Category Archives: Co-operatives



For those who don?t know me, I am the co-ordinator of 43rd Housing Co-op and have been for 17 years. Celia Chandler will be doing the bulk of the presentation, helping us to learn more about the practicalities of eviction under the new system. I’ll be talking briefly about what is has been like from a staff perspective to deal with the transition.

I’ve been working in the sector for almost 20 years, having worked at three co-ops over the years. I did not get involved to take away housing from people, but to help develop and provide long term affordable housing. Taking away housing, which is what we do when we evict someone, is hard to do and something I find emotionally draining.

43rd Co-op is an acquisition rehab co-op. There are still a few tenant households, people that were given the choice of co-op membership or remaining tenants when the co-op was formed 20 years ago. Effectively we have been using the new eviction model the entire time as the tenant eviction process is the model for the the new process. Historically the tenant process involved three steps—an initial notice, filing a 2nd notice with the tribunal, and going to the tribunal—the later including strongly encouraged on site mediation to reach a settlement prior to a hearing. The co-op process involved three or more steps—the initial notice to appear, the board meeting, serving a notice of the board decision, a possible member appeal, filing for a court hearing and a court hearing. In either case, if the judgement went in favour of the co-op, the sherriff’s office would be scheduled for a formal eviction. The tenant process took approximately 2 months; the co-op options 4 to six months. For arrears matters involving tenants I was able to do all the work. For tenant behavioural evictions and all co-op matters co-op lawyers would do the bulk of the work. With tenant evictions I was the focus of any frustration or anger from the tenant; with co-op member evictions the board was the focus of much of the dissatisfaction but I was still the audience for it. Members realise that different boards have different priorities, seen in offers to settle or the offering of reasonable repayments when the board was seen as more hard line. Getting memorandums of settlement approved by some boards was also problematic.

After co-op eviction law reform the process for co-op eviction has come close to matching the tenant process—-a notice to appear, a decision by the board, a possible member appeal, filing of notice with the tribunal, with a two part tribunal hearing process. The time period seems to be two to three months. The legal costs are lower than going to court. It feels that boards are now more likely to want to proceed to eviction than in the past—perhaps due to lower costs and a clearer process or perhaps hard times are leading to higher arrears and causing more stress in households which leads to more behavioural concerns. Our by-laws haven?t all been brought up to date, which can be problematic if members expect a particular process or to forms to be a certain way based on their familiarity with the old model by-law. It does seem that boards are accepting mediation around arrears more readily with the tribunal system, which is a real plus.

In regards to dealing with member arrears, I have found the new process easier to understand and use, thanks primarily to good sector lawyers who have provided clear guidelines. The process is straight forward and getting to enforceable agreements is quicker, helping to both address arrears and to help avoid evictions. I am still unclear about behavioural evictions—there are different forms and options for non-arrears evictions and there are still some matters that need to be dealt with through the court process. It would be good if the behavioural by-laws contained little more than ?Do not offend others. Do not be easily offended.? 43rd has started the behavioural eviction process but not gone to the tribunal or to court as other resolutions were implemented. Having a new process for eviction may be giving co-ops motivation to reconsider many by-laws addressing behaviour that have been passed but never court tested. Tribunal decisions could help guide such discussions.


Notes for A More Coherent Co-op Presentations—Cahoots


Cahoots Festival

Silver Lake Mennonite Camp, May 30, 2014



Thank you all for coming.   I’m Brian Burch. I live, work and volunteer in the co-op sector and have been a part of provincial and national area governing bodies of worker co-ops, financial co-ops and housing co-ops since last millennium.

I’d like people to quickly go round and introduce yourself.   If you could let us know if you are a member of a co-op—if so, please let tell us their name—and what you would like to get out of this workshop.   I hope to have time to touch on areas I’ve missed that you’d like to address.

What is a co-op?

The most basic definition of a co-operative these days is an organisation incorporated under a co-operative act.   But a co-operative is more than that—it is a sharing of resources and vision to meet a common goal.   They are ongoing experiments in the living out of the ideal of Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid.

Types of co-ops?

Co-operatives come in a of variety forms, but they tend to fall into the following broad categories:

Worker Co-ops

Consumer Co-ops

Producer Co-ops

Financial Co-ops

Housing Co-ops

Community Co-ops

Worker Co-operative (From Wikipedia):

A worker cooperative is a cooperative self-managed by its workers. This control may be exercised in a number of ways. A cooperative enterprise may mean a firm where every worker-owner participates in decision making in a democratic fashion, or it may refer to one in which managers and administration is elected by every worker-owner, and finally it can refer to a situation in which managers are considered, and treated as, workers of the firm.   La Sembra in Ottawa comes to mind as an example.

Consumer Co-operatives (From Wikipedia):

Consumer cooperatives are enterprises owned by consumers and managed democratically which aim at fulfilling the needs and aspirations of their members. They operate within the market system, independently of the state, as a form of mutual aid, oriented toward service rather than pecuniary profit. Consumers’ cooperatives often take the form of retail outlets owned and operated by their consumers, such as food co-ops. However, there are many types of consumers’ cooperatives, operating in areas such as health care, insurance, housing, utilities and personal finance (including credit unions).   Karma Co-op in Toronto is an example.

Producer-owner Co-operatives (from Wikipedia)

Producer cooperatives are owned by producers of farm commodities or crafts that band together to process and/or market their products. Purchasing or shared services cooperatives are cooperatives whose members are businesses that join to improve their performance and competitiveness. This form of co-op is most common in agriculture, where farmers often must band together to survive in an industry that is increasingly industrial and centralized.   Gay Lea is one of the best known in Canada.

