Neighbors are following a bill in the Statehouse shepherded by Illinois State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-39, @RepGuzzardi39) that would redefine and update what it means for businesses to classify as “cooperative.”
A cooperative business is owned by its members (rather than an individual or shareholders), and its purpose is to benefit those members. It’s a fundamentally different way to organize a business venture, where profits and earnings, as well as decision-making power, are reserved for members.
“Corporate behavior simply isn’t good enough,” Guzzardi says. “We have to legislate to get people to pay the barest of wages. We have to legislate to make sure people get overtime pay. We have to legislate to make sure people have fair schedules and paid sick time. The impact of that echoes across all sectors.”
Cooperatives, he says, are different. Advocates say cooperatives add more value to the community because profit isn’t their sole purpose.
Guzzardi Joins Community Forum To Discuss The Bill
On April 13, Guzzardi met with local cooperative members and community allies at a forum ahead of any vote in the Statehouse. He answered questions and asked for neighborhood support.
At the forum, Guzzardi said the bill would replace the state’s current and “archaic” cooperative law, which is a century old. By updating the definition of this business model in the books, entrepreneurs would have more licensing options. Finding the appropriate business license is a hurdle for Illinoisans interested in pursing the model.
“We’re very excited about the bill. It will drastically change the way we’re formed from a legal perspective,” says Ryan Palma, a member-owner of Five Point Holistic Health, a worker-owned cooperative. “It won’t change our day-to-day, but this will make us “legal,” which is a long time coming in the state of Illinois.”
Cooperative Businesses In Logan Square
Logan Square residents might be familiar with this business model if shopping at the Dill Pickle (3039 W. Fullerton Ave.), a consumer grocery cooperative. Dill Pickle customers can become member-owners. Their membership capital helps finance the store; they also elect a board of directors to ensure the business is prioritizing members.
The Dill Pickle, in mission, works to create value for consumers, but there are other models around the neighborhood, like Five Point Holistic Health (3234 W. Fullerton Ave.).
Five Point Holistic Health is a worker-owned cooperative providing sustainable healthcare through acupuncture and herbal medicine. Worker cooperatives differ from consumer co-ops in that they are owned and controlled by the people who work in them. Worker-members invest in the business together and make decisions democratically.
“Over years we plan to grow and become a cog in the community,” Palma says. “We live in the neighborhood. We are providing services to neighborhood people. The cooperative will inherently continue to adapt to the needs of the neighborhood.”
Cooperative businesses generally follow that shared set of principles.
“We wanted to build in language that enshrined the values of the coop,” Guzzardi says of the new bill. “Businesses ought to behave this way.”
What Would The New Law Mean For Residents And Business Owners?
Logan Square resident Mark Fick says, “There is a lot of energy going into the cooperative model for economic development in a effort to make this sector stronger.”
And by updating the definition of what it means to be a cooperative business and provide more effective licensing options, Fick and others hope the law will help more people establish cooperative businesses.
Kathleen Duffy, founding organizer of the Dill Pickle and board member for Center for Workplace Democracy, says that when creating the grocery co-op she faced restrictive investment barriers. Barriers the bill works to fix.
“[The bill] lifts some of the restrictions for co-ops in formation and makes it easier for them to organize legally,” she says.
Guzzardi says the bill will not affect existing cooperative businesses, but if new entrepreneurs are looking to explore the cooperative model or existing co-ops are looking to expand, there is a new “menu” of options.