Worker Co-ops Can Lead The Way To A Healthier And More Just Economy - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Mike Gabbard

Mike Gabbard is a state senator representing District 20 (West Oahu) and is chair of the Agriculture and Environment Committee.


The Hawaii Ulu Cooperative is revitalizing Hawaii’s indigenous food systems as a farmer-owned, competitive supply chain and market for local breadfruit and other regenerative crops. The HUC is owned by nearly 100 small, diversified family farms on Hawaii Island and Maui.

Formed in 2016, the HUC improves community access to ulu by working together. The cooperative members are able to offer consistent, high-quality ulu products that are delicious, local, healthy and sustainable.

When I visited the HUC in September 2018, as chair of the Senate’s Agriculture and Environment Committee, they twisted my arm and forced me to eat some ulu hummus and ulu chocolate mousse. It was beyond onolicious!

Cooperatives like the HUC help develop resilient local economies in the spirit of laulima, or many hands working together with aloha. Officially, cooperatives are autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, cultural needs, and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.

2018 August 29 CRV - Photo by Ronit Fahl/Special to the HSA. Employees cut up ulu at the Hawaii Ulu Producers Cooperative on August 29, 2018 in Honalo, HI.
Employees at the Hawaii Ulu Cooperative in Honalo. Co-ops have long been recognized for building resilience in times of global uncertainty. ronitphoto

The cooperative business model provides a proven pathway for individual businesses to work together to address shared goals.

I introduced SB 498 this legislative session to increase the flexibility of Hawaii’s cooperative statutes which will encourage the formation of more beneficial community partnerships. If passed, my bill will allow for different types of co-ops (such as consumer, producer and worker co-ops) in a variety of business sectors and also allow for diverse stakeholders to be members of a single co-op.

Unlike Hawaii’s current agricultural-specific co-op statute, which requires members to be producers of agricultural products, multi-stakeholder cooperatives allow for different types of stakeholders within the same organization. Legal recognition of a variety of types of co-ops would result in greater access to financing through traditional banking institutions.

Many types of businesses, such as those pertaining to sustainable food systems, renewable energy, health care, child care and social services, can benefit from being formed as multi-stakeholder cooperatives. For example, co-ops dedicated to building a local food system may have both producer and consumer members with the shared goal of farmers being able to make a living off the food that they sell and consumers being able to afford it.

Worker-owned cooperatives — companies owned and managed by their workers, with workers sharing responsibility and profits with their peers — are one answer to building a more equitable and resilient economy. Worker co-ops create dignified jobs with living wages, with the average entry wage at a worker co-op being $19.67/ hour.

Worker co-ops in the U.S. produce more than $505 million dollars in estimated revenue each year.

Processing ulu at the HUC. SB 498 seeks to expand the number of co-ops like HUC in the islands. ronitphoto

Co-ops have long been recognized for building resilience in times of global uncertainty because they place communities before profits and keep dollars and jobs in the local economy. Rather than encouraging competition, co-ops collaborate and network with each other to set goals and standards that build sustainable societies.

A 2020 survey of worker co-ops aimed at gauging how well co-ops were handling the COVID-19 crisis showed that co-ops were more likely to redistribute business funds to pay workers, and reduce wages or temporarily furlough rather than lay off workers.

Hawaii’s agricultural co-ops, like the HUC, are leaders in the growth of our local food system, which results in less reliance on imported food.

As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, rebuilding a healthy economy is at the forefront of our collective minds. SB 498 will encourage co-op development as a necessary tool — rooted in democracy, equality and self-responsibility — for our recovery.

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About the Author

Mike Gabbard

Mike Gabbard is a state senator representing District 20 (West Oahu) and is chair of the Agriculture and Environment Committee.


Latest Comments (0)

No hearings scheduled yet. Please call committee chairs Taniguchi (586-6460) and Sean Quinlan (586-6380).

Slammer · 4 months ago

I think facilitating creation of more locally-owned consumer and producer cooperatives of all kinds, and linking them across sectors, is part of a larger economic development strategy that could locally capture more of the wealth and income generated by HI's economy, too much of which is currently exported out of state to absentee owners, while what remains is too concentrated in too few hands, IMO.I think this could also optimize local economic well-being regardless of what mix of biz and jobs are economically viable going forward, instead of perpetual fixation on how to spend taxpayer monies to try to attract/create new biz and "good" jobs, which history shows has been a net negative for taxpayers.In contrast to more progressive taxation and income redistribution, this and other forms of "pre-distribution" can more democratically distribute income-producing asset ownership, which can result in more bang for the local buck with less dependency on indiscriminate growth.For starters, federal tax incentives for biz which share profits and ownership have existed since the 70s, and could be enhanced locally.  But much more is also possible, which I will add after this is posted.

Slammer · 4 months ago

Aloha Mike.  I do agree that we need to have more food produced and sold in the islands for a sustainable source of food and income to many of these farmers and consumers. I do like the idea of co-ops.  I do agree with equal opportunity, and the ability to take risk and work hard for what you have and earn.  I just not equal outcome mantra.   Good idea though on the co-op.

BasicLogic · 4 months ago

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