Financial Co-operatives/Credit Unions (From Wikipedia):

A credit union is a member-owned financial cooperative, democratically controlled by its members, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at competitive rates, and providing other financial services to its members. VanCity is probably Canada’s best known credit union.

Housing Co-operative (From Housing Connections):

CO-OPERATIVE HOUSING– Co-operative housing is collectively owned and managed by its members (the people who live there). Co-operative members actively participate in decision making and share the work involved in running the housing community.

Co-operative housing in Canada is primarily, but not exclusively, non-profit.   However, there are other forms of co-op housing, including equity and limited equity co-ops and building co-operatives.   Don Area Co-op, where I live, is a non-profit housing co-op. Options for Homes involves building co-operatives.

Community Co-operative (from

Community co-operatives are organisations set up to provide a service or services to a particular community and which use co-operative principles to guide their organisations and their activities.  Forward 9 Co-op, in Toronto, was formed with this in mind.   Community Partners For Success Co-operative Quinte and the Bias Free Co-operative in Ottawa are more recent examples.

What are the co-op principles?

Seven Cooperative Principles:

Cooperatives around the world generally operate according to the same core principles and values, adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance in 1995. Cooperatives trace the roots of these principles to the first modern cooperative founded in Rochdale, England in 1844.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use its services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative—who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.

3. Members’ Economic Participation
Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. This benefits members in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.

4. Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintains the cooperative’s autonomy.

5. Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.

6. Cooperation among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.

What does faith have to do with this?

Acts 2:43-47 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

From the earliest days of the Christian faith mutual aid and the sharing of resources was a living expression of the Shalom kingdom as a living expression of practical love in the world.   While not a specific Christian form—the On Co-op website lists a number of Muslim co-operatives—-there would be no co-operative movement in Canada if it was not for Christian communities who took seriously the example of the earliest Christians who did the hard and difficult work of sharing their skills and talents to make the world better.   It was no co-incidence that the earliest leadership of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation were people like the Methodist minister J.S. Woodsworth or the Baptist minister Tommy Douglas.   Building the New Jerusalem was a shared work.   From the Social Gospel to Liberation Theology, co-operative initiatives have been seen as the practical way to address social problems while showing that alternative models of social and economic organisation are practical and viable.

Some examples of the faith roots of co-ops in Canada—please feel free to jump in if you know their contribution:

Roman Catholic Bishops, Quebec: Sought Pope Pius X’s approval for priests to manage local caisses.

Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops: co-founder, Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada, which became the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.

United Church of Canada: co-founder, Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada, which became the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada; provided a revolving loan fund to develop housing co-operatives in the early 1970s and 1980s)

Student Christian Movement at the University of Toronto: founded Campus Co-op at the University of Canada, the oldest continuing housing co-operative in Canada

“Toyohiko Kagawa, Japanese Co-operator, spoke at a Student Christian conference in Indianapolis during the Christmas holidays in 1935. Four University of Toronto theology students Donald Mclean, Art Dayfoot, Archie Manson and Alex Sim were so moved by his speech that upon returning to Toronto they formed a discussion group to debate the possibility of operating a co-operative. Riding on the tails of a depression, the men decided that a housing co-operative would be the most pragmatic venture to undertake. In October 1936, finally able to gather the minimum number of people to open a cooperative, the men established the first Campus Co-op House that they called Rochdale, at 63 St. George Street, accommodating 12 men, many of the farm youths with a United Church affiliation. The principal of Victoria College used the first floor for offices and the top two floors were vacant.   The Co-op men occupied the top two floors, eleven rooms, including a kitchen and a storeroom, rent-free, paying maintenance fees only.”

St. Luke’s United Church: one of many churches that had a congregational based Credit Union

Fr. Moses Cody: Roman Catholic priest who founded the Antigonish movement, which worked throughout Atlantic Canada to develop worker and consumer co-operatives

Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative: does social investment on behalf of Canadian charities, all of which are religious and the vast majority of which are Roman Catholic religious orders, although the United Church of Canada, the SCM, CFSC and Trinity-St. Paul’s United are members

Waterloo County Mennonites—founded the Mennonite Credit Union, one of the largest community based credit unions remaining in Canada.: “Founded in 1964, the credit union began with a radical vision for expanding our faith community’s historical commitment to mutual aid.  What started out as $22 in a cash box and a modest attempt to share financial resources among Waterloo County Mennonites has grown into a full-service Anabaptist financial cooperative. We remain committed to the radical dream of our founders: to be a Christian vehicle for the sharing of financial resources within the Mennonite, Amish, and Brethren in Christ communities. And today we’re building on that dream, serving members of other Christian faith communities who share our values.”


Unlike a lot of community based initiatives I have been a part of, co-operatives work. They are not perfect organisations—we are not perfect people and co-operatives reflect this.   But they work.   According to the On Co-op website: “The survival rate of co-operative enterprises is almost twice that of investor-owned companies after five or 10 years in operation. “ (   No matter how bureaucratic a co-operative becomes, and in large co-operatives like MEC or credit unions like Alterna can become rigid and governance remote from the average member, the boards come from the membership and the by-laws that govern them are approved by the members.   The principals that are woven into the life of a small worker co-op or a housing co-op are woven into the core of even the largest co-operative.   I do think it is important for people who are connected to the co-operative movement attend federations and co-op cluster meetings to realise that the dreams of a co-operative and more compassionate world are shared at all levels of the movement and in all sizes of co-operatives.

