workers that operate throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. She took us to the house of a regular client for Emma’s Eco-Clean, one of the 5 WAGES sponsored coops, and introduced us to two members, Maria Cruz and Clementina . We saw them at work and learned of the significant benefits they have gained by being coop owner/members. They have steady, decently paid jobs while offering environmentally friendly cleaning services. Clementina also participates in leadership development training. WAGES reports that being a coop member has improved the worker-owners’ family incomes by 70%.

The Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives encourages collaboration among the dozens of worker owned coops in the region. We collaborated with them on a screening of Argentina-Turning Around, a documentary we produced about cooperative factories a few years ago.

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