The Worker Revolution in Cleveland

In 2008, the Cleveland Foundation approached Democracy Collaborative co-founders Gar Alperovitz* and Ted Howard* about revitalizing Cleveland’s decaying inner city.  With the help of the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and Cleveland’s municipal government, they formed Evergreen Cooperatives (EC)

EC is a network of for-profit, employee-owned, green businesses. Network-based worker cooperatives have several advantages over independent worker cooperatives. In addition to their ability to attract funding from foundations, philanthropists and investors, they are more likely to enhance buy-in from “anchor” institutions. “Anchor” institutions are large businesses, such as hospitals, universities and hotels, that are permanently linked to the community.

Belonging to a network also makes it easier for worker cooperatives to resist pressure to cut corners (in competing with investor-owned companies) on environmental and work safety standards.

Creating Jobs and Revitalizing Cleveland’s inner city

EC’s  goal is to create ten living wage, environmentally sustainable jobs in six low-income neighborhoods (43,000 residents with a median household income below $18,500). Each worker-owner purchases a $3,000 stake in the cooperative, with wages adjusted to allow a 50% payroll deduction until the buy-in is paid off.

They have create three so far and plan to create many more:

  • Evergreen Cooperative Laundry – serves Cleveland University, as well as Cleveland hospitals, hotels and other “anchor” institutions.
  • Evergreen Snergy Solutions – designs, installs, and develops PV solar panel arrays for institutional, governmental, and commercial markets.
  • Green City Growers – produces leafy greens in a 3.5 acre hydroponic greenhouse (America’s largest urban  greenhouse) for Cleveland’s “anchor” institutions, as well as local hotels, supermarkets and restaurants. It sells sustainably grown produce at the same price as factory farmed vegetables imported from other states and countries. Yet because it’s produced locally it has a 7 day longer shelf life.

Atlanta, Washington DC, Pittsburgh (Amarillo) Texas are launching similar non-profit schemes to use worker cooperatives to create jobs in low income neighborhoods.

It’s extremely gratifying to learn that neighborhoods and communities are finding real life solutions for income inequality and the extreme economic distress in our marginalized communities. Imagine if this stuff were headline news, instead of the idiotic garbage John Kerry spouts about Ukraine.

*Gar Alpervitz is an historian, political economist, activist and author of The Next American Revolution and What Then Must We Do.

*Ted Howard is a social entrepreneur, author, and co-founder and executive director of the Democracy Collaborative.