Humans are social creatures.   Even those of us who are loners are connected in many ways to other people.   The co-operative movement takes the realities of quilting and barn raising bees and applies this sharing to the meeting economic and social needs of each other and the wider world.

The co-operative movement has never been inward looking or isolationist.   Initiatives such as Rooftops Canada and the Co-operative Development Foundation work with partners around the globe to encourage and support local co-operative development and emerging leaders.

Despite many changes in the political and landscape in the world since I attended my first co-op meeting, I remain confident in, and evangelical about, the co-operative movement.   I am, at heart, a CCFer who will not rest contented until it we have eradicated capitalism and established the Cooperative Commonwealth. (paraphrased from the Regina Manifesto)

Q & A


Trivia Question:

When did the co-op rainbow flag first fly

ICA adopted its original rainbow flag in 1925, with the seven colors symbolizing unity in diversity and the power of light, enlightenment, and progress.

An interesting report on Co-operatives in Canada can be found at:

Note for a more coherent co-operative presentation – Fair Trade Fair for Global Justice

Note for a more coherent co-operative presentation
Saturday, April 26, 2016
Fair Trade Fair for Global Justice
Donway Covenant United Church
230 The Donway West, Toronto, Ontario M3B 2V8

Thanks for inviting me to lead a workshop on co-operatives. I have been active in various expressions of the Canadian co-operative movement for over 25 years. From serving on the boards of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada and the Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative to being a member/owner of Ganesh Community Development Co-operative to being the executive director of CoAction Staff Association , which is a co-operative that provides services to its members who are staff of housing co-operatives, I have worked and volunteered in three of the five major areas of co-operatives in Canada—housing, financial and worker co-operatives. I am not directly involved in insurance co-operatives or related mutual societies nor am I active in consumer co-operatives, even though I am supportive of their work and purchase insurance through Co-operator’s Insurance.

What I plan to do is talk for a little while about co-operatives and why I think this is a good time for co-operatives. Hopefully my comments will inspire some questions and debate.

I’m curious if there are people here who are a member of one or more co-operatives. Let’s just go around and let us know if you are a co-op member (wait for responses).

(see for source of stats and Desjardins anecdote)

I’m not surprised at the results—4 out of 10 Canadians belong to one or more co-operatives. In Quebec it is 7 out of 10.

There have been formal co-operatives in Canada since the early 19th century. Related mutual societies, such as mutual insurance companies, go back just a bit earlier. From farmers wanting a better deal for their crops to workers wanting some real control over their employment conditions and the products they produced to people wanting to share the risks of dealing with fire or major illness to people wanting to have affordable housing where costs and control were shared with their neighbours to people wanting stores accountable to those that purchase the products instead of distant shareholders, co-operatives have been a part of the Canadian fabric since well before confederation. At times a way of marginalised to get control of their lives and resources—Alphonse Desjardins founded the first credit union in Canada when he learned of a Montrealer who had been ordered by the court to pay nearly $5,000 in interest on a loan of $150 from a moneylender—at times a way for government to implement social policy which is why most Canadian housing co-ops were developed—and at times just good economic sense, which is why Co-operatives, Gay Lea and Ocean Spray continue to prosper, Co-operatives make both idealistic and practical sense.
Not surprisingly when dealing with social justice, faith communities can be found in the lead. Here are a few examples. Can people suggest what role they had in the Canadian co-operative movement?

Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops: (co-founder, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada)

United Church of Canada: (co-founder, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada; provided a revolving loan fund to develop housing co-operatives in the early 1970s and 1980s)

Student Christian Movement at the University of Toronto: (founded Campus Co-op at the University of Canada, the oldest continuing housing co-operative in Canada)

Fr. Moses Coady: (Roman Catholic priest who founded the Antigonish movement, which worked throughout Atlantic Canada to develop worker and consumer co-operatives)

St. Luke’s United Church: (one of many churches that had a congregational based Credit Union)

Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative: (does social investment on behalf of Canadian charities, all of which are religious and the vast majority of which are Roman Catholic religious orders, although the United Church of Canada and Trinity-St. Paul’s United are members)

This is a very exciting time to be a part of the co-operative movement in Canada. There have been a number of co-operatives start up in the past few years—West End Food Co-op, Solar Share Energy Co-operative, Local 75 Housing Co-op come immediately to mind. Less well known are efforts such as A-Zone in Winnipeg, a co-operative of anarchist worker and community focused co-ops, which obtained financing from CAIC and Assiniboine Credit Union to purchase a major building in downtown Winnipeg. The government of Canada, for the first time in its history, has a multi-party Co-operative Caucus/Working Group to explore ways in which co-operatives can be nourished in Canada. Rooftops Canada and CCA are able to work with partner co-operatives in the developing world with ongoing support from CIDA and a core of dedicated volunteers.

To me there are some good reasons for optimism about the Canadian co-operative movement that I haven’t always felt. I admit that there are current challenges for many forms of co-operatives. It is easier to get the financing for a worker or consumer co-operative than a housing co-operative. There are political uncertainties affective alternative energy co-operatives. Credit unions are being hit with changes to the Income Tax Act. Government policies are not always in harmony with the reality of co-operative decision making.

Yet even with these real challenges, I think that this is a potential boom time for co-operatives. I have four reasons for thinking this way.

