Upskilling It: Campaigning for Worker Empowerment

When our Member-Owners chose to ratify our Ends policies a few years ago, we were being pretty ambitious. Not only were we codifying our service, social justice, and environmental standards, but we were really committing to being a better workplace with our Worker Treatment end policy.  

Black Star Co-op continues to get national recognition for our worker treatment and structure. Beyond being a “world’s first” that is sought out as a reference by start-ups, we also inspire other businesses to be better, to do the right thing. For the last two years I’ve been working with some of these other business leaders as a steering committee member for an alternative restaurant association called RAISE (Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment). 

A few weeks ago, we convened in DC to discuss some of the issues that RAISE is trying to improve in the industry, and to counter lobby the National Restaurant Association on their annual lobby day, April 15th. The day the dude flew his little gyro copter to the Hill. Many of the restaurants that are involved in RAISE do more than just pay a better wages. Some are in places like Detriot, where being a really good business, and employer, really means something. Others are extremely active in education and social justice that benefit the communities that their workers live in. A few, like Zingerman’s, just do pretty much everything, and are always trying to improve. 

Our lobbying efforts this year were well timed, and we seemed to be heard. RAISE business members attended a hearing with members of the Fight for Fifteen campaign hosted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. A link to the hearing can be found here

The following week the White House rolled out its new Upskilling Initiative, supporting businesses that offer training to frontline workers. Based on our efforts to self manage, offer open book finance, leadership tracks, and managerial level training for all workers, Black Star Co-op was selected as one of one hundred businesses highlighted in the White House’s report. 

Black Star Co-op has chosen operate under these business practices because our Member-Owners chose to do the right thing. It’s not easy, and it definitely costs moneys, but the better we, the Worker’s Assembly, get at running our business, the better systems we build to support our model. It will take some time, but we are on the right path.