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 currently a 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.



Lela Klein joined our team in August and is now leading our focus on manufacturing opportunities in Southwest Ohio. We are kicking off a study of small to medium size manufacturers that are facing succession crises and for whom selling to their employees through the worker ownership model makes sense. She will also be investigating opportunities for supply chain opportunities for start-up co-operatives. Additionally, Lela serves on the executive committee of the Greater Dayton Union Co-op Initiative (GDUCI).

Before this, she spent seven years as a practicing labor attorney, serving as General Counsel of IUE-CWA, the Industrial Division of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), a Law Fellow at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and as a Staff Attorney at James and Hoffman PC. Lela holds a JD from Harvard Law School and a BA from Cornell University. Prior to law school, she worked as an organizer for SEIU in the healthcare division, and as a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood of Illinois. She lives in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio with her partner Bobby Holt and their two children.



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
Manufacturing Division Organizing Coordinator, IUE-CWA

Brian Frank, Treasurer

Cynthia Pinchback Hines, Education Chair

Don Barker, Fundraising Chair

Phil Amadon, Founding Member
Labor Council Delegate

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

Lawrence Olberding
Executive Secretary, Greater Cincinnati Building & Construction Trades Council