Over the summer, staff members from the worker-owned and operated cooperative recruited, trained, and hired 15 Mission District residents who will have the opportunity to become owners. Community-based organizations helped with the outreach and many of those chosen are immigrant community organizers.
“We don’t want to just be a Valencia Street business,” said Melissa Hoover, staff member with the Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives, who led effort with the aim of avoiding being another “gentrifying force”
“We wanted to anchor jobs in the community,” she said.
These aren’t just any jobs. After six months of intensive training in business finance, organizational skills and food production, employees become worker-owners and are expected to buy into the business, essentially sealing their ownership to the bakery.
The new owners decide their wages and benefits. At Arizmendi on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland, a 12-year-old worker cooperative, members make $19.65 an hour, have full medical and dental benefits, and get four weeks of vacation a year.
It’s a model community organizers here envision for their largely immigrant and disenfranchised base.
“We felt it was our obligation to inform our membership about this opportunity,” said Oscar Grande, an organizer with People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights, known by its acronym PODER.
Grande was at first wary that Arizmendi would only cater to the “predominantly white, young, college educated population” living alongside the neighborhood’s historically Latino and immigrant residents.
“Do we demand that they make pan dulce?” said Grande jokingly.
As it turns out, the bakery will serve up bolillos – a traditional bread from Mexico that resembles a baguette – as well as Mexican chocolate chip cookies.
“We’re not trying to compete with the neighborhood panaderies (bakeries),” said Hoover of their proposed baked goods, “but we do want to offer things that are appealing.”
And Grande has been pleasantly surprised with what Arizmendi has already had to offer.
Hoover met with the nonprofits here to reach different sectors of the Mission. Together, they created outreach material in both English and Spanish, and held six orientation sessions that overall drew roughly 500 people from around the neighborhood.
Of the 260 applications — about three times the number they’ve received in the upstart of their other bakeries — about half were from community members with some affiliation to nonprofit groups including Grande’s PODER, the Mission Economic Development Agency and Young Workers United.
“There was an overwhelming response,” said Grande.
Leidy Fernandez, 23-years-old and a Peruvian immigrant, is one of the new hires. Like others, she’s worked in restaurants and hotels, which is the kind of experience Arizmendi makes explicit in its application forms. She’s also been a youth organizer with PODER since she graduated high school — a skill Hoover has found essential and uncommon.
“We’re looking for cooperative experience and that’s one of the hardest things to find,” said Hoover. “A lot of community organizers have that experience.”
Community organizers hope these same employees will be a bridge to learn from the bakery’s business expertise.
“It’s exciting because it’s something new in our toolkit,” said Grande, referring to Arizmendi’s cooperative work model as a “strategy” that can be implemented to create new worker cooperatives with their memebership base.
“Of course I’d like to share,” said 23-year-old Fernandez, “but little by little because there’s a lot to learn.”
Hoover said the new group of 15 employees is the youngest cohort they’ve had yet — all are under 30. The youngest is 19.
“Everyone we hired, including the youngest, brings a level of maturity and contribution to the group,” said Hoover. “The really great thing about this group is their organizing and food service experience.”
The group is currently meeting once a week at Plaza Adelante as they undergo 12 weeks of training before Arizmendi’s grand opening.
In a couple of weeks they’ll transition from organizational and business finance training to production training at the bakery, where they’ll begin getting paid $12 an hour. Hoover said the wage is based on the maximum wage a startup business can sustain in the first months after opening. Once the individuals in the group get voted in as worker-owners, they collectively decide on whether to increase or decrease their wage and benefits.
And while Hoover’s positive of Arizmendi’s future prospects in the Mission, she’s still cautious of the business side of things.
“Anytime you start a business it’s a lot of hard work and there’s always a risk and we try to tell people that,” said Hoover.
Arizmendi opened a fourth location in San Rafael this month.
The cooperative had its sights set on the Mission for years, but the timing never worked. The economic downturn created a window of opportunity — lowered real estate prices and increased vacancies —- that didn’t exists four years ago.
“We’re really excited about being here and we hope to be one of those community institutions that draw everybody,” said Hoover.