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Coop Interview Notes with Sassafras


Devney has been at Sassafras for over two years. Started out as Bill and Tom looking for ways to fund building software — they both came out of academia. She started out with freelancing. Wanted to start out doing things at a small scale as an ethos to keep everyone together. The first projects came through with personal projects (from academia, personal, etc…).

It was natural for them to go start freelance > consulting.

Membership / Joining

What is the process of membership? How do y’all think through bringing people onboard?
The founders knew each other before so they worked together. When they drew up bylaws the 3 people were the founding members. It initially started as a best guess at what this whole thing might look like. They got consulting from Aorta (another coop), they began setting out evaluations, etc… 1 year for the period and evaluations happen within that for feedback. There’s a reading list attached into the membership process. They’re working on how the situations of no-fit isn’t about termination and rather about them being in the perspective member bucket. Once members are hired — there is potentially a “tenure” problem for members. There’s a process for leaving. They’re constantly evaluating oppressions that are affecting their business.


How do you as worker-owners address responsibilities typically to HR/people ops?
The first couple of years, people just didn’t really have what they needed. Some HR things just fell by the wayside. Now their work is trying to set up a committee that is responsible for some of these things. Aorta was a big support. They have a mainstream employee assistance program.

Also thinking about hiring an in-house HR/Accounting/Magical person but not sure if they want to have an outside contractor

What attracted you to worker-coops? How do you recruit?

Being an owner is essential, because you take on the responsibility/stresses only because you understand you have the autonomy as an owner. Hiring process is not quite ready, they do rely on a lot of contractors (not ideal nor sustainable — because they’re often people of privilege and not in need). They’re trying to build up their networks w/ other orgs that are of the same tenants.

Working together

There’s a lot of time that is needed to be given into building structure / hierarchy / etc… It’s rare to find a 6 person company that has deep conflict resolution policies, etc… But that is the way they tie in their work with being a worker-owner.

Are your bylaws covering how to come to consensus and governance?

Staff meeting guidelines — creates a way to get consensus. They want a process committee to get down these types of decision making processes. They run the emerging strategy model straight out of the bag.

Getting Paid

How do y’all split up the earnings? Is it base salary, split-earnings, or…?

Flat wage rate. They bill per/hour on their clients. Avg $125/hr — very unstructured sliding scale based on client. All members are paid $55/hr, based on bill to client or internal work.

Internal work and client/billable work used to be paid different, but that exacerbated existing issues around what people were working on.

Making it hard to hire folks at different experience levels. In the process of figuring out how to allow a range of pay depending on experience (with support from aorta). (trying this out for 2020)

How do you all define “internal work” vs. finding clients? Is there a cap or structure to how much internal billable work?

Budget annually for internal work and what constitutes that. Weekly check in about internal tasks to collectively decide what to prioritize. Definitely “gray area”s related to relationship building and

BD is kind of a gray area for being billable. They pay themselves for social time (emotional labor). Pay for conflict conversations and mediation time.

Social time budget for talking about technical talks, reminding selves about culture guidelines, and “fun” time.

Staying Alive

The beginnings were much harder when it came to understanding power structures, hierarchies, class/race would show up within the organization rather than business financials. The biggest thing was needing to take care of the relationships with each other.

What sort of compromises and hardships as mediator / worker-owner have you faced?

Some early on pain: Underpaid, micromanaged, unhealthy work relationships, overworked.

There was a 16 hour min work/week in the bylaws, but wasn’t sustainable — they’re now at at least ~20 hrs/week

Anti-oppressive evaluation process from aorta. Early on diagnosis from aorta in which they recommended having a better evaluation process would give sassafras the most wheels. Spent a year working on it.


Joe was able to get a loan from family/somewhere with low interest / 0% interest.

Models of financing: Angel (seems incompatible with worker-owner model)

Grants for non-profits. Would help clients get a grant to pay Sassafras.


Product oriented structure?

Talk to Staffing Co-Op/Collective

They use AWS, etc for hosting.(Mentioned Gaia as an alternative they don’t use)

Taking on new clients is a significant investment. Must be at least $5000 project.

Bringing on new projects—they do an assessment upfront. Like if there’s a codebase they’re going to work in that they didn’t write, they have been able to bill for technical assessments which have a deliverable the client can use for other potential contractors.


