For financial institutions looking to create deep and lasting impact, worker cooperatives are a powerful tool for economic and community development. They reduce inequality by allowing a greater segment of the population to build assets through business ownership. They combat poverty by providing access to employment for marginalized populations. And they strengthen local economies by rooting businesses in their communities.
On April 23, worker cooperative leaders from around the country will convene in Denver for Worker Cooperatives in Focus, a day of events co-hosted by the Democracy at Work Institute and the National Center for Employee Ownership. This exciting event will address a range of cooperative development topics centered on bringing the worker cooperative movement to scale, including cooperative ownership transitions, capital access, and the intersection of worker cooperatives and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).
The idea of selling a business to its employees and converting it to a worker owned cooperative is gaining traction as a viable succession strategy. It is a strategy that saves jobs, builds community wealth, and empowers workers to own and manage their own business. Worker cooperatives differ from other business entity types in that they are owned and democratically controlled by their workers, and workers share in the risk and reward of operating the business.
On March 18, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio continued his public support of worker cooperatives as a tool to address economic inequality, signing into law the first ever piece of city legislation to require a city's economic development arm to track municipal support of worker cooperatives. This bill is another highlight in a campaign by the New York City Worker Cooperative Coalition to increase city support for worker ownership. It follows a $1.2 million dollar investment last summer to fund the development of worker cooperatives, the largest to date by a city government.
Worker cooperatives have increasingly drawn attention from the media, policy makers and academics in recent years. Individual cooperatives across the country have been highlighted, and substantive studies have been conducted of the worker cooperative experience in other countries, including Spain, Italy, France, Canada and Argentina. But what do we know about worker cooperatives in the US as a whole?
This resource is intended to give small business support organizations a background on how the worker cooperative model can help entrepreneurs reach their dreams.
After working with professionals to determine which entity type is right for your worker cooperative, the next step is to work with professionals to develop your governing documents. Bylaws and operating agreements should include high-level information about the governance of the organization. They clarify and codify the democratic governance and ownership of your cooperative, help provide a structure through which the cooperative can grow, and provide a last resort for conflict resolution if relationships break down.
This research paper summarizes an examination of the National Establishment Time Series (NETS) dataset for North Carolina and Iowa to gauge the potential for conversions of existing businesses to worker cooperatives. The data demonstrate that the potential is quite large, and that even if only a fraction of these successfully converted to worker ownership and continued to operate at their last year levels, there would be meaningful economic impacts.
The Democracy at Work Institute/USFWC Press Kit includes information about worker cooperatives, why they are important, examples of existing cooperatives and development organizations, city government initiatives, frequently asked questions, and more.
Becoming Employee-Owned is a guide for business owners interested in employee ownership. It provides an overview of the three primary transition approaches for employee ownership: worker cooperatives, ESOPs, and management buy-outs. Regardless of what stage the business is in--from expansion to succession planning-- this resource can help business owners understand their options for becoming an employee-owned company.