Kristen Barker is a social entrepreneur and the President and Co-Founder of the Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative (CUCI). She leads participatory education with co-op workers, helps determine feasibility of potential co-ops, helps co-ops access capital, and helps existing business owners interested in succession determine if selling their business to their employees is feasible. She hosts delegations from around the country and helps adopt the Mondragon model to the U.S. cultural context. She is a 2016-18 BALLE fellow (Business Alliance for Local and Living Economies.)

Prior to working full-time for the union co-op movement with Mondragon North America/MAPA, she spent 12 years at the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center fostering faith, labor & community partnerships. She is the mother of a resilient daughter with special needs. She is a lifelong Cincinnati resident (except 2 years in El Salvador) and a Xavier graduate.


Director of Development and Co-op Organizing

Ellen Vera is a Co-founder of CUCI, developing worker owned cooperatives since 2011. Ellen oversees fundraising for the organization and the organizing of new co-op efforts through which she is leading the launch of CUCI’s education arm, Co-op U. Ellen passionately works to create family sustaining worker owned businesses, and her strengths lie in overseeing the cooperative development process including feasibility studies and business plans, the capitalization campaign, community engagement, and the initial management of cooperative enterprises.

Prior to working for CUCI, she worked as a labor organizer for 10 years, as the National Organizing Coordinator for the manufacturing arm of the Communication Workers of America and for the United Food and Commercial Workers. Ellen has an MBA from Northern Kentucky University and is the new mom of a beautiful baby boy.


Project Manager, Childcare co-op organizing


Christina D. Brown joined the staff in 2018 to explore the possibilities of the shared services model in childcare.  She will be responsible for working with various stakeholders to study and pilot strategies that are designed to create viable childcare opportunities.

Prior to her arrival she spent five years at the Office of Human Relations where she worked with communities throughout Cincinnati to  promote anti racism, anti sexism and all forms of anti oppression through dialogue, community building and education. She is a proud alumna of the University of Cincinnati where she earned her BA in Africana Studies and Political Science. Brown is currently completing her graduate studies at Miami University through the Transformative Education program with hopes to some day earn her PhD.



Maria Dienger volunteered on and off for CUCI since its beginnings and officially joined our team in July of 2016. She is leading the social media efforts, maintains online communication platforms and leads graphic design efforts.

Before this, she graduated with her bachelor degree in Urban Planning from the University of Cincinnati in 2014. While in school, she interned for several urban design firms and community planning organizations and was hired by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co, an architect and town planning firm, after graduation. So passionate about the union co-op movement, she traveled back to her favorite city in the world, Cincinnati! In her free time, she enjoys playing ultimate frisbee, making pottery, tinkering on the piano, gardening & cooking.



Chloe Kaplan graduated from Whitman College with her degree in Spanish in May 2016. Her family has a history of working in nonprofits and she is excited to continue the legacy with her work at CUCI. When she’s not working, she sends thrift store postcards, swing dances and plays the electric bass.





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

Sam Dunlap
Waterfields LLC

David McLean
Subdistrict Director, USW

Petee Talley
Executive Secretary Treasurer, Ohio AFL-CIO

Phil Amadon, Founding Member
Labor Council Delegate