Category Archives: Worker Cooperatives

How To Convert a Business into a Worker-owned Cooperative

Source: Cat Johnson, Shareable, June 18, 2014

…When converting an existing business into a coop, there are numerous questions that need to be answered. Do the employees want to create a democratic business? Are funds available for a buyout? How will the business be structured? How long will the transition be? Does the selling owner want to stay on? Though it takes time to work out the details, answering these questions is an essential part of the transition.

While every business has unique strengths and challenges, and there is no single way to create a cooperative, there is also no need to reinvent the wheel. Hundreds of worker-owned cooperatives have been created by converting existing businesses by following a series of steps….
More Info for Conversions
Source: Democracy at Work Institute, 2014

Are you a business owner considering transitioning your business to a worker cooperative? Or an employee seeking information about how to purchase an existing business and convert to a worker cooperative? Below are resources from our Resource Library about business conversion. And visit our Conversion Projects page to learn more about how the Institute supports owners and employees during the conversion process.

Trade Unions And Worker Cooperatives: Where Are We At?

Source: International Journal of Labour Research, Vol. 5 no. 2, 2013

From the abstract:
Last May, ACTRAV and the ILO cooperative branch held a seminar on the topic of relations between trade unions and worker cooperatives. The goal was to re-examine the relationship between the two movements by taking stock of recent initiatives around the world. To be sure, the relationship between trade unions and cooperatives is as long as the history of trade unions. In fact, it is fair to say that the first associations of workers that emerged in Europe looked more like cooperatives than trade unions.

Articles include:
Trade unions and cooperatives: The experience of CICOPA−Mercosur
José Orbaiceta

Workers’ cooperatives in Argentina: The Self-administered Workers’ Association
Bruno Dobrusin

Trade union support for labour cooperatives: An experiment in cooperation between Brazil and Canada
Pierre Patry, Claude Dorion, Arildo Mota Lopes, João Antônio Felício, Léopold Beaulieu and Jean Bergevin

Trade unions and worker cooperatives in Europe: A win–win relationship. Maximizing social and economic potential in worker cooperatives
Marina Monaco and Luca Pastorelli

An emerging solidarity: Worker cooperatives, unions, and the new union cooperative model in the United States
Rob Witherell

The experience of SYNDICOOP in Africa: A model for trade union action?
Stirling Smith

Workplace Dispute Resolution and Quality of Work Life: The Worker Co-Operative Alternative

Source: Elizabeth A. Hoffmann, International Journal of Self Help and Self Care, Vol. 6 no. 2, 2012
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article provides a concise comparison of matched pairs of conventional and worker-owned co-operative organizations operating in three industries—coal mining, taxicab driving, and organic food distribution. Like self-help groups, worker co-operatives try to minimize hierarchy in order to maximize the power and dignity of the workers involved. Specifically, this article examines workplace dispute resolution, a key factor in the quality of work life, and the alternative of more egalitarian, self-managed workplaces. While we think of such workplaces as being a benefit of certain professional firms, all co-operative workplaces studied here involved mostly positions that required no college education. Nevertheless, members of these co-operatives worked together to create economically stable workplaces with the same or better wages than that of comparable organizations, yet also with a greater quality of work life.

Staying True to Co-Operative Identity: Diagnosing Worker Co-Operatives for Adherence to their Values

Source: Sonja Novkovic, Piotr Prokopowicz, Ryszard Stocki, Advances in the Economic Analysis of Participatory & Labor-Managed Firms, Volume 13, 2012
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This chapter contributes to the discourse on the impact of employee participation in organisations. Using worker co-operatives as special cases of participatory firms, we discuss the role of values in organisations and their importance in a business context. We devise and apply the CoopIndex diagnostic tool as a method of assessment of the ‘health’ of an organisation whose members aspire to align co-operative management with the application of the co-operative principles and values.

Valley home-care co-operative thriving

Source: Glen Parker, Chronicle Herald, July 6, 2013

A group of Annapolis Valley home-care workers believed so much in the company they worked for, they took over its ownership. The workers, employees of Careforce Home Health Care Co-operative Ltd., formed the co-operative in 2008. Since then, they have successfully blurred the line between worker and owner. …

…The co-operative took about a year to set up. Now, it boasts a seven-member board of directors and 13 member-owners with another four waiting to be approved. Raine said the co-op is always ready to increase its member-owners and offers a payroll deduction plan to help with the $2,500 buy-in….

