Clinic Helps Co-ops Set Up Shop

Sushil Jacob ’11 knows how to make change happen. “If you want to start a movement, work with a Berkeley Law clinic,” he says.

As founding director of the Green-Collar Communities Clinic (GC3), Jacob pushed to help pass AB 816, the California Worker Cooperative Act, which took effect in January. The bill facilitates creation of employee-owned and operated businesses—and caps a two-year effort by GC3, the nation’s only law school clinic focused on cooperative enterprise.

Since launching in 2011, GC3 law clerks have introduced low-income communities to the benefits of co-ops through their Worker Co-op Academy and Think Outside the Boss workshops. They have also advised and supported new and existing co-ops, and provided valuable legal research and advocacy to help pass AB 816.

The bill provides a clear framework for the operation of worker-owned co-ops and eases barriers to raising investment capital within local communities. It also mandates that cooperatives have a class of worker-members—and that those members control the co-ops. It’s a big win, says Jacob, because co-ops support “lasting employment, sustainable business practices, and more resilient communities during economic downturns.”

One example of the potential impact of worker co-ops is a cleaning collective formed by primarily immigrant Latinas. In an industry where they’d be treated as under-the-table workers, Jacob says, “With minimal investment, they increased their bargaining power, increased wages, and invested profits into health insurance.”

After four-plus years guiding GC3, Jacob recently leveraged his expertise to form a co-op practice at the Tuttle Law Group. The clinic’s work continues under Jassmin Antolin Poyaoan.

—Rachel DeLetto