Worker-owned cooperatives and the future of Rust Belt labor

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Cleveland’s Phoenix Coffee changed the way it worked. One store temporarily shut down, and four others transitioned to takeout only. Its employees, like many of their peers across the country, spent months on furlough. They knew they had to make a bold decision to survive the effects. So last October, the thirty-seven employees of the Northeast Ohio franchise decided to move forward with transitioning from a traditional business to a worker-owned cooperative. A deal had been in the works with Evergreen Cooperatives for a year and a half, and their hope was that finalizing it might keep them afloat.

They were right. “The only reason we were able to stay in business as a carryout business or otherwise is because baristas were willing to put their bodies on the line to make this work,” says Phoenix co-manager Christopher Feran. “And so we needed to recognize that contribution and actualize it in some way. Switching to a cooperative model we hope will let us do that.”

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