Worker-owned cooperatives are business enterprises that are owned and governed by their employees. All worker cooperatives have two common characteristics: 1) member-owners invest in and own the business together, and share the enterprise’s profits, and 2) decision-making is democratic, with each member having one vote. Currently, there are nearly 400 worker-owned cooperatives in the U.S. operating in a diverse range of industries. While the majority are small businesses, with fewer than 50 workers, there are also notable larger enterprises.
HistoryWorker-owned cooperatives in the United States can be traced back to the early labor movement, when workers—especially artisans and craftsman—formed cooperatives while on strike or after a strike had failed. For example, after a 1794 strike in Baltimore, shoemakers self-organized a shoe production facility under worker ownership. In the 1880s, the Knights of Labor helped organize hundreds of worker cooperatives.
Worker-owned cooperatives play a critical role in building community wealth for several key reasons:
- They create quality, empowering jobs for community members.
- Since most workers are community residents, worker cooperatives are more likely than other businesses to employ sustainable business practices that do not harm the local environment, and profits are more likely to remain and circulate within the community.
- As democratically run organizations, cooperatives help member-owners develop critical leadership skills and practice direct, grassroots decision-making.
- They allow employees to accumulate wealth and build assets through having an ownership stake in the cooperative.
Community-wealth.org houses an extensive collection of resources focused on Worker-Owned Cooperatives and this model’s role in community wealth building. Below is a glimpse of the rich array of materials you will find as you explore our site:
Our Best Practices section showcases exemplary worker-owned cooperatives from across the country. For instance, one such organization is Women's Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES) in Oakland, California. Founded to promote the economic and social wellbeing of low-income women, WAGES helps immigrant Latinas develop and run eco-friendly housekeeping enterprises. The organization currently supports five such cooperatives that together employ more than 95 women worker-owners.
Key Facts & Figures
Number of U.S. worker-owned co-ops (2017)
Number of employees at U.S. worker co-ops (2017)
Gross revenue of U.S. worker-owned co-ops (2017)
Our Support Organizations section features major organizations working to support worker-owned cooperatives across the U.S. One such group is the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, a national membership organization that helps advance worker-owned, -managed, and -governed workplaces through cooperative education, advocacy and development.
Our Research Resources section highlights web-based resources focused on worker-owned cooperatives. For example, the Democracy at Work Institute’s on-line Resource Library includes a wide range of materials on the model such as start-up toolkits, academics paper, and governance and management guides.
Our Articles and Publications section includes links to a diverse selection of articles, reports, papers, and books focused on worker-owned cooperatives. One such report is Nina K. Dastur’s Understanding Worker-Owned Cooperatives (2012), published by the Center for Community Change, which outlines the benefits of worker-owned cooperatives, explains how the model aligns with the goals of grassroots organizing groups, and identifies strategies that organizers can use to support cooperative development.
Our Toolbox features resources designed to help those working on the ground to establish and promote worker-owned cooperatives. For instance, Minsun Ji and Tony Robinson’s Immigrant Worker Owned Cooperatives: A User's Manual (2012) provides detailed information about how to create, finance, manage, and grow worker cooperatives.
And, lastly, our Policy Guide provides an overview of federal initiatives and programs that can help practitioners leverage resources and increase their impact. For example, the USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program funds technical assistance centers that support the development of cooperative businesses.