STEAMING HOT Worker solidarity key to new worker-owned cafe and LBGTQ ‘safe place’

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OUT OF WORK. OUT OF MONEY. DIDN’T MATTER. THEY HAD EACH OTHER. Nine baristas are the worker-owners of a new coffee shop in Halifax, the Glitter Bean Cafe.

The nine are all survivors of the collapse of the Smiling Goat cafe. They were all left high and dry when the owner went bankrupt last spring. They had worked without pay for months. They knew feeling sorry for themselves wouldn’t help. They believed relying on each other would. They decided to start their own business in their own way.

The nine workers had two things in mind: they wanted to create work for themselves and they wanted to create a “safe place” for the LGBTQ community.

“We wear queerness on our sleeves,” says barista Charlie Huntley, “it just made sense for us to open a cafe that aligned with our values and aesthetics.”

The classic top-down boss/workers business model wouldn’t give them that. The workers decided a worker-owned co-op would.

The workers are all members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 2. The union paid for a consultant to help set up the co-op and also chipped in with an interest-free loan.

A parent of one of the workers also lent the co-op start-up money. The workers also negotiated a break in the rent from their landlord.

Making it work
The way the co-op is set up, all the workers are co-op shareholders and all are members of the union bargaining unit.

The workers elect the co-op board of directors and the board appoints a manager—who then is no longer part of the union bargaining unit.

Since the workers are also shareholders negotiations over wages and working conditions are not difficult. The decision on wage levels at start up, for example, was governed by what would be “sustainable.”

It takes $1000 to buy a share in the co-op. The original nine worker-owners will be able to pay for their shares using a 2% payroll deduction plan open to all Glitter Bean workers.

New hires will be able to apply to become worker-owners after six months on the job. “The deciding factor will be whether the person is a good fit for our overall values,” says co-op director Charlie Huntley.

The nine baristas opened their Glitter Bean Cafe on July 10. “The support has been  even better than we hoped,” says Charlie. “The LGBTQ community is a lot bigger than I thought. But we’ve also got our old regulars, union supporters and lots of others too. Everyone wants us to do well and is happy to see us happy.”

“The best part of it all is that we now have a physical space to socialize, organize and celebrate ourselves—not just LGBTQ, but all of us. We don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to be ourselves anymore.”


This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.  
Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.