Santa Clara, California is taking steps to invest in worker cooperatives


Co-op members and supporters from all over the Bay Area meet for a learning session requested by the Santa Clara City Council ahead of its vote to support worker co-op development. [photo: Sustainable Economics Law Center]
In a unanimous vote last week, the Santa Clara City Council adopted recommendations put forward by the Committee on Economic Development, Communications and Marketing to advance worker cooperative development in the community. The motion to move the worker co-op effort forward was led by Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor.

As a result, the City Council will invest $100,000 to implement several steps to further cooperative development. In its first phase, the council is also set to adopt a resolution to support worker co-ops in Santa Clara and create a worker cooperative resource page on the city’s website. In addition, the initiative focuses on a cooperative succession plan to address the upcoming retirement of thousands of business owners by developing an outreach strategy to existing business owners who would be ripe to sell their business to the workers, and in conjunction, the city will also fund training for worker cooperatives.

In its next phase of implementation, Santa Clara is set to provide direct technical assistance and support for conversions to worker cooperatives. Collectively this investment in resources are critical to preserving the legacy of businesses as business owners begin to consider succession plans for their companies.

This legislative victory is in large part due to the advocacy and engagement of Kirk Vartan, a worker-owner at A Slice Of New York, a Bay Area restaurant. In 2017, with the help of Project Equity, A Slice of New York converted from a sole proprietor business owned by Vartan and Marguerite Lee, his wife, to a worker cooperative. Vartan and Lee saw converting their business as an opportunity to be an example of what’s possible for other businesses and a way to combat growing economic inequality.

Santa Clara is among a handful of city governments who are investing in the cooperative model. Among others are Berkeley, California; Madison, Wisconsin; Austin, Texas; and Baltimore, Maryland.

As a nation, the U.S. is approaching an enormous demographic shift. In 2019 alone, 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day. It is imperative that more policymakers take proactive steps to use this shift as an opportunity to implement policies that will help to build more sustainable, equitable economies.

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