Currently an LLC


It’s much more in the process and going slow. The process should be made the way you want it to be in the future. Don’t take things too personally. Be crazy careful. Take structural oppression very seriously, and doing the work to not exacerbate it.


The Working World

Design Action Collective



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Ah-ha moment: it’s going to take creativity and dedication to create a co-op that’s centered around community exchange and partnerships vs the focus being profit over people and the environment.

Ah-ha moment: Something that has been in my mind since I’m not so familiar with my teammates. So Angela’s point on the significance of knowing each other’s values and how they align so that some mismatch in values doesn’t need to manifest further down the line.

Ah-ha moment: Angela shared several ways to make a low-income CSA possible. Via grants, non-profits matching the reduced amount, a sliding scale CSA where folks that have more money can pay more for their share so that another CSA member can pay less essentially.

A question that comes up for me is: What are some ways that we can gather community input as informed by our individual capacities? And a follow up to that is: what are some practices that can hold the information we gather to apply it?

A question that I already had and that came up again during the interview is what are models of co-ops that are decentralized? In the sense that members can be many so that the work is more distributed to provide the service/product, while also allowing flexibility for the members capacity. In this model I don’t imagine members seeking to make this a living, yet still getting compensation for the hours they are putting in.

Basic question. What are good resources for finding grants that could fund our work?


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North Valley Caring Services

Volunteer based Nonprofit organization in North Hills in the San Fernando Valley.  Programs include:

  • Shower Program- individual restrooms for anyone to shower.  Capacity to bring bike or cart inside while showering. 
  • Safe Parking Program- private parking for people to safely sleep on their cars. 
  • Warm Meals- outreach meals to hotels and people living on the street.  Breakfast also offered at the center. 
  • Kitchen- meal preparation by volunteers.
  • Food Pantry- offers pantry to 300-400 families.  About 40,000 pounds given away. A $50 dollar value. 
  • Colectivo– social enterprise for local low scale product vendors to sell their handmade goods or merchandise. ‘
    • Formed 3 years ago- 2016
    • Started as a soup kitchen.
    • Clothing and accessory store
    • Run and maintained by volunteers where community members learn a new skill such as:
      • Jewelry making
      • Crochet
      • Shirt designing
      • Silk screening- program is being developed
    • Entrepreneurial opportunities for persons with challenging backgrounds (DV victims, homeless, gang affiliations)
    • Participants gain branding ownership and lift their self confidence and empowerment. 
      • Vendors get contracted by the organization and church for events, such as food vendors for food catering. 
    • Entrepreneurial skill building for youth where they learn how to design silk screening arts that can later be applied to an entrepreneurial activity. 
    • Volunteers are able to bring their children with them while they learn a new skill. 
    • 100% of profits (not from vendors) go back to programs:
        • Incentives such as gas cards  or food cards. 
    • 100% of profits from the vendor product sales go back to vendor. 
        • Table opportunity for vendors to display and sell their items at the colectivo store. 



What were some challenges with starting a colectiva store?

  • Very predatory- difficult for residents to trust a new development. 
  • A strong assessment needed- what does the community need?
  • Permitting- When the food pantry began, they faced many challenges and learned about zoning and permits required to operate. 

For some participants, the option of childcare is challenging.  How does the cooperate address this for their members?

  • Members can bring their children with them while they’re learning a new skill and volunteering in the store, as long as they don’t get in dangerous places such as silk-screening machines. 


What are the future for the Cooperative? 

  • Grow and provide entrepreneurial skill building workshops. 


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Environmental Stewardship Team: Irma Garcia, Jill Sourial, Kat Superfisky

Organizations Interviewed:

Arizmendi Q+A:

    • A conglomerate of different cooperative businesses
      • Looks like a franchise, but isn’t
      • Mission is to create as many well-paying jobs as possible
      • Conglomerate approach is way to help incubate smaller/start-up co-ops
      • Offer support in various ways (HR, name recognition, etc.)
  • BUSINESS: How does the conglomerate of co-ops function?
    • Every cooperative pays fees to be a part of the conglomerate
    • Each co-op is separately owned but get shared services
    • Every co-op has 2 members who sit on a board (“Policy Council”), which discusses issues that affect everyone
      • Meet approximately every-other-month
    • Visioning process (“What will we look like in the next three years?”)
    • Future Goals: 
      • Establish a “repair” cooperative, who can help fix things
      • Create Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) co-op in order to keep rents affordable 

