Albertans have voted for change in the last provincial election, sending a strong signal that the old ways of doing things are out.
For Chris Picek and Peter Driftmier, the timing couldn’t be better. They want to change how businesses are run in the province.
Their business, at least.
The duo is heading the first 100 per cent worker-owned co-operative bakery and pizzeria in Alberta.
In part as a counterbalance to the corporate enterprise model we are familiar with, where the decisions and the strategic decisions of a business are in the hands of a few people.
“A worker-owned co-operative bakery means, everyone who works here is an owner and a worker,” says Peter.
“We all have an equal ownership stake, equal decision-making power and (we share) the profits made from the business.”
It is also a way to bring up wages in the food industry where remuneration and working conditions are known to be sub-par.
For Chris, starting a worker co-op was, in his own words: “putting my money where my mouth is.”
After close to 20 years in the industry, he does not like how things are working.
“I think there is a bit of hypocrisy in this country where we are constantly educated and reminded that we live in a democratic society but when we go (to) work that kind of stops and nobody really asks why.”
He adds, “worker co-ops are fundamentally democratic organizations. The people who do the work decide who, what, where, when and why.”
Although the partners aren’t starting this worker co-op to change the world, they admit it would be nice if the could replicate this model elsewhere in the city and the province once it’s up and running.
With the changing demographics and political landscape, they believe they have a shot at it.
“We are definitely part of a broader movement for a fairer society,” says Peter.
The idea of the Grain Exchange worker co-op is based on a similar concept from the San Francisco Bay area which is being adapted to Alberta.
We are definitely part of a broader movement for a fairer society: Peter Driftmier
At the moment, there are only three members of the co-op. Ideally having up to seven would work best to operate a store which they hope to have in place within the next year.
In the meantime you can get your sourdough loaves through YYC growers.
The grain exchange will also be looking for public support with a crowd-funding initiative in mid-June through the ATB Alberta BoostR platform.
And to learn more about the worker co-op model, visit the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation.