You know those posters of cities that have the name of each neighborhood printed to fit the shape of that neighborhood on the map? For urbanists or graphic design fiends, they can be irresistible. I’ve got four myself, so far: Philadelphia, Chicago, Manhattan and Washington, D.C. Known as Ork Posters, they’re designed by Chicago-based artist Jenny Beorkrem, and they are printed at Salsedo Press, in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. If you’ve ever bought one, congratulations — you’ve supported a worker cooperative.
Founded in 1969, Salsedo Press has been worker-owned since the mid-1980s. They’re also a certified minority-owned business, which helps them access an estimated $14,000 in contracts or subcontracted work a year, alongside all their other work from nonprofits and human rights, civil rights, and women’s rights organizations all over the country. They’re also listed in the new edition of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives’ worker cooperative directory. There’s more than 300 worker cooperatives from 36 states, led by California, New York and Massachusetts, with 64, 43 and 34 worker cooperatives, respectively.
By city, NYC leads the way with 33 worker cooperatives, from tiny Bed-Stuy Fresh and Local to the massive 2,000-member Cooperative Home Care Associates, the nation’s largest worker cooperative. By region, however, the Bay Area is still the worker cooperative capital, with more than 40 worker cooperatives in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Redwood City and elsewhere. Bay Area worker cooperatives include Design Action Collective, whose clients include Black Lives Matter and the makers of Rise Up: The Game of People & Power.
Worker cooperatives in the directory come from more than a dozen industries. Manufacturing is the most common, with 28 worker cooperatives including New Era Windows. Established in 2012, New Era formed after a multiyear ordeal in which the former owner of their factory shut it down in a suspicious bankruptcy while opening up new window manufacturing shops around Chicago and hiring only temporary workers (documented in a short film by Michael Moore). With loans and technical assistance from The Working World, an NYC-based nonprofit loan fund, New Era’s workers bought the troubled factory from the owner and established their own business.
Lots of barriers remain to the growth and advancement of worker cooperatives, including and especially access to finance. Many small business lenders still balk at the thought of lending to worker cooperatives. That barrier has driven some in the movement to create a national financial cooperative — a collective means of raising capital for worker cooperatives as a group, which I reported about previously.
As I’ve also reported, cities across the U.S. are embracing worker cooperatives. Cleveland, Rochester, Madison, Oakland, Austin and New York City, to name a few. Worker cooperative development is included in the Boston 2030 draft plan. Broadly speaking, cities are looking to worker cooperatives as part of their economic development strategies, helping to create quality jobs where workers get treated with dignity, paid better wages and share in the profits of business growth.
Oscar is Next City's senior economics correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha, and Fast Company.