On June 13 and 14 in Washington, DC, many of the nation’s leading experts in employee ownership, sustainable business and finance, community and economic development, and philanthropy came together in a Learning + Design session. Co-hosts for the meeting were Marjorie Kelly and Jessica Bonanno of The Democracy Collaborative and Camille Kerr of Democracy at Work Institute. The purpose of the session was to discuss how to achieve unprecedented scale of employee ownership by focusing on achieving an audacious goal: 50 million U.S. employee-owners by 2050.
The Democracy at Work Institute publishing program was created to develop practical resources, conduct research, and promote the thinking of cooperative developers and worker-owners. We will develop tools and resources to promote best practices for worker cooperatives, developers, and those interested in worker cooperatives as a tool for economic and community development. Our foundational research program will cover everything from a census of the number and type of worker cooperatives and cooperative development efforts, to research on access to capital for worker cooperatives. We will investigate barriers to cooperative development, and economic impacts of shared ownership. Our publications will also be a forum for cooperative developers and members to share their wisdom - and their opinions - about worker cooperative development and functioning. Topics are as broad as proposals for new anchor institution strategies and as specific as a thought piece on founders' credits and incentives for growth.
The recent upsurge in worker cooperatives in the taxi industry presents a contrast between big opportunities and big risks. Hundreds of new worker owners have come together in just a handful of companies over the last 10 years, which outpaces the growth of worker cooperative ownership in many other industries. The coordinated marketing among what are already legally independent, entrepreneurially minded contractors lends itself to larger entities.
The Democracy at Work Institute has released the latest publication in the Worker Cooperative Industry Research Series, focusing on Craft Beer. The report examines the opportunities, challenges, and cooperative potential in the industry, which is still growing after more than two decades of upward trends. The success of Black Star Brewery and Pub Co-Op, as well as the ESOP-owned New Belgium Brewing Company provide models for replication and education.
This resource uses diagrams to depict how the different forms of employee ownership are structured. It focuses on the two primary vehicles for broad-based employee ownership in the United States: worker cooperatives and employee stock ownership plans.
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.
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.
This resource is intended to give small business support organizations a background on how the worker cooperative model can help entrepreneurs reach their dreams.
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?
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.
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