Root Volume (RV) Q+A:

  • “ Where Regenerative Systems Meet the Built Environment”
  • We are a landscape design|build focused on connecting the indoors and outdoors to restore our relationship to nature. We create healing environments by implementing beautiful living systems that get richer over time. As a worker-owned cooperative, and proud member of the Arizmendi Association, we are part of a restorative movement building towards ecological prosperity, social equity and dignified economic opportunities in our community. 
  • We value curiosity, craftsmanship and kinship, and our work is rooted in the Permaculture ethics of caring for the earth, caring for the people and the fair distribution of resources. We consider ourselves lifetime students of this interconnected world and enjoy collaborating to discover more regenerative ways of living.
  • 5 employees in the organization
  • Services:
    • Site Analysis and Masterplans
    • Resilient and Contemplative Spaces
    • ADU Site Planning and Gardens
    • Indoor Gardens
    • Furniture and Artistic Elements
    • Consulting and Project Management
  • BACKGROUND: How long have you been a co-op? How do accept new members?
    • Incorporated June 2017, started organizing with 3 people in December 2016. They are now 5 people. 
    • There’s a candidacy process for new members which is 9 months. 
      • There are 3 evaluations during the candidacy and then a membership test at the end. What does patronage mean? Finances and taxes can be confusing since it’s different for a co-op. 
      • $2500 buy in after 9 months or 900 hours. Then you get voted in as a member and have flexibility to pay the buy in and can be deducted from the paycheck. $250 is initial capital contribution. Want it to be accessible to folks who are low income. 
    • Arizmendi Policy Council meets every 2 months to make association wide decisions. They are looking at cross pollinating labor across the Association’s businesses. Recruitment has evolved, Root Volume prioritizes some experience as opposed to only local community outreach like the bakeries at Arizmendi. 
    • Arizmendi offers trainings and orientations, conflict management and communication, that are required during candidacy.
    • RV describes themselves as a “self-help organization” that pays living wages, provides healthcare to employees after period, offers training, etc. 
  • BUSINESS: Do you have an office where customers can come? Where do you keep your tools and equipment? 
    • Two separate spaces:
      • Office is run out of contractor’s house, which allows for 2 employees and files/desks/designs
      • Storage equipment space is in artist studio space 
  • BUSINESS: Who are your customers? Do people choose you because of your values such as permaculture and worker ownership? 
    • They mostly come from referrals. Their customers often like a certain amount of hardscape in the projects. 
    • They’ve done one public project in a commercial complex and it harder for the team who are used to working in private yards. Liability is different, vigilance of safety and equipment getting stolen.
  • BUSINESS: Are you cost competitive? How do you market your work? 
    • HOUZZ professional profile costs $250/month for advertising and has idea books that customers can create like Pinterest. Yard signs work well and capture interest. 
  • SERVICES: What about labor? Do you do it all yourselves or do you rely on any labor outside of the co-op (e.g. do you install irrigation)? Do you have criteria for your suppliers or subconsultants?
    • The goal is to keep labor and patronage in the co-op but sometimes demolition or other work can be challenging. Looking for deconstruction services. They often sub out fence work. They focus on indoor/outdoor connections. Electrician, plumber
    • Intention is to work with people/organizations who share similar values to RV, but it’s often difficult. Criteria for collaborators/subcontractors are organic. Recommend having 3-5 points of at least aspirational criteria.
  • MATERIALS: Where do you source your materials? Do you have a preference for native plants? Recycled materials? 
    • RV has favorite vendors and uses a truck to pick up/deliver materials
      • Plants: Devil Mountain and Bamboo Pipeline for plants–make sure nurseries offer contractor/wholesale prices
    • Aggregates: American Stone
  • LEGAL: Do you do permitting yourself or work with a contractor/landscape architect? 
    • RV employee (Dante) has a background in landscape architecture and contractor’s license, so can submit some drawings
    • RV uses a landscape architecture “partner” to stamp certain drawings; interview criteria 
    • Engineers are good friends to have, but it’s unlikely they will want to stamp drawings that they don’t produce.
  • MAINTENANCE: Do you do ongoing maintenance as a service?
    • Maintenance is a difficult service to make money on, so taking this on is a challenge, but is something that clients are always asking for (especially the specialized niche of “ecological” design and maintenance).
    • RV subs out/refers maintenance to a team they know are skilled in ecological maintenance, but the company is smaller so unable to take on every project
  • WARRANTY: Do you offer a warranty?
      • Plant warranty for 1 year
  • 30% plant die off is average for projects in industry, but RV is below that
  • TRAINING: We’re interested in a job training/youth development component to our work and considering a hybrid model of co-op and nonprofit. Thoughts?
    • RV works with the Community Council to provide training sessions on co-op model
    • RV right now does not focus on specialty training due to capacity, but does “train” their staff internally (e.g permaculture) so that they meet the RV standards and can perform the organization’s projects/tasks. RV also partners with other organizations to offer additional training opportunities to employees. 
  • Anything else you’d like to share that we haven’t asked?

