Letter to the members: our response to COVID-19

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Dear members,

In a moment when our national grassroots organization was gaining momentum– strengthening our ability to support the worker co-op movement by growing the USFWC’s staff and program capacity– the Coronavirus pandemic hit. For much of our membership, it feels like time has suddenly stopped. In other worker co-ops in essential fields like food production, food service and healthcare, you have had to ramp up and pivot as you become our front line of defense. We know that all workers in these sectors have faced unprecedented challenges – working overtime while trying to protect yourselves, your coworkers, customers and families from infection. We see you and we stand with you.The USFWC is committed to supporting the worker coop communities that are directly impacted day in and day out by this pandemic in so many ways, and are committed to continually development emergent strategies for mutual aid and solidarity to protect each other during these unprecedented times.

Still, we kept up our momentum. Right now, we want you to know about the avenues of support you can access through your membership, our action plan, and what our membership process will look like this year.

Rapid response to COVID-19

During our month-long rapid response campaign we are checking up on all members and a mobilization to guide our network in three ways:

  1. Information Sharing In a crisis, the USFWC is here to make sure co-ops in our field have access to accurate, up-to-date information. We’ve reached out to all 250+ members to make sure co-ops stay informed about government relief programs, but also to amplify grassroots initiatives for mutual aid.
  2. Offering direct technical assistance – this includes referrals to experts in our co-op clinic or in your area, assisting co-ops, communities, conversions, and startups to emergency support (including what we won in our earlier rounds of advocacy for the CARES Act)
  3. Advocacy – The USFWC is your direct channel to fight for legislation that supports you as workers, and also you as critical enterprises in this country. We’re already fighting for CARES II and future legislation. On the government agency side we’re also lifting up co-op voices to demand co-ops and immigrant access to existing programs. This past month we won a decades-long battle for the Small Business Administration to permit co-ops to access SBA loans without a personal guarantee for relief related to COVID-19.

We are still phone banking to check in with all of you directly, even those of you who have participated in virtual group settings. While we know that many funds are not accessible to all of you, we are always strategizing about how to help all co-ops in different situations to navigate this challenging emergency. For example, here’s our resource document for immigrant co-ops. COVID-19 is revealing more than ever how stark the social injustices are in our society.

Your membership will remain active

Our commitment has always been to build a thriving cooperative field of stable, empowering jobs through worker-ownership. In the next few weeks we will be producing materials geared toward helping USFWC members develop Emergent Action Plans. In our upcoming series of educational Co-op Clinic programs we want to:

  • Support co-ops businesses to adapt financial forecasts
  • Offer strategies to pivot your operations, understanding that co-ops have extraordinary capacity for embracing transformation, change and adaptation
  • Assist with building an effective communication strategy with your community, clientele, and ecosystem
  • Offer organizing leadership that activates our solidarity network for mutual support

Our network can only grow if we stay together and aligned. The USFWC has always supported businesses through years of financial hardship. Now, many members are going through hardship at the same time. We want all of our members to know that we are stretching our annual membership renewal period by an additional 90 days.

We want to reassure you that no matter the circumstances of your business, your membership will remain active with the USFWC.

We understand that we’ll be taking a big hit in our budget, but also so many of our members are facing an even more pronounced existential threat. Stay active and connected to our business TA and member benefits programs so we can all get through this period together. We ask for all members to pay their dues in full where possible, but we understand that dues payments (which are tax deductible!) might look different this year. If your co-op is under financial stress, don’t assume you need to leave our network! We’ve set up the following options to make sure the worker co-op ecosystem is strong:

  • Dues labor trade– Not sure what you can offer? Contact our staff. Dues trade options might include offering your business’s services, sharing skills through an online training for other members, or offering leadership by organizing within USFWC member councils or peer networks that relieve the resource demands of paid-staffing.
  • Extreme Financial Hardship Discounted Dues– If you need a discount, please reach out to USFWC staff and we’ll assess the situation.
  • Write off dues– If your co-op can not afford to cover any amount of member dues, we can discuss a full dues waiver for 2020.
  • Pledge solidarity– If your organization is in a stable financial position to cover dues, and give a little bit extra to level up the impact of losses in the finances of other businesses, and of the federation, please let our staff know. This is especially true if your co-op participates in a dues sharing or dues discount program. If your dues invoice includes a discount and you are able to pay the originally assessed dues amount, your pledge of solidarity is what enables us to maintain programs for the members who can’t pay. So thank you for foregoing discounts you can do without and paying in full to support those who can’t pay at all.

During this pause in our membership renewal campaign we’re hoping to give space to all of you to land on solid ground and assess your circumstances (including by participating in our collective bargaining, advocacy, TA and educational offerings). In the meantime you are encouraged to reach out to our staff in the Membership Department at: membership@usworker.coop

We are hopeful and remain inspired by all of you. We believe in the vibrancy of our cooperative movement because you all are creative, resilient, powerful, and resourceful. We’ve been blown away by your skills and connection to unleash what our communities need. Together we have so much more influence and in coalition with our allies we have the power to turn around the madness of the world as it was to build another economy that works for all.

Some of you witnessed this month’s webinar where an international panel of worker cooperatives featured among others, a presenter from Barcelona, Ferran from La Borda Housing cooperative. In closing he said: We have to live in a world that is in contradiction with what we’re doing. Assume the commitment to embrace friction. Provide mutual aid, and access to services not just for co-op members, but for everybody.

With hope and love we embrace you on the cooperative path that leads us to the transformation of our communities,

The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives team

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