News Release

How Worker Co-Ops Weathered COVID-19 by Prioritizing People Over Profits

JAISAL NOOR, jaisal@therealnews.com, @JaisalNoor
Noor, a senior reporter at Real News Network, just released a 26-minute documentary that explores how worker-owners at eight cooperative run businesses weathered the pandemic, “Worker cooperatives prove your job doesn’t have to be hell.” Noor recently appeared on Means TV and Hill TV’s “Rising” to discuss his findings.

“Pandemic profiteers increased their wealth by over $1.6 trillion dollars during the pandemic, while frontline workers risked their lives for low pay and dangerous working conditions,” Noor said. “Retail online giant Amazon even unveiled a ‘therapy box‘ for workers experiencing stress from high workloads and unreasonable expectations. Meanwhile, the small but growing sector of worker-run cooperatives is demonstrating another way is possible: workplaces that operate democratically and share profits. Because the workers are the owners, they aren’t going to sacrifice themselves for profit,” Noor said. As the Biden administration talks of wanting to “Build Back Better,” Noor explores the lessons learned from eight cooperative businesses in four states.

Noor added: “Worker cooperatives distribute decision-making power, profits and risk. Data indicates that during the pandemic, worker cooperatives were less likely to lay off staff and often pivoted their business models so they could continue to operate while protecting their workers and the public. The country’s largest co-op, Cooperative Home Care Associates, partnered with textile cooperatives to provide their workers with PPE while other home care agencies frequently failed to do so. Baltimore’s majority Black-owned Taharka Brothers Ice Cream lost 70 percent of their revenue during the lockdown, but quickly recovered by shifting to a home-delivery model. And a growing number of businesses that closed during the pandemic are reopening as worker-cooperatives, which have proved to be a more sustainable model.”

The documentary, which Noor produced with support from Solutions Journalism Network, also explores the limitations of employing the cooperative model in the U.S.’s corporate capitalist system. “While cities like Baltimore offered Amazon billions in incentives in exchange for building a headquarters, it has invested a fraction of that in local worker co-ops. Banks also typically don’t lend to co-ops, so a network of revolving loan funds across the country has been created to fund worker co-ops, and provide workers with technical assistance to help create sustainable business models. None of the 60 worker co-ops that work with Seed Commons’ revolving loan fund closed permanently during the pandemic.”

The documentary is licensed through Creative Commons and can be republished and excerpted with attribution to The Real News Network; additional segments are available here.