Friday, July 21, 2017 This Week's Paper

Arts & Entertainment: ‘Shift Change’ illustrates the power of employee ownership

Your workplace does not have to be a dictatorship. In fact, it could be run more sustainably as a democracy.

That is the main takeaway from “Shift Change,” a new documentary that focuses on worker-owned cooperatives directed by Whidbey Island-based filmmakers Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin.

The film will be shown at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., in Tacoma. And Young will be on hand to lead a discussion on worker co-ops following the earlier screening.

“We have a long history of working on topics of social justice and the environment,” said Young, probably best known for “Good Food,” the 2008 documentary on sustainable agriculture she made with Dworkin, her husband.

“So it was not an unusual topic for us,” she said. “Really, I think this film is about economic democracy (and having) more of a voice in the workplace.”

Worker co-ops got some mainstream treatment in Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” in scenes depicting Isthmus Engineering, San Francisco’s Alvarado Street Bakery and the Union Cab company of Madison, Wis.

“A worker’s cooperative means the workers own the means of production,” Rebecca Kemble, a worker-owner of Union Cab, says in an outtake from Moore’s film. “We do really, really well. And part of it may be that we aren’t working to pay the CEO a six-figure salary. Our mission is to create jobs at a living wage.”

“Shift Change” gives the topic more substantial treatment, focusing on worker cooperatives all across the United States and abroad. Initially, Young and Dworkin focused on one of the older and larger network of worker co-ops in Europe, in Spain’s Basque Country. There are about 84,000 workers employed by 120 different co-ops, according to Young.

“For a lot of people (in the United States) it’s kind of unfamiliar, although some of the co-ops we visited and filmed within this country are 30 years old,” Young said.

“What we found almost uniformly is that the spirit of people working in these places is just so much better because they really are able to have a say in how the business is run. And if the business does well they benefit directly, rather than having outside investors be the people who are carrying off the profits, which has been the form that we’re much more familiar with.”

Young said her film does not present worker co-ops as a catch-all solution to our ailing economy. But “it’s kind of a different mentality,” she said. “It made me feel hopeful about building an economy that is responsive to the needs of the vast majority of us here. … Here is one type of business, or one approach to doing business, that can make a difference.”

Tickets to the Tacoma screenings are $9 general admission, $7 for students, seniors and members of the armed services; (253) 593-4474 or for further details.

Those interested can learn more about “Shift Change” and see footage at