Co-ops aren’t for everyone! Not everyone has the sensibility to take initiative and not perform just as an employee. Invest in internal training and try to recruit with those skills in mind. Everyone is a leader in a co-op. Personnel handbook and bylaws. CA employment law, at will employees, process for grievances. Vote of confidence.


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Homework #1: Current Co-Op Interview Write-up

Team Name: Kapwa Tao (Artivist Collective)

Team Members: Frances “Paru” Herrera-Lim & Leah “lei” Angela Sahagun


Interviewee: Heather Hoggans

Founding & Active Member of Arroyo Arts Collective in Highland Park Northeast LA


Interview questions:

Tell us a little bit about your co-op

What was the reason for creating it?

During your meetings with co-op partners, what were your record keeping practices?

Conflict resolution tools?

Practices, limitations, examples of termination?

What is your co-op’s foundational documents? (examples of bylaws, business plans)

What is the financial model of your co-op? And its evolution?

What lessons were learned from other co-ops that didn’t survive?

What do you do when you get tired? Distribute the work?

What skills are important to get the collective operating?


  1. Report back one or more “ah-ha’s” from the interview


Members of the collective, should have cohesive chemistry – and with a similar mission/vision.


Heather shared that majority of the work will be done by 2-3 people and that every one else was along for the ride. How can I make sure that the work is evenly distributed in our co-op?


Heather mentioned that the most successful shows included audience participation. What activities can we incorporate to implement such success?


  1. Three questions that came up for you about starting a worker co-op from that encounter


One of the many reasons why this collective has lasted so long was because it was created during a time when the internet did not exist. What does our co-op need to implement to make sure of its success? Can a hybrid of non-internet related things be included to differentiate ourselves?


What exact roles and descriptive responsibilities are required?

What are ideal/successful fundraiser ideas?


What are the main differences between a collective and a co-op?


  1. Brief summary


It would have benefitted us to have been a co-op instead of a collective.


“That’s why we have survived (for 30 years), be a village, be there for each other”


Regarding key roles to keep the operations alive – “you have to pay those people to keep them around”

Volunteers and volunteerism has decreased over time because regular volunteers had one full time job and on their spare time, they would volunteer consistently. Later on, volunteers became scarce because people had multiple part time jobs and did not have consistent timeframes to volunteer regularly.


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Interview Questions on Friday, 19 July 2019

Cannabis Bakery Team

Renita, Esther, ShelleMae, & Zerita


Name of the business:  Arizmendi Bakery

Contact: Madeleine Van Engel <>

A worker-owned co-op & no-frills setting for freshly made breads, sweets & thin-crust pizzas.