One very real need for any co-operative is funding. Co-operatives have benefited from funding from CAIC and from the Community Forward Fund, from changes in rules that have encouraged the use of community bonds and crowd funding and from governments across Canada that have supported local co-operative ventures.

Another is community interest. The co-operative model seems to have found momentum both from the concerns that inspired the occupy movement and the new interest in social and impact investing. Both radical anger at the dominate economic systems and the desire of those with wealth to try to effectively use it for social good seem to have blossomed at the same time.

Thirdly, and related to the above, is the slow, persistent and gentle reminder that co-operatives work. Worker co-operatives are more likely to survive their first five years than any other corporate model. Consumer co-operatives have loyal members and, both on the small scale such as Karma Co-op and the large scale such as Mountain Equipment Co-op, find creative ways to fit into niches in the marketplace and, when faced with crisis, their members have been creative in ensuring the ongoing viability of their co-op. Financial co-operatives—credit unions and related member controlled banks—weathered the recent financial crisis that shook the banking system with far fewer problems than traditional banking institutions.

And finally, one of the things that truly gives me hope is the change in leadership of the movement. My generation is being replaced with a far more diverse body of co-op directors, staff and developers than we represent. On my last term on the board of the co-op I live in, the majority of the directors weren’t born when I moved into DACHI. Problems are being addressed in ways some of us older activists are not comfortable with as the new leadership looks at our shared movement with fresh eyes.

With new leaders, alternative financing models in place, a desire for new organisational models and proof that co-operatives work, this is a good time for co-operatives.

Brian Burch

Some helpful website resources:

Ontario and Canadian Co-operative Movement

Housing Co-operatives

Financial & Insurance Co-operatives

Worker Co-operatives

Consumer Co-operatives

Other Co-op Links

PRESENTATION NOTES—Employment Contracts Workshop


2014 Staff Education Forum

February 13, 2014

Ingersoll, Ontario

Brian Burch,


Welcome everyone to today’s workshop.   I’m Brian Burch, the  executive director of CoAction Staff Association and a shop steward/union rep with Labourers Local 183. I assume that most of   those here know each other but just in case, would people introduce   themselves.


I’m not going to be able to deal with everything related to the CoAction model contract or contracts for co-op staff more  generally. But I hope   to provide a basic overview of employment contract law, give people an realistic overview of the process  through which the model contract was negotiated, touch on some of the major features of the model contract and weave in some thoughts   on negotiating a collective agreement.  I encourage people to ask  clarifying questions along the way but I do intend to have a question and answer session later in the workshop where more  substantive questions can be raised.

I hope that people are familiar with the CHFC publication You, Your  Staff and the Law.   This provides information on the minimum legal  expectations of co-operatives as employers.   Minimums can often be below standard expectations, but do provide a foundation from which contracts can be built on.  This, and other helpful material, can be found at:

To help frame any discussions or information sharing I have a few questions that I’d people to take five minutes or so to answer.  These are on a worksheet provided and are, I hope, straight forward:

What do I want to make my workplace better?

What are these things I want in my workplace that could be included in a contract?

Which of these things that could be included are already in my  contract?

What are those things I don’t have that I would consider a priority to include in any new contract?


Before one talks about employment contracts, it is important to make sure you are an employee. Most co-op staff are employees, either directly hired or through a management services company.  Some people provide specific professional services, such as bookkeepers, and aren’t seen as employees. Entering into a service contract, such as CoAction has with Ganesh Community Development     Co-operative, is based on a different form of relationship than 43rd Co-op has with me. There are people in employment situations who are treated by their employer as self-employed contractors but who are legally employees and therefore entitled to all the benefits of employment including the submitting of statutory payments such as CPP premiums to the Canada Revenue Agency and having a safe and secure working environment.

The Ontario Ministry of Finance offers the following:  “A contract of service, or employer-employee relationship, generally exists when a worker agrees to work for an employer, on a full-time or part-time basis, for a specified or indeterminate period of time, in return for wages or a salary. The employer has the right to decide where, when and how the work is to be done.”   (from:

Thus, any agreement with an employer that sets rates of pay, controls the place where the work is done and that gives authority  for someone who determines the nature and quality of the work to be  performed makes one an employee. These agreements can take many  forms, both formal and informal.  Almost anything that can be included in a contract can be negotiated.   There are exceptions to this—formal collective agreements make reference to this using   language similar to the following (from a Unifor contract in Toronto) :  “it is the exclusive function of the Co-operative to:  …Manage the Co-operative without restricting the generality of the foregoing, to plan, direct and control operations, facilities,programs, systems and procedures, to direct and determine job      descriptions for the Employees, and each of them, to determine the   complement, organization, location and curtailment or cessation of      operations and to exercise all other rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement. “  At the end of the day, there are reserved management rights that can be  modified by mutual agreement but not removed.

In essence, you are an employee if you are paid, your employer controls the location and time of work, your actual duties are assigned and at the end of the day someone exercises the rights and  duties of management over your work life.   Many of us have  management responsibilities but it is ultimately the board of the co-op that has the authority.

As soon as we have any sort of agreement with a co-op to work we have entered into a contract.  We accept a consideration—pay—in return for our labour.    There are common law and legislative requirements that bind both the employer and employee that exist even if not written down.  Even if not written down in an negotiated contract, employers have to provide a safe and secure work place and employees have to come to work and fulfil their expected duties.

