I first became involved in the worker-ownership movement in 2008 after visiting Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain. It seemed to me that labor unions and worker-owned cooperatives had so much in common that why wouldn’t we be natural allies? In fact, unions and co-ops have occasionally been strong allies over the past 150 years. After a series of discussions between leadership of the USW and leadership of Mondragon, we announced a new collaboration in October 2009 to develop unionized, worker-owned cooperative businesses in North America. Mondragon is the world’s largest worker-owned business consisting of over 80,000 worker-owners and over 160 worker-owned cooperatives.
What is a Union Co-op? Union Co-ops are for-profit businesses that are owned and directed by workers, that utilize the collective bargaining process, and are guided by the core principles of sustainability, solidarity, accountability, and community.
After two decades in the labor movement, I’ve come to believe that the future of not only our unions, but also the future of our economies, depends on workers claiming more and more ownership of their jobs. Ownership that not only benefits the workers, but also roots those businesses in their communities, creating a truly symbiotic relationship between the workers, their businesses, and their communities.
My name is Rob Witherell and I live near Pittsburgh, PA with my wonderful spouse and two great kids. I’ve worked for the United Steelworkers (USW) union in Pittsburgh for nearly 15 years, although the opinions and beliefs expressed on this blog are mine alone, and may not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of the USW. I have a Master’s degree in Labor Studies and a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Management from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.