Address1331 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122



Phone(415) 566-3117


  1. How can start-ups co-ops collaborate to support each other?
    1. Had bakers come from other bakeries to train us, including putting schedule together, hosting workshops, assisted with personnel.
  2. What lessons have you learned from other co-ops?
    1. I was only a baker and owner, but I don’t really bake any more, helps support 2 other bakeries with finances, booking and hiring.
  3. How does governance work with workers over a long period of time?
    1. I was on personnel committee, responsible for applications, interviews and new members have paid tryout periods, then committee would decide to hire as a group by a vote.
    2. New hires would take on shift, 6-month trial and evaluations during this time,
    3. New hire orientations and join meetings.
    4. This was called a candidacy period to see if they were a good fit.
  4. Were there any people who left the coop for any reason?
    1. It happens a lot due to:
      1. Hard work
      2. Hours are really hard,
  • Sometimes co-op method is hard for them,
  1. May not be what people expected
  2. Did not have the skills to maintain


  1. Do you have an example of social support within co-ops?
    1. Bakers come to help train, really did a lot of work.
    2. hiring in community
  2. What conflict resolution tools do your co-op utilize? Initially this group of people came together that don’t know each other and misunderstandings-not having a boss:
    1. When there is conflict, the resolution is handled by a team,
    2. Agree to disagree,
    3. Personnel committee would facilitate communications,
    4. Use mediation
    5. Refer to the bylaws
    6. Repay buy-in and termination depends on policy, need a lot of people to terminate, by a vote.
  3. Do you have suggestions about practices and limitations?
    1. Everything is outlined in co-op bylaws, (documents were sent in a follow up email)
  4. How do co-ops work with/within non-profits?
    1. Don’t specifically work with nonprofits but collaborates with others and Co-ops
  5. Do you have any suggestions about licensing?
    1. Not her direct working with
    2. We consulted with other bakeries that knew what to do.
  6. What is the record keeping practices and Is there transparency open-books?
    1. Yes, certain things that’s not transparent like an investigation would be kept in committee
    2. Financials are open to all
  7. What is your co-op’s method of on bringing on new members?
    1. Answered in #3
  8. How do you train/cross train members?
    1. Answered in #3
  9. What type of financial model did you follow?
    1. Everyone gets paid the same no matter how long been there,
    2. Having to do work before bakery open is problem-
    3. Give bonus it’s helpful;
    4. Pays hourly ranges $20s + shared …and benefits, (Medical, Dental, Vacation)
  10. How did you raise capital for your co-op?
    1. Utilized technical assistance co-op,
    2. association gets fees,
    3. took out 500k loan from bank, that particular was bank receptive to co-op
  11. What’s the best thing you like about having a co-op?
    1. being able to have a say in how business is run is awesome,
    2. people really care and
    3. workers invested in what doing,
    4. worker really comes first, that’s radically different,
    5. chance to give folks a chance that may not have a chance such as people that’s been incarcerated
    6. good wages so people could live their lives
  12. What’s the least thing you like about having a co-op?
    1. decisions take time,
    2. things can be really slow,
    3. if an issue policy accountability can be hard, and can cause more conflict,
    4. issues come to surface because just can’t take issue to boss
  13. What was the hardest thing to accomplish when starting the co-op?
    1. Constant understaffing,
    2. Feeling like working all the time, (sweat equity concept)
  14. Are you able to share examples of your bylaws, business plan or other foundational documents?
    1. Can send generic bylaws and good to have attorney review.
  15. Did you have a full line of products or start with a few?
    1. Products was full line.
    2. Review menu.


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Rufino’s Interview: Vermont and Gage Carwash Workers Cooperative

Why I interviewed this person

I interviewed Rufino Maldonado because he was part of the Cooperative Vermont Gage of car wash workers which operated for about two years only and I want to learn from his experience what was what causes the disintegration of the cooperative.


This person’s experience in the Co-op

The experience of Rufino wasn’t any good since he was not heard when he expressed his opinion attempting to solve every problem discussed in the cooperative’s monthly meetings


Most interesting thing you learned from the interview

The most interesting thing interviewing Rufino was knowing that the workers didn’t assumed their status as business owners. They always acted as dependent workers of the Manager who was part of the Local 675 Steelworkers Union and was hired and assigned to operate the Cooperative. Also, Rufino said that the workers did not understand what it meant to be a member and part of a cooperative since they were only concerned and actually took care of their individual interests but they didn’t the important decisions that were key to the success of the cooperative. In Rufino’s words his coworkers did not were responsible playing the right role in this new organization called cooperative.