There are minimum expectations in any employment contract oral or  written.   These include:

– rates of pay and benefits provided

– vacation and leave

– probation period

– discipline and termination

– reporting relationships

– duties and responsibilities, which includes hours of work, issues such   as confidentiality and returning property and passwords when leaving employment

There are matters not included in a minimum list of expectations but are commonly included in employment contracts.   These include:

– non-competition clauses.  If one works for a management service  company, for example, this is likely in your contract.    With such a clause a co-op can’t end a contract with a management services company and then immediately hire the staff assigned to the co-op by the company.

– copyright and creative property.  An example of this is a form you develop for your co-op.  In most circumstances, if you develop iton the job this is the property of the co-op and you can’t take it with you nor can you share it without the express consent of   the co-op.   A clause that recognizes joint copyright of any creative work you do would mean you could take the form with you when you change employers or use it in other settings without express consent of your co-op.

Pre-employment expectations:

Prior to actually being hired or as a condition of being hired background checks are being required.   Historically this has been reference checks but in more recent times this has included police background checks and   even credit checks. Contracts and offers of employment often do include the requirement of a successful background check.   Balancing privacy and human rights concerns with the desire of an employer to have an employee they feel they can trust is a difficult one.  As an example, the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of a criminal conviction for which as pardon has been received.  Background checks will often reveal convictions, even if a pardon has been granted.  Depending on the crime, some boards would not hire based on the result of the background check even it violates the code.  (see:


While any agreement is a contract, we tend to use that term to mean  a formal negotiated agreement.   There are other forms of agreement we may be familiar with that deal with matters such as rates of  pay, reporting structures and so forth.  Two that I know that are  common in co-ops are:

– Letters of employment

– Employment Policies

I’ve included a sample letter of employment, available on the CHFC  website. There are long serving staff who have this as their only employment agreement.   It is a very bare bones document but does include most of the items found in more complex, negotiated contracts; It has four basic sections:  (the letter can be found with the staff resources on:

–     Basic Terms of the Agreement

–     Salary and Benefits

–     Work hours and vacations

–     Termination of employment.

Can people identify something common in most contracts that isn’t       included in this letter?

A key thing missing from the agreement is a dispute mechanism.    Problems arise in any workplace and having a way to resolve them short of dismissal is important for both parties.

The sector does have model polices and by-Laws dealing with issues such as  workplace harassment which are very helpful and I encourage all co- ops to adapt.   However, they are documents of the co-op and are not necessarily mutually agreed to by staff and board.  And such policies and documents deal with big issues and not day to day  issues such as differences around the scheduling of time off.

Model Workplace Harassment and Discrimination By-law (2002)

Policy on Workplace Violence and Harassment (June 2010).

The second is a policy dealing with preventing and responding to violence and harassment in the workplace to help co-ops in Ontario meet the   requirement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The sector documents can be found in the member section of the CHFC     website:

Information on the Occupancy Heath and Safety Act can be found at:

A good management side presentation on contracts can be found at:


I’m not sure if housing co-op staff unionising is a GTA phenomena or if it exists elsewhere in the province.   Is anyone here in a  unionised workplace?  About 20% of CoAction’s members are also members of unions.  In the GTA there are co-op housing staff represented by Unifor, Labourers 183, Christian Labour Association of Canada and CUPE Local 1281.

One real advantage to a collective agreement is in the enforcement of the contract.   With an employment letter or a personal contract  the enforcement of the contract lies with you.  Because it is a party to the contract, the responsibility for enforcement is carried by the union.  Staff associations provide support for their  members—sometimes including some paid legal advice and always   including peer support—but the staff association isn’t a party to the contract.

I’ve included for information in the handouts folder a copy of the contract for 43rd Housing Co-op.   We are a unionised workplace.  There are a number of key areas, many similar to that in the Letter of Employment, and some specific to a unionised setting.   Union dues, for example, and seniority are not part of standard letters  of employment.  However, all employment contracts deal with pay and performance expectations.

The first seven articles and the last article are, in essence, the basic terms of the agreement.   They set out the responsibilities  of all parties and the length of the contract.

Articles eight through ten deal with discipline and termination.    What is included in the union contract that is missing in the letter is a dispute mechanism.  Problems can be dealt with through formal and informal steps internal to the co-op.

Article eleven does introduce a new idea—seniority—that is something in most union contracts.   Courts take length of service into account in   dealing with matters such as service pay and damages upon dismissal, which is different from length of service in terms of addressing particular work place issues such as who is laid off first.

Articles twelve through twenty-one and twenty-four and twenty-six       deal with salary and benefits.

Articles twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-five and twenty-seven   deal with seniority, hiring and lay-offs.


– Process

The CHFT/COACTION model contract is an interesting  experiment. It was an effort to find common ground between competing law firms, the local federation and a staff association on how to protect the rights of co-op staff while ensuring co-ops continue to be strong, member run entities.   It took approximately two years to negotiate and, although it needs some updating, still serves as a good basic employment agreement for co-op managers and    co-ordinators, particular in single staff settings.

The basic steps were:

–    Getting CHFT on side

–    Confirming the active participation of lawyers who represent the majority of Toronto housing co-ops

–    Seeking input from CoAction members are what to include and what not to accept.

–    Drafting and redrafting proposals to meet different perspectives

–    Reaching Agreement

Getting CHFT on side was easy.   An earlier model contract, available through the Co-op Housing Bookstore, was in need of  substantive updating.   Co-ops were seeking a model contract that had already been vetted by their lawyers, thus avoiding legal fees while ensuring that co-op boards were taking    employment matters seriously.   The sector as a whole was wanting to have a    reputation as good employers.  And there were federation funds available to pay the co-op lawyers who participated in the process as representatives of housing co-operatives.

