Co-operative Cleaners of Ontario Harnesses the Power of Worker Co-ops

By Kenzie Love

Co-operative Cleaners of Ontario (CCOO) began in 2019 when Janet Bennett-Cox, the Co-op’s Vice President, stumbled upon an upcoming event organized by the Women’s Multicultural Resource and Counselling Centre (WMRCC) in Durham. The organization had received funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to establish worker co-operatives, and CCOO was one of the beneficiaries.

Jennifer Miller, CCOO’s President, had experience with the co-op sector as property manager for a housing co-op, but found the concept of worker co-ops new and intriguing, as did several other women who’d already forged a connection through their membership in a newly formed non-profit organization, Balanced Living and Community Keepers Society (BLACKS). The idea of being able to establish a business where co-operation would be a key value appealed to Miller.

“It’s a lot of work, not just the cleaning, but the setup,” she says. “Getting all the bylaws, getting all the policies. It is a lot of work. So for me, (the attraction) was that the end result would be a group of us – cleaning together, learning together, working on our own business together. So I thought that was very interesting.”

Over three years into its journey as a worker co-op, CCOO has worked to distinguish itself from other cleaning services by using natural, eco-friendly cleaning products and providing a customer satisfaction guarantee. The Co-op isn’t just about cleaning, but also about establishing relationships with customers while at the same providing members of marginalized groups with meaningful work. While the Co-op isn’t in a position to offer dividends to its members yet, it’s working towards this goal, while still offering a sense of ownership to its members in the meantime.

“Just knowing that you built this, really that’s the most rewarding part,”  says Miller. “Just knowing that a group of us got together and we did this.”

Miller says that while the basics of running a business such as scheduling have been straightforward, issues such as having proper bylaws and policies in places are more complicated, and she advises others looking at establishing a co-op to pay attention to these before they’re too far along.

“Before you get together, decide what you really need to set things up,” she says. “And seek out folks that can help you. It’s just understanding business, and knowing what you need to make it work. And finding a way to get some advice or some help, instead of beating your heads against the wall, trying to figure it out.”

While growth will be a key focus of CCOO in the coming years, it also wants to be able to give back to the community, perhaps in the form of establishing a scholarship or hosting a workshop about worker co-ops so others understand how rewarding belonging to one can be.