In 2019, we released preliminary findings from the first national survey of individuals in democratic workplaces across the U.S.
Our research program seeks to identify favorable conditions and likely strategies for the development of a large-scale worker cooperative economy.
The first stage of research is foundational: census and asset map of existing worker cooperatives and cooperative development initiatives, survey of existing capital resources, case studies of cooperative development, creation of impact metrics, building of a data set and initiation of a 20-year longitudinal study. This research will help us draw conclusions about what has worked in the past, what currently exists, and where the gaps are.
The second stage of our research will identify the opportunities for future scaled growth strategies by assessing needs and supports for potential strategies (e.g. conversions of existing businesses, place-based anchor strategy, sectoral strategy, public sector job retention, etc). This is action research, and we think of it as similar to the strategic research unions do in preparation for an organizing campaign. To produce this strategic research we will collaborate with partners across the country at the local, regional and national scale, including other shared-ownership organizations and academics studying worker ownership.
The latest State of the Sector report by the Democracy at Work Institute and U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives covers research on worker-owned enterprises through 2015. Three years into surveying worker cooperatives on a national scale, we are positioned to analyze stability and change—demographically, and in terms of business performance, wages, and benefits.
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.