The Year Of The Co-op: New Survey Reveals Americans View Co-ops More Favorably Than For-Profit Businesses
On October 31, 2011, the United Nations proclaimed 2012 to be “The International Year of Cooperatives (IYC).” The world body uses this annual designation to help bring attention to what it believes are some of the world’s most critical issues. On its IYC website, it praises the cooperative model for its contributions towards ending world poverty, and encourages more groups to embrace this “alternative means of doing business.”
Co-ops benefit communities around the globe by offering employees a living wage with favorable working conditions, and by promoting social integration and sound environmental policies.
Co-ops have recently enjoyed something of a resurgence in the U.S. as its economy has continued to sputter. Worker pay has remained on the decline for decades, and a corporate hijacking of U.S. democracy has left the public distrustful of the 1% who appear to be living large off the pain, suffering and disempowerment of the 99%.
‘Social injustice’ has become the buzzword to define America’s new economic reality.
In just the last few years, Americans have watched in horror as laissez faire Capitalism wreaked havoc, with impunity, on their communities. From Wall Street corruption bringing the entire financial system to its knees, and those responsible profiting from the calamity they engineered, to BP & Halliburton’s gross negligence resulting in 200 million gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf, and creating a catastrophe so severe that two full years later the sea life there can only be described as “horribly mutated creatures.”
The public’s faith in for-profit ‘free’ markets has understandably waned. Even Republican ‘word doctor’ Frank Luntz recently cautioned that ‘Capitalism’ is now a dirty word, and he advised Republicans to stop using it.
As a result, non-profit cooperative businesses have experienced a groundswell of new interest from people eager to work for, and/or spend their money at more community-conscious companies.
Last Fall, the Occupy Wall Street movement spearheaded “Bank Transfer Day,” where hundreds of thousands of Americans closed out their accounts at ‘for-profit’ banks and moved their money to ‘non-profit’ cooperative credit unions.
And now, the results of a new national survey reveal just how favorably Americans view non-profit cooperatives when compared to for-profit businesses. Not only do they prefer the community-driven values these co-ops represent, they prefer their products and services to those of for-profit companies:
According to the survey, nearly one-third of all Americans belong to consumer cooperatives. Seventy-two percent of Americans believe cooperatives are “helpful to consumers,” while only eleven percent believe they are “unhelpful.”
Last week, following the release of the survey results, the White House invited 150 cooperative leaders to its weekly “community leaders briefing.” The co-op leaders were from all different sectors of the economy, and they educated administration officials about the large role co-ops have played in helping to put Americans back to work.
Whereas corporations — being required to maximize shareholder value by maximizing profits — have been outsourcing American jobs to developing countries for cheap labor and nonexistent environmental and labor laws, non-profit co-ops have been employing Americans, because their core responsibility is to their customers, their employees, and their communities.
Attendee Liz Bailey, who is interim president and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association, had this to say about the White House briefing:
Every day cooperatives around the U.S. are stimulating the economy and we are pleased to have the opportunity to discuss our successes in job creation and ways to use the cooperative model to continue to strengthen communities large and small.
Two million jobs are generated each year as a direct result of cooperatives, which illustrates the incredible impact that these organizations have on local economies.
Recently, M.I.T. professor and author Noam Chomsky urged the Occupy Movement to mobilize for community-centric cooperatives. He told Laura Flanders that one way to target private power in the U.S. would be to help promote companies with stakeholder-based cooperative models, rather than those with shareholder-based corporate models.
With over 29,000 cooperatives in the U.S., ranging from local businesses (grocery stores, coffee shops, movie theaters, daycare centers, health care, etc.) to Fortune 500 companies, there are many to choose from. Several of the bigger co-ops in the U.S. include: Associated Press (AP), Land O’ Lakes, Sunkist, Ace Hardware, Ocean Spray, REI (Recreational Equipment Inc), Southern States, True Value Hardware …
By becoming more ‘conscientious consumers’ and choosing cooperatives, Americans will help to promote the core values that co-ops espouse. And if corporations begin to see their customers fleeing to cooperatives, they will be forced to reconsider their own business practices to lure them back.
It might take another ‘Bank Transfer Day’–style mobilization effort to really entice a large enough number to participate, and to generate the press required to start a new national discussion; that discussion being “what business model (corporate v cooperative) ACTUALLY benefits Americans? Which model’s core principles ensure that jobs are never outsourced, and customers are never taken advantage of, and the environment is never polluted? Which model’s core principles amounts to little more than turning as big and as quick a profit as possible for its owners?”
With the nation’s democracy now effectively hijacked by the corporatocracy, it begins to dawn on you that a vote with your dollars is now the only vote that counts. But surprisingly enough, that can still feel rather empowering.
Bank Transfer Day: Simple Step-By-Step Guide To Finding A Credit Union And Ditching Your Greedy Bank
November Fifth is officially ‘Bank Transfer Day’ — a day when tens-of-thousands of Americans plan to collectively transfer all their money from the corrupt and greedy Wall Street banks to not-for-profit, cooperative credit unions.