Getting two completing law firms to co-operate was a somewhat more difficult task.   Part of this was the different philosophical approaches to employment contracts.  One firm had a more minimalist approach, seeing the need for only basic terms and conditions in an agreement.  They also felt that if there was a   significant workplace problem that the best approach was to    negotiate a finance settlement and part ways.  The other firm had a completely different approach.   They wanted detailed contract that addressed most foreseeable workplace issues from a strong  management rights perspectives.  However, both firms wanted to   be able to provide their clients with a workable model agreement that wouldn’t require much work to meet the needs of individual       co-op employers.  Working out a process with the lawyers was   somewhat difficult and evolved over time.   Ultimately, instead of both firms submitting responses to an issue as was first tried, for most of the process one firm drafted a response and the other responded to it.

CoAction member consultations were extensive and ongoing.  What was clear from the beginning was that our members themselves have different view of their role in a co-op.   Some saw themselves as employees;  others saw themselves as equal stakeholders in the co-operative; some saw their roles as being the equivalent of a CEO.  Finding common ground among co-op               staff wasn’t as easy as it might have appeared at the beginning of the process.   There was less difference on RRSP payments, for example, than on management rights with some wanting strong  restrictions on what boards could do while other members felt that co-op housing member control needed to be encouraged and supported.

There is also a problem that never was addressed—the model contract is for managers/co-ordinators only.  It requires substantial work to be adapted for other positions.

The drafting and redrafting of the proposals was a four sided initiative, although CHFT did not make many suggestions other than Tom Clement pushing for higher RRSP contributions than were originally proposed.  CoAction would draft a section, send it to our lawyer for review.   The revised draft would be sent to the first sector lawyer to draft a response.   That revised response would be sent to the second sector lawyer for review.  That revised version would go to CoAction to review and, if necessary, start the process up again with the newest version.  This sounds more complicated that it was.   Often the hardest part was getting      a document from one lawyer’s desk to another.

– Content

In the folder is the guide and contract in one package and the appendices in a second.  The guide, contract and appendices are meant to be treated as one agreement.

The guide is as essential part of the document.  It deals with options and interpretations of the contact, as well as serving as an introduction on how to use the model contract.  It is particularly important to note the recommended process for changing  from existing agreements to the use of the model contract.

The contract itself is not much different in form than the  employment letter, although it does include a dispute mechanism,   and is fairly short.

It contains:

–    Basic Employment Terms (articles one through five)

–    Performance of Duties (articles six through ten)

–    Supervision (articles eleven through fifteen)

–    Payments and benefits (articles sixteen through nineteen)

–    Hours, Vacation, etc. (articles twenty through thirty-three)

–    Administration of Contract (articles thirty-four through thirty-eight)

–    Complaints and dispute mechanism (articles thirty-nine through forty-three).   Note that this does not include the right to grieve termination, which is found in a union contract.

–    Termination (articles forty-four through forty-six)

–    Other provisions (articles forty-seven and forty-eight)

The shortness of the contact does reflect, in some way, the  preference of one of the legal firms.  It does touch all the  essential basics.   It also refers to a far larger set of documents—a series of essential appendixes that are key to   making the agreement work.   Starting with A and going through EE are the building blocks for making the model contract a living document:

A:    Job Description and Related Information

B:    Start Date of Employment

C:    Ethical Conduct and Confidentiality Agreement by Manager

D:    Staff Liaison, Staff Advocate, Board Directions

E:    Performance Review

F:    Manager’s Salary

G:    Benefits

H:    RRSP

I:   Expenses

J:    Hours of Work and Overtime

K:    Taking Time Off and Holidays

L:    Vacations

M:    Medical Leave

N:    Bereavement Leave

O:    Jury Duty

P:    Manager’s Entitlements During Leave

Q:    Continuing Education

R:    Personnel Records

S:    Confidentiality of Personnel Information

T:    Health and Safety

U:    Personal Use of Co-op Property

V:    Claims Against Manager

W:    Violence, Harassment and Discrimination

X:    Complaints

Y:    Manager Complaints about this Contract (Grievances)

Z:    Discipline

AA:   Alternative Dispute Resolution

BB:   Termination of Employment by Co-op

CC:   Effects of Termination of Employment

DD:   Changing this Contract

EE:   Miscellaneous


Are there other questions directly related to your workplace?



Thanks for the opportunity to share a few thoughts on financing worker controlled enterprises. I am a member/owner of Ganesh Community Development Co-operative, a worker co-op, and a board member of the Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative, which provides loans to a number of social ventures including worker co-operatives.

I have a few points about worker co-ops, and similar initiatives, before I start taking about money.

The first is that new worker co-operatives are more likely to succeed than
other new businesses. According to reports cites on the On Co-op website twice as many co-ops stay in business over a 10 year period than other forms of business.

The second is that new worker co-operatives fail. In can be due to poor planning, personal differences between members, an economic downtown or something unique to the venture. But just because you form a co-op doesn’t mean that it will succeed.

The third point is that whether a worker co-op succeeds or fails, the effort is worthwhile. It is exciting and stressful and always a challenge, but being a part of a worker co-op is taking a real step towards building a new world. As part of a worker co-op we are stating, in the clearest terms possible, that we truly believe that with our brains and muscle we can run the economic world.

With these in mind, let’s touch on one practical aspect of co-op development—money.  Starting a co-op, maintaining a co-op and expanding a co-op our different challenges, but at all stages you’ll need access to funds and other resources. I’m going to touch on four basic sources—the co-op members, the broader community, institutional resources and state resources.

