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New trades co-op breaks ground, seeks members

Multi-stakeholder co-op to give customers dividends

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Garth Tohms has taken his vision and incorporated it, literally, in hopes it will now create a more equitable reality for immigrants and low-income workers.

Together with plumber Adam Coey and electrician Devin Garner, Tohms created a multi-stakeholder co-op – something that only became possible in Manitoba last June when the province amended The Co-operatives Act.

Tohms believes their co-op, which brings tradespeople and customers under one roof, is the first of its kind worldwide.

"Our main purpose is to create work in our communities, and have money stay in these communities instead of, you know, all the big plumbing and heating companies nowadays, they’re all owned by big places out of Toronto," said Tohms, 43, who calls Winnipeg’s West End home.

Incorporated as The Master Trades Co-op Initiative Ltd., the plan is to assemble tradespeople and labourers to do building construction, renovation, and repairs. Those workers buy a co-op share for $25 and are paid a "fair wage," Tohms said.

Customers hiring the co-op will have an option to also buy a share, which adds them to the stakeholder mix. At year-end, Tohms explains, a 12-member board will look at the co-op’s financial situation, and a portion of the profits will be paid as dividends to customers.

"Just like you would with Red River Co-op when you buy gas, except we do it for renovations."

Beyond workers and customers, there’s also a "supporter class," Tohms said, which costs $25 but doesn’t give the holder a vote or dividends. It’s for people who are like-minded about the concept of not only keeping the fruits of labour local, but who want to show support for the co-op’s mandate of creating opportunities for newcomers and low-income people.

"I specifically have a passion, I want to help newcomers who come to Canada and their qualifications aren’t recognized," Tohms said.

Garner echoed that sentiment, saying he’s met many people in Canada whose trade skills are recognized in their country of origin but not here.

"It’s another way to help them get into society and contribute…that’s one of the mandates," Garner said.

Another mandate for the co-op will be to employ workers who have traditionally only done low-income work.

"We can start them off as a labourer at a fair wage because, now, we’re sharing the money, right? We’re not giving the money to one guy," Tohms said, "we can pay those guys a little more (and) they can slowly learn a trade."

Tohms said they’re now on the hunt for workers and tradespeople, especially carpenters and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) people.

The customers they had when they were in business for themselves are staying with them, and they’ve secured a contract with a "large coffee chain" Tohms isn’t ready to name.

He thinks frugal Winnipeggers will flock to hire the co-op knowing they can get a dividend on the money they spend, and his visions are now ones of growth and possibility.

"Eventually I’d love to see this become a big thing, you know, 100 employees doing apartment buildings and starting housing co-ops for refugees."

The co-op can be found online at
www.mastertradesco-op.ca

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