The steps involved in this process, however, can present some potential challenges to overcome. The key to a happy November Fifth will be to get all your ducks in a row, in advance.
Here are answers to some of the most common questions, which will hopefully help to make Bank Transfer Day a seamless and politically-rewarding experience for all who participate:
Q: I am not a government employee, so would I even qualify to join a credit union?
A: YES. Each and every credit union qualifies its members based on an entirely different set of criteria.
Some credit unions are available to specific government or company employees; others are open to anyone who resides within a specific locale or county. Many are open to members of associations, to students, to college alumni, etc.
In a move to increase memberships, a number of credit unions have taken to affiliating with associations that ANYONE can join just by paying a small one-time association fee. Joining the association qualifies you to become a member-for-life at the credit union, with no obligation to even remain a member of the qualifying association.
The third largest credit union in the country, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, and GTE Federal Credit Union are two such credit unions, open to ANYONE who first pays a small fee to sign up with a qualifying association.
Where to begin: First check with your employer’s HR department (check your employee benefits folder) to see if membership to a particular credit union is an option. Or if you are a student or alumni of any college/university, check their websites (sometimes it is listed as a perk in the alumni section).
Tools you can use: A Smarter Choice and Find A Credit Union are both search tools which help you to quickly discover new credit unions you qualify for. Essentially, you query one of many different types of qualifying affiliations, including: company, city, school, university, church, association, occupation, zip code, etc.
Once you have found the credit unions you are qualified to join, go to their respective websites and compare their services, products and fees to find the one that best meets your needs.
Some things to compare: Do they offer online banking? What are their fees, if any, for checking and savings accounts? Do they have bricks and mortar locations near you? If not, do they charge fees to use other institutions’ ATM machines? Do they offer attractive CD rates, credit card rates, or auto and mortgage loan rates?
Q: Did the mortgage meltdown of 2008 affect the financial health of American credit unions? If so, should I be concerned?
A: YES. In fact federal regulators have filed multi-million dollar lawsuits against banks like Goldman Sachs for peddling toxic-mortgage securities (designated with AAA credit ratings) to credit unions, causing five large ones to fail.
Tools you can use: Credit Union Star Rankings reports the financial health of all the credit unions. This free tool is offered by Bauer Financial, an independent bank research firm which provides data used by St. Petersburg Times (creator of PolitiFact.com) for its BankWatch ratings site. **Note: Bauer recommends joining credit unions with 4-star and 5-star ratings.
Q: How is the customer service at these credit unions? Are they better or worse than corporate banks?
A: Even though credit unions as a group have a reputation for providing great customer service, every credit union is different.
Tools you can use: Google. You will DEFINITELY want to search the internet for customer reviews and ratings of the credit unions you are considering joining.
Q: I have now found the credit union I intend to join. Should I just close out my corporate bank account on November 5th, and then proceed to open my credit union account?
A: NO. VERY IMPORTANT: Find a credit union and open your account in advance of closing your bank account on November 5th. This will help you to avoid a whole host of potential headaches.
If, hypothetically, you must first enroll in a qualifying association, it could be a week or more before you can get your credit union account up and running.
If, hypothetically, the credit union you plan on joining doesn’t have a bricks-and-mortar location near you, then you’ll probably go through an online application process. Often this will require sending them, via snail-mail, an original hand-signed document. You’ll also need for them to issue you a new ATM card.
These kinds of situations can take time, leaving you without access to cash, and unable to pay monthly bills. So, first open your credit union account, then proceed to transfer the rest of the money on or before November 5th.
Other issues that should be addressed BEFORE Bank Transfer Day:
- Automatic Debits: Any monthly debits to your bank checking account — often by utility companies, mortgage companies, student loan processing companies, etc. — need to be canceled prior to closing out your account.
- Automatic Bill-Pay: If you pay your monthly bills using an online bill-paying service that uses your bank checking account as its source of funds, use your credit card or your new credit union account as your new source of funds, so that you don’t miss any payment due dates.
- Automatic deposits (paycheck): If your employer automatically deposits paychecks into your current bank account each pay cycle, be sure to instruct your HR Dept to begin depositing into your new credit union account.
On November Fifth, you should now feel confident to either march into your corporate bank and close out your account, or to sign into your new credit union’s online banking system and transfer all the money from the corporate bank (using its account# and routing#) into your new credit union account. But don’t forget that it often takes a couple business days for the money to clear, regardless of the method you use.
Nothing is more satisfying than voting your conscience with your feet and your dollars. So, here’s to November Fifth, when the banks will learn that this country is and always will be ‘for and by the people’!
In the comment section, below, I have begun to list credit unions (with decent health ratings) that will qualify members based on the area they live, work, worship, or, attend school, or as long as they pay a small fee (towards a qualifying association).