1. Own resources:

Member Shares
Member Loans
Cost Sharing
Skill Sharing

These are the resources that the members of the co-operative bring together.
They reach into their own pockets and use their knowledge and skills to support the enterprise. While things can be done informally, I do think that when money is involved things should be done formally to avoid confusion and lessen one common source of tension.

Most co-operatives require the purchasing of member shares in order to become a member. The share amount can be small or large; the number of shares to be purchased vary from co-op to co-op. But share purchasing is a conscious and active decision—it provides the co-op with needed capital and helps ensures that the member has a real stake in the success of the organisation, a collective responsibility individually expressed. There can be different classes of shares; not all shares need to be ownership shares; shares may pay interest. They are an asset for the co-op

Member loans are different than shares. They are investments in the co-operative and are expected to be able to be paid back, usually bearing interest based on the success of the venture. The amounts can be large or small—the initial member loan at Ganesh is $1,000. Member loans can be far larger—purchasing tools and equipment can be quite expensive. They are a corporate liability but for many co-ops member loans are essential for the co-operative to be able to provide a service or a product.

Cost sharing is a part of the reality of worker co-ops. At Ganesh we contribute 10% of our billings to the organisation to pay for our shared rent and other administrative costs. These shared costs may not always be apparent but each member does share a responsibility not only to the governance of the co-operative but to its financial viability. If they are not built into the cost you charge for the co-operative’s goods and services they still need to be met.

Not everyone in a worker co-op comes in with the same set of skills. Even where specialisation is expected—not everyone can develop a 20 year financial projection or skilfully use a lathe— there needs to always be skill and information sharing in order for good joint decision making to occur. The co-op will find hidden skills and interests among their members—the person who brought financial expertise to the co-op might turn out to be the best coffee roaster—essential for the long term viability of the co-op.

2. Community Resources


Co-ops don’t exist in a vacuum. They need support to develop. In the long term co-ops must provide enough goods and services to be financially viable. However, at several points along the way co-ops may need something more from the community they serve. This includes both money and expertise. Whether it to buy a coffee roaster or equip an office, co-ops will have real needs that the members can’t meet on their own. Co-op members do have to become comfortable with asking those that know or service to share in their work
by providing needed funds.

Loans will need to be backed by some form of collateral, which can include promissory notes from co-op members, and are a liability for the co-op. The paying back of loans, both principle and interest, needs to be built into the operating budget. Supportive individuals will usually expect interest on their loans. Loans shouldn’t be taken out lightly, but are often necessary to have the physical resources necessary for the co-op to actually produce goods or provide services.

Some classes of shares in the co-op can be sold to non-members. They have a modified ownership role in the co-op, but the selling of shares can raise necessary capital. They are usually redeemable, either on demand or in a way outlined in the co-op by-laws. Most shares pay interest, which will have to be built into the operating budget.

Community bonds are a way to raise capital from the broader community. Like other corporate bonds they are usually fixed term investments for a fixed rate of return—-for example $1,000 for five years at five percent. They are usually used for a specified purpose—the purchase of a building—and to raise a specified amount—$250,000 in total issued bonds. The rates and class of bonds can vary.
Issuing of community bonds almost always involves dealing with government regulators in some way. They are a liability for the co-op.

Co-ops do need expertise beyond their members. From developing co-op by-laws to payroll services to audits and legal advice the co-op will need to obtain the services of individuals and firms in the broader community in order to be successful. Consultants can help put funding packages in place, engineers can do building assessments, lawyers can make sure the contracts the co-op enters into are clearly understood by all parties.

3. Institutional Resources

In-kind support

Credit unions, investment co-operatives, banks and organisations like the Community Forward Fund can provide loans to co-ops at any stage of development. As well, there are co-op sector organisation that provide loan and related assitance to worker co-ops. Loans should be asked for when substantial funds are required as the work required to obtain a loan is the same for $25,000 as it is for $750,000. The request for loans need to be very well put together and are often reviewed by committees who have expertise in co-op and grassroots based economic development initiatives. Collateral will be required and the repayment of the loan, both principle and interest, built into the operating budget.

Grants are ideal, but harder to obtain, funds to meet specific operating or capital needs. There are foundations that do make grants to support community economic initatives. The type of application to obtain a loan from a credit union is similar to that required to obtain a grant.

It is rare for a co-op to come across a completely new challenge. Sector organisations can provide help and support to address challenges as they come up. Consultants, who need be paid if they provide help in an ongoing way, can be be found through sector organisations for assistance in everything from long term planning to relationship building with fair trade suppliers.

Over the years community organisations such as FoodShare have provided in-kind support.   From free office space to photocopying to website hosts,in-kind support is invaluable and a practical expression of community solidarity.

4. State Resources


Almost every level of government has a programme or programmes devoted to small business development. Co-ops can obtain help through these programmes for everything from loans to grants. Several government departments have advisors or consultants who will make referrals if they do not have the time or expertise to help.

Online Resources

Canadian Community Economic Development Network:

Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation

Tenacity Works Loan Fund

Alterna Microfinancing

Ontario Catapult Microloan Fund                              

Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative

ON CO-OP (CCA Ontario Region)

CoopZone Developers’ Network Co-operative Network Co-operative

Canadian Co-operative Association Co-op Development Information Service

The International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Cooperatives

Ontario Ministry of Economic Development Guide to Small Businesses

Industry Canada Small Business Financing Programme

Enterprise Toronto


The CHF AGM is the second national co-op AGM I’ve attended this year. The first was the Credit Union Central AGM was a short meeting held over lunch time in a boardroom. The CHF AGM has hundreds of people in a ballroom. The core of the meetings were the same—-annual reports, approving audits, presenting awards and director elections.

