During his decades of work in the apparel industry, Kevin O’Brien was twice asked by his boss to tell his fellow workers they weren’t getting paid- which he now remembers as some of the worst days of his life. Each time, he vowed to do business differently, do it better, and do it cooperatively.
In 2014, he co-founded Worx Printing, a union co-op printing shop, and in December of this year Worx will celebrate 200 straight months of making payroll for their growing team.
Because of their co-op structure, Democracy at Work began printing our merch with Worx. Check out our store to see Worx printing all of our [email protected] merchandise!
Watch Kevin O’Brien tell the story of Worx Printing on this week’s episode of All Things Co-op.
When [email protected] first wanted to print merch, we thought it would be impossible because of the fashion industry. However, our media director Maria found this small co-op in Worcester, MA and that was Worx! From the very first conversation, and seeing as O’Brien was already a fan of Economic Update, we knew it would be a great working relationship. With Worx, we’re able to sell merch in a responsible way that fundraises for us and supports a cooperative enterprise!
Worx is an on-demand print shop. That means when you order a t-shirt from our store, a unionized worker-owner picks a single shirt in your size and color choice, prints your chosen design, places it in its delivery envelope, and sends it on its way to you.
“The printed t-shirt is like the last form of advertising that’s not controlled by some conglomerate. It's a way of individual expression that you're accountable for.”
The union co-op model can be confusing. If all the workers are the owners, how would a union protect workers' rights and interests from themselves?
But as O’Brien explained, individuals living in the capitalist system face constant pressures and negotiate with themselves every day. Small business decisions can often lead a well-intentioned group astray from their commitment to each other. He sees their union as a coach with 100+ years of experience in being a fair and independent arbiter who helps keep their own labor value protected from capitalist pressures.
“I think it's a very healthy exercise to go through (whether or not you choose to be a union or not) is to talk to a labor person and kind of check yourself: are you doing the right thing for every individual?”
If you’re inspired to show off your support of co-ops, check out the [email protected] Merchandise Store, where everything is printed by Worx.