(Read full case study)

To be sustainable, most (but especially inner-city) worker co-ops need a supporting joint business resource or community support organization. Southwest Detroit Construction Cooperative (SWDCC), Painting and Plastering and Janitorial Cooperatives proves the importance of that.

In 1985, Ed Bobinchak, then executive Morgue-Workers_6029-truck-webdirector of WARM Training, created Southwest Detroit Construction Co-op (SWDCC) to create a worker co-op as an employment mechanism for neighborhood residents who were trainees of WARM. People who took the training would join the co-op and begin paying their membership share through payroll deduction. The early organizing group agreed on a $1,000 membership. Members felt it was reasonable.

During the first year of the weatherization contracts, Atty. Deb Olson structured a Mondragon style co-op structure. Ed and Mike sought the co-op structure because they were doing most of the work. The trainees would show up irregularly when it was part-time employment. WARM wanted the workers as co-op members to enable them to help the workers learn bidding and take on more responsibility.

By the end of the third year, WARM Training funding and the co-op profitability was not enough to keep employing all the members. A lot of the trainees who became members were basically looking for a job and accepted ownership as a necessary requirement. They were not joining as entrepreneurs. Without that entrepreneurial sense we could not get people to seek contracts or get work done quickly and effectively. The co-op eventually took a turn. The company did not go bankrupt legally, but the assets were distributed as fairly as possible.

WARM attempted 2 more co-ops. One did not survive. Ed Bobinchak had this to say about the turnout in retrospect: Look for people with entrepreneurial drive and experience who appreciate the need for efficiency and keeping within budget. It doesn’t come naturally and it is hard to create it.