Kristen Barker is a social entrepreneur and the President and Co-Founder of the Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative (CUCI) and is a Co-Founder of 1worker1vote. She designs and leads participatory education events with English- and Spanish-speaking co-op workers, and helps worker-owners make their businesses more successful. Kristen also helps our design team determine the feasibility of potential co-op businesses, helps retiring business owners determine whether they can sell their business to their employees, and helps viable co-ops access the capital they need to leverage their ideas.

Kristen has done groundbreaking work in adopting the Mondragon model to the U.S. context, and hosts delegations from around the country, including the participants in our semi-annual Union Co-op Symposium. Kristen is a 2016-2018 Business Alliance for Local and Living Economies (BALLE) Fellow.

Before becoming CUCI’s Executive Director, she worked for 12 years fostering partnerships between people of faith, union members, and community members of diverse backgrounds. Kristen is a graduate of Xavier University and a lifelong Cincinnati resident—except for two years in El Salvador! Kristen is a single mother of a resilient daughter with special needs.


Director of Development and Co-op Organizing


Ellen Vera has organized people from diverse backgrounds to improve their workplaces for more than a decade, and became a Co-Founder of CUCI and of 1worker1vote in 2011to develop a more sustainable model of organizing, economic democracy and wealth-building with marginalized communities. Ellen oversees new co-op organizing projects, the launch of CUCI’s education arm, Co-op U, and makes sure we have the resources we need to be successful.

Ellen’s experience as part of a family with mixed immigration status deepens her perspective and her passion for organizing with immigrant worker-owners and worker-owners of color. Prior to accepting a position with CUCI, she helped people organize and strengthen their labor unions, as the National Organizing Coordinator for the manufacturing arm of the Communication Workers of America, and for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75.

Ellen earned a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Northern Kentucky University, which she uses to oversee our design team’s work producing feasibility studies, business plans, capitalization campaigns and the initial management of cooperative enterprises.



Maria Dienger brings her training and experience in urban planning to CUCI—where she has the opportunity to address Cincinnati’s most pressing needs by supporting the worker-owners who are coming up with creative solutions.

Maria is a true team player, willing and able to take on interim roles in operations management, in between leading our online communications and graphic design work, and developing the strategy for our new housing cooperative, Renting Partnerships.

In her free time, Maria is an accomplished potter, and a passionate gardener, pianist and ultimate frisbee player.


Financial Analyst and Co-op Business Consultant


Andrés Contreras is a Venezuelan social entrepreneur who brings his savvy for financial modeling and business strategy to our team. He also brings the nuts-and-bolts skills of a mechanical engineer and the passion of the former President of student government.

Andrés develops financial models to assess the viability of businesses interested in converting to employee ownership. He also provides creative alternatives and recommendations to reduce costs, improve financial performance, and improve viability of our cooperative businesses.

Andrés was the first MBA student at Cincinnati’s Xavier University to add a concentration in Private Interest and Public Good to his MBA. In his free time, you can find Andrés dancing salsa, merengue, or out for a nice long run.


Board of Directors

Katy Heins, Chair
Senior Field Organizer,
Center for Community Change

Kristen Barker, President
Executive Director, CUCI

Flequer Vera, Vice Chair
CEO, Sustainergy Cooperative

Ellen Vera, Secretary
Director of Development, CUCI

Brian Frank, Treasurer

Cynthia Pinchback Hines, Education Chair

Don Barker, Fundraising Chair

Pete McLinden
Secretary-Treasurer, Cincinnati AFL-CIO

Gary Hines
President, NAACP of Hamilton/Fairfield/West Chester and Liberty Townships

Reginald Tomas Lee
Faculty Member, Xavier University, Management & Entrepreneurship Department

Jamie Love

Program Officer, Interact for Health

David McLean
Subdistrict Director, USW

Petee Talley
Executive Secretary Treasurer, Ohio AFL-CIO

Phil Amadon, Founding Member
Labor Council Delegate