The Staffing Cooperative, a Baltimore-based, worker-owned holding company, follows an alternative business model to those used by traditional staffing firms, one that looks to balance worker interests with business needs.
"The problem was that staffing firms push down the rights of workers," said Chief Coordinating Officer Joseph Cureton. "Businesses get unmotivated workers who know what this game is about."
During a community call last Thursday arranged to pitch potential investors and partners, The Staffing Cooperative laid out a vision for one way to change the staffing model. The company controls Core Staffing, a staffing cooperative of formerly incarcerated worker-owners, and Tribe, a staffing cooperative for worker-owners with specialized tech skills.
Core Staffing formed before Tribe or the larger holding company, Cureton said. It came out of the idea that there is a community imperative to "fight to commonly share the work and the burden of getting a job," he said. For many formerly incarcerated workers, staffing agencies are often the first place to find a job, but Cureton said the arrangement is not always optimal for workers or employers.
The worker-owners, or "members," at both cooperatives keep 75% of the rate charged to clients for their work, a far greater percentage than allotted to workers at traditional firms, according to Cureton. Members control business decisions at these cooperatives based on a one-person, one-vote system, and they outnumber investors on the company's nine-seat board, he said. Right now there are seven seats for members and two for investors.
"The responsibility that I got from Core was how to get money, keep money and just basically get the family and support people in need," said Tim Harris, a member with Core Staffing. Cureton said that Core members have a 0% recidivism rate and many find full-time positions with clients, which he noted does not adversely impact the firm's ability to retain talent.
Cindy Truitt of Humanim, one of Core's clients, said the firm's approach to staffing helped Baltimore culinary startup CitySeeds scale without compromising its commitment to economic equality. Tribe client Liz Kofman-Burns of diversity and inclusion startup Peoplism said highly skilled temp labor was a must for her.
"We obviously think diversity is incredibly important," said Kofman-Burns, who hired Tribe to help her develop an AI solution for interviewing. "It was incredible to have someone with that level of expertise to work on a contractor basis."
According to a prediction from Staffing Industry Analysts, the staffing industry will grow 4% in 2019. As industry revenues continue to increase and employers come to rely on contingent workers for more than picking up temporary slack or executing short-term projects, it could force talent professionals to scrutinize the potential ethical implications of this type of sourcing.
According to at least one study, gig workers made up roughly 20% of the workforce at a majority of U.S. and U.K. companies, but not all workers are satisfied with their status. High profile stories, for example, have detailed the efforts of some tech sector gig workers to advocate for employee protections and higher pay. In May, The New York Times found that Google's contract workers outnumbered its employees.
"The so-called gig economy is unfortunately a fact of life, and though it's supposed to be sharing, I think it turns out to be more extractive than anything else," Mario Noble, a user experience architect and a member with The Staffing Cooperative, said on the call. "I really believe innovation is not just technological innovation, but social innovation," he continued, adding that he sees their staffing model as the beginning of an industry-wide transformation.