Founded in October 2009 in response to growing economic inequality, Cooperation Texas (formerly known as Third Coast Workers for Cooperation) is an Austin-based non-profit committed to the creation of sustainable jobs through the development, support and promotion of worker-owned cooperatives. We believe everyone deserves equal access to dignified employment, which is why we place those most directly affected by social and economic inequality at the center of our work.
Cooperation Texas is the only worker cooperative development center in Texas. We provide education, training and technical assistance to existing and start-up worker cooperatives in all sectors of the economy, helping launch and strengthen businesses across Texas that put people and the planet first. In an effort to build a more just and sustainable economy, Cooperation Texas has successfully
- Launched Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery, a worker-owned vegan bakery,
- Launched Dahlia Green Cleaning Services, a worker-owned green cleaning cooperative,
- Played a key role in the development of cooperative organizations at the local, regional and national level,
- Strengthened existing worker cooperatives through technical assistance and training,
- Built awareness on the nature and benefits of worker-ownership through workshops and presentations at schools, churches and community-based organizations in Austin and beyond.
In a worker-owned cooperative, the business is owned and democratically controlled by the people who work there. Worker co-ops can be found in a range of industries across the country and around the world–from restaurants in New York City to bakeries in Austin, TX. As members of a cooperative, workers have a direct say over key decisions that affect their workplace, share the profits and losses equitably amongst themselves, and enjoy the dignity and security that comes with having a direct stake and a voice in their business.
Worker cooperatives go beyond business as usual. Instead of being driven solely by profits, or the “bottom line”, worker cooperatives often have a “triple bottom line,” measuring success not simply by the money they earn, but by the well-being of their workers; their sustainability as a business; and their overall contribution to the community and the environment. Worker co-ops also tend to create:
- Local, stable jobs
- Higher wages & better working conditions
- Personal and professional development opportunities
- A deeper connection to the local community and local economy
Since 1980, Texas has had the dubious distinction of having a larger percentage of its population living below the poverty line than the overall average in the United States. In the last decade alone, Texas workers at all levels of education experienced stagnant or declining wages while the cost of raising a family has increased around the state. According to the Austin American Statesman, “Texas and Mississippi are tied, at 9.5 percent, for the highest proportion of hourly workers earning at or less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.” Many Texans also lack basic health insurance, retirement savings, and assets to keep themselves afloat during tough economic times.
The asset poverty rate in Texas, which measures the percentage of households without enough net worth to subsist at the poverty level in the absence of income for three months, is a staggering 24.8% — one of the highest in the country.
As in other states throughout the U.S., wealth inequality in Texas is even more pronounced within communities of color. In 2010, the average African-American worker earned $30,600 in Texas, as compared to the average white worker earning $40,800. In a state where 38 percent of the population is Latino/a, median earnings for Latino/as, at $24,480, were 60 percent of those for whites.
In the City of Austin, people of color are also less likely to own businesses than white residents. Though African-Americans were 7.96% of the population in 2000, they owned only 3.69% of businesses in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical area in 2002. Likewise, only 11.64% of business owners were Latino/a, despite the fact that Latino/as represented 26.23% of the population.
Yet wages, ownership and benefits only tell part of the story.
The debate is over. Our planet is in serious trouble. Resource-heavy production, over-consumption, and dramatic climate change are delivering a severe blow to mother earth. Our economy needs to shed its “grow or die” approach and develop new ways to relate to the environment to meet our needs without compromising the ability of the next generation to meet theirs.
The heavy weight of our environmental problems is placed largely on the shoulders of low-income communities here in Texas and elsewhere. For years, environmental justice advocates have demonstrated that, due to race and class discrimination, communities of color and low-income neighborhoods are most likely to be exposed to polluting industries; least likely to have access to healthy food; and least likely to hold leadership positions in environmental organizations. If we are serious about equity and sustainability, we need more businesses that are rooted in their local communities that put people and the planet first.
For over 160 years, worker-owned cooperatives have thrived in a range of industries across the globe, offering a proven model for addressing social, economic and environmental inequality. Worker cooperatives, particularly in low-wage industries, provide long-term, stable jobs that support the development of local economies and lift people out of poverty through better wages, better working conditions, asset-building, and increased opportunities for personal and professional development.
We envision an inclusive Texas economy with businesses built on the values of democracy, sustainability and cooperation, offering dignified jobs with a living wage, benefits and asset-building opportunities for all workers.