Most surprising thing I’ve learned from the interview

The most surprising thing I learned from the Rufino interview was that while my impression was that he would never want to know more about creating a cooperative if he was invited again to create one. However, Rufino said: “I would try again because when something goes wrong, I want to do it again to do it well”


Something my interviewee told me that I already knew

Something Rufino told me that I already knew is that the control of the cooperative was in the hands of a single person who manipulated the partners to impose what that person wanted to do that was to operate as if he were the owner of the car wash. And the workers let him decide everything sometimes for comfort and other times for not taking charge of his responsibility to decide.


Significant quotes from the interview and what they mean in the context of your paper

“I would try again because when something goes wrong, I want to do it again to do it well”


Any other specific information from the interview that I’d like to relate

The cooperative was formed with 14 workers who one day woke up without a job because their employer closed the car wash without notifying them and disappeared. With the support of the union that represented them at that time, they created the cooperative but for lack of experience in cooperatives, for lack of preparation to be part of a cooperative, for bad administration, for making bad decisions at their monthly meetings, and also for Lack of honesty, credibility and lack of trust between them, the cooperative was closed and everyone received a final amount of money that Rufino called “his liquidation or settlement.”


How this helps my paper—what I think I’ll be able to apply

Definitely knowing what were the causes that led to the failure of the cooperative helps me prepare and better prevent my work plan to analyze, propose and plan how to solve those same problems if they arise in the process of forming this new cooperative, since I am working and organizing workers with the same profile as those who were part of the Vermont Gage Cooperative.


Entrevista a Rufino. Cooperativa de Trabajadores de Carwash Vermont Gage


Entrevisté a Rufino Maldonado porque formaba parte de la cooperativa Vermont Gage de trabajadores de lavado de autos que operaron solo durante aproximadamente dos años y quiero aprender de su experiencia qué fue lo que causó la desintegración de la cooperativa.


La experiencia de Rufino no fue buena, ya que no se escuchó cuando expresó su opinión al intentar resolver todos los problemas discutidos en las reuniones mensuales de la cooperativa.


Lo más interesante al entrevistar a Rufino era saber que los trabajadores no asumían su condición de dueños de negocios. Siempre actuaron como trabajadores dependientes del Gerente que era parte del Sindicato de Trabajadores Siderúrgicos Local 675 y fue contratado y asignado para operar la Cooperativa. Además, Rufino dijo que los trabajadores no entendían lo que significaba ser miembro y parte de una cooperativa, ya que solo estaban preocupados y realmente se ocupaban de sus intereses individuales, pero no tomaron las decisiones importantes que fueron clave para el éxito de la cooperativa En palabras de Rufino, sus compañeros de trabajo no eran responsables de desempeñar el papel correcto en esta nueva organización llamada cooperativa.


Lo más sorprendente que aprendí de la entrevista a Rufino fue que mientras mi impresión fue que el no quisiera saber nunca más de crear una cooperativa si lo invitaban otra vez a crear una. Sin embargo, Rufino dijo: “Yo si lo intentaría otra vez porque cuando algo me sale mal quiero volver hacerlo para hacerlo bien”


Algo que me dijo Rufino que yo ya sabía es que el control de la cooperativa estaba en manos de una sola persona que manipulaba a los socios para imponer lo que esa persona quería hacer que era operar como si él fuera el propietario del car wash. Y los trabajadores dejaron que el decidiera todo unas veces por comodidad y otras veces por no hacerse cargo de su responsabilidad para decidir.


La cooperativa se formó con 14 trabajadores que un día amanecieron sin trabajo porque su empleador, cerro el car wash sin avisarles y desapareció. Con apoyo de la unión que en ese momento los representaba, crearon la cooperativa, pero por falta de experiencia en cooperativas, por falta de preparación para formar parte de una cooperativa, por mala administración, por tomar malas decisiones en sus juntas mensuales, y además por falta de honestidad, credibilidad y falta de confianza entre ellos, la cooperativa fue cerrada y todos recibieron una cantidad de dinero final que Rufino llamo “su liquidación”.


Definitivamente saber cuáles fueron las causas que llevaron al fracaso de la cooperativa me ayuda a preparar y prevenir mejor mi plan de trabajo para analizar, proponer y planear como resolver esos mismos problemas si se presentan en el proceso de formar esta nueva cooperativa, puesto que estoy trabajando y organizando a trabajadores con el mismo perfil de los que formaron parte de la Cooperativa Vermont Gage.