I was really impressed by Dr. Kellie Leitch, the parliamentary secretary for
Diane Findley, and the first sitting conservative MP to address a CHFC AGM. I was particularly struck by her advocacy for a housing first approach to meet the needs of the marginalised around us. Most of her talk focused on what the current government has done for co-operative and affordable housing, but on occasion idealism did leak out—a return to the spirit of such former Tory housing advocates as Alan Redway and David Crombie.

There were only two motions circulated in advance of the meetings—both on the theme of responding to the end of operating agreements. I find this a ongoing disappointment for me—-our members have a rare opportunity to share ideas and concerns with housing co-op activists from across the country and rarely use it fully.

Unlike many, I do enjoy the financial reports. I truly believe that the values and passion of an organisation is stated in clear language in financial statements. The CHFC financial statements show that the sector spent a lot of time and money helping co-ops in difficulty, in advocating for new co-operative funding, in providing educational opportunities and in work with other organisations that share a desire for new affordable housing. On a side note, there was a slight increase in the value of the endowment funds at the end of 2012—it was stated that the person most delighted with this news was me.

There is a real chasm between myself and most of the participants at this AGM, like at many such gatherings I have attended over the years. I am not a fan of silly exercises or similar breaks in the flow of the meeting. I do find off colour jokes off putting. And, while I am inspired by the many presenters, it would be great to have enough time set aside to ensure that any late motions or other efforts by individuals to participate in the life of the movement from the floor of the meeting are given sufficient time.

During the course of day there were reports on the work of various committees, including the CHFC Diversity , the Aging in Place Committee and Young/Emerging Leaders committees. Important work is being done that is movement and community building among CHFC’s members which is distinct from that which is focused on the institutional needs and political work of CHFC.

In recent years CHFC has developed a tradition of making an appeal to support the work of a local charity working with the homeless. This year the appeal was to support the work of Emma House. This small charity provides housing and support for homeless pregnant women. I forget, at times, the extent that our society doesn’t care for those in need. While we were reaching into our pockets, I hope we were also reaching into our hearts to commit ourselves to building a world where homeless pregnant women is a historical concept.

While the faces throughout the day were friendly, I did leave the AGM feeling not as at home as I usually do at a co-op gathering. Some of that is due to the changes in Ontario Council and the CHFC Board. I will especially miss working with Judy Collins and Anjala Kulasegaram on Ontario Council and Julie Campbell on the national board. However, part of this is due to the fact that CHFC does seem to have gotten to the cusp of having to truly decide if it is a movement controlled by its members or a central body providing services and direction to stakeholders.

This evening there is a dinner/dance. Last year, for the first time in my many years of coming to the CHF AGM, I attended the dinner—or rather stayed until my tendency to panic in social situations took over. During this week I did test myself in attending, for a least a little while, various socials (albeit socials that had a political undertone). However, I did not suddenly evolve into a social butterfly and will therefore be skipping the dinner/dance again this year.

Tomorrow morning I have meetings of both Ontario Council and the CHFC Board, with the major agenda items being election of officers and appointment of committee members. I then head homewards and back to my normal world of meetings interspersed with work.


Over the years I have found myself woven into the co-operative movement in a number of forums. I have chaired meetings, helped prepare budgets, drafted policies for committees, delivered newsletters and spent a lot of energy in the day to day work of building a co-operative community and to live out the dream of abolishing capitalism in all its forms and replacing it with a co-operative commonwealth. This is in addition to years of efforts on serving on co-operative boards on the local, provincial and national level, where I try to stay firmly rooted in my home co-ops.

As a grassroots focused co-op activist, being a participant in the life of the Credit Union Central of Canada is humbling. The assets of affiliates to Credit Union Central are over $152.5 billion. The challenge of ensuring member control of institutions with such economic resources is substantial.

One organisation I am on the board of—the Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative— is a class c member of Credit Union Central and has sent me on occasion to the annual general meeting of Credit Union Central, where people who find billions of dollars numbers are not a barrier to full participation are the dominate voice, but to whom the co-op principles are essential. The first one I attended was a large gathering in Ottawa, where I was lost in the crowd. This time, I sat in a small board room of people where Denise Guy, the executive director the Canadian Co-operative Association, was a familiar face.

In reports and discussion, the vital importance to the credit union movement of living out the co-op principles to distinguish credit unions from other financial institutions was stressed. The business of the meeting was the same as other annual general meetings—approving the audited financial statements, electing directors, passing resolutions—but there was an underlying sense of shared and mutual stewardship of the resources of millions of people. The Credit Union Central people seek ways to ensure that the individual members of credit unions are valued, that all member investments are not only safe but are used to strengthen our economic and social communities and that the political world in which credit unions function is continually reminded of the credit union difference.

I did have an opportunity to have a brief conversation with Brian Branch, the executive director of the World Council of Credit Unions. Having a rare opportunity to learn about the different expressions of credit unions around the world helped make the meeting unique for me.

I am not a banker; I am not someone whose mind easily grasps billions of dollars. But I understand the co-operative principals. One thing I have taken away from all my experiences with the Credit Union Central is that the co-operative principals have a universal applicability, indeed are key statements of different values from those that seem to dominate our political and economic world.