Cooperative fans and caffeine aficionados rejoiced when White Electric Coffee at 711 Westminster Street reopened in May. Over the past year, a group of former employees from Providence’s beloved coffee shop formed the worker-owned CUPS Cooperative and purchased the business from the former owner.
Worker-owner Chloe Chassaing joined Local Return directors Raul Figueroa and Josh Daly to talk about the transition. While customers probably won’t see much of a change, Chloe said, “Internally it does feel differently, because we all have a stake, have a voice, have shared decision making power and responsibilities. We’re all just personally more invested, and it feels really good. It feels like we’re modeling on a small scale some of the things we’d like to see in society.”
The group looked to a cooperative structure because they’re known to be more resilient while also offering better wages and greater dignity. And there’s an added bonus for customers: you can know that the workers you encounter are receiving living wages. “All the people you see behind the counter there working are all the co-owners,” noted Chloe, “and they’re all the ones making the decisions, and they’re all the ones benefiting from your purchase of that bagel with cream cheese and avocado.”
Worker-owned cooperatives are still new to Rhode Island, so there are lots of eyes on CUPS. Chloe credited a number of local organizations for helping them get off the ground (shout out, Fuerza Laboral, Rhode Island SBDC, the Center for Employee Ownership, Fortnight, and Urban Greens!), as well as cooperative lenders like the Cooperative Fund of New England and the Fund for Jobs Worth Owning, and national resources like the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives.
So visit White Electric Coffee to enjoy a great cup of coffee and delicious locally-made pastry and support one of Rhode Island’s first worker-owned cooperatives.