Worker Cooperative Creation As Progressive Lawyering? Moving Beyond the One-Person, One-Vote Floor

Source: Gowri J. Krishna, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 34 no. 1, 2013
(subscription required)

Community Economic Development (CED) scholars posit that creating worker cooperatives – businesses owned and managed by their workers – is a progressive approach to CED with the potential to go beyond job creation and spur grassroots political activism. Yet many workers’ rights organizations and workers’ rights advocates, especially those serving low-wage immigrant workers, struggle with connecting worker cooperatives to broader efforts for economic, political, or social change. This Article argues that forming a worker cooperative that acts as a change agent requires more than simply structuring the business as a worker cooperative. Although cooperative corporation laws and cooperative principles set a floor – typically, one person, one vote – that floor alone does not guarantee political activism or broader change; collective organization does not inherently lead to collective action. Worker cooperatives face challenges in connecting to broader movements and serving as more than job-creation vehicles. These challenges include the inherent tension between a co-operative’s identity as a business and that of a values-oriented association of people, the limited scale of cooperatives, the significant resources required to start and maintain them, and concerns over member priorities and retention. Creating worker co-operatives as progressive institutions requires surmounting these challenges and actively prioritizing broader aims when incubating, recruiting for, structuring, governing, and operating cooperatives.

Union Co-ops Council Wiki

Source: Union Co-ops Council of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC), 2013

Statement of Purpose
To explore opportunities for collaboration with several unions for mutual benefit.

Possible benefits to unions:
· Possible new network of dynamic members with social vision about worker ownership, and skills in collaborative decision-making;
· Connections in international fair trade and socially conscious business, worldwide;
Possible benefits to co-ops:
· Access to benefits including pension and health care benefits;
· Solidarity with the union movement on social benefits to workers such as advocacy on workers rights, and health care reform
· Access to capital for co-op formation;
Possible benefits to both co-ops and unions:
· Advocacy for a US employee ownership bank through legislation currently being sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders, to benefit all workers.

Can Co-ops Save Unions?

Source: Rebecca Burns, In These Times, April 25, 2013

Labor-cooperative partnerships may herald a new strategy for labor–if they can get off the ground….The labor movement at large hasn’t reprised the 1930s-era tactic of occupying factories in order to regain a foothold in existing workplaces. But a growing number of unions, led by the United Steelworkers (USW), are exploring creation of new worker-owned cooperatives as a strategy for contending with the offshoring of U.S. jobs. Like the workers who formed New Era Windows, USW began experimenting with cooperatives partly out of necessity—as job losses mounted amidst the financial crisis, “there seemed to be an opening to consider how we might create a better model, because everything was falling apart,” says Rob Witherell, USW’s cooperative strategist. USW decided to partner with Mondragon, Spain’s famous group of cooperatives, to create a template for union co-ops. Now, USW is helping launch several pilot projects, including a green laundry in Pittsburgh that could replace some of the 100-plus jobs lost when an industrial laundry in the area closed several years ago. Members of United Food and Commercial Workers are currently employed in an urban farming cooperative in Cincinnati, with more projects planned under the behest of the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative….
Can Unions and Cooperatives Join Forces? An Interview With United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard
Source: Amy B. Dean, Talking Union blog, June 3, 2013
United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard talks to Amy Dean about the challenges and opportunities of a new labor model: the union co-op.

The Informal Economy and Decent Work: A Policy Resource Guide supporting transitions to formality

Source: International Labour Organization (ILO), March 19, 2013

From the abstract:
This practical Policy Resource Guide, initiated and completed by the Employment Policy Department, is the first initiative to bring together in one volume, a synthesis of knowledge, policy innovations and good practices facilitating transition to formality highlighting the multiple pathways and the indispensable synergies and coherence amongst the objectives of employment promotion, social protection and upholding rights.
Sections include:
…4. The Regulatory Framework and the Informal Economy
…(B) Specific Groups
4.b1 Domestic Workers: strategies for overcoming poor regulation
4.b2 Homeworkers: reducing vulnerabilities through extending and applying the law …

5. Organization, Representation and Dialogue
5.1 Social dialogue: promoting good governance in policy making on the informal economy
5.2 The role of Employers’ organizations and small business associations
5.3 Trade unions: reaching the marginalized and excluded
5.4 Cooperatives: a stepping stone out of informality …

Unions & Cooperatives: Allies in the Struggle to Build Democratic Workplaces

Source: Lisabeth L. Ryder, Grassroots Economic Organizing, GEO 73/72 (I), February 26, 2008

As labor organizers, we struggle in the field every day to improve the lives of workers; we are in search of tools and alternatives for working people that will meet the needs of today’s casualized and insecure workforce, with shrinking or negligible benefits. It is in the spirit of innovative leadership that we propose that the labor movement use worker cooperatives, an alternative organizing strategy added to more traditional labor organizing methods, as a means of returning control of their lives to the American working people.

The work of unions is to create workplace democracy, and in the larger picture, economic democracy. Currently, we do this in the context of an adversarial relationship between employer and employee. A worker cooperative is an alternative that reaches outside of the limitations of this model, converting workplaces into democratically run institutions owned by the workers. Worker cooperatives are not a panacea for the woes of today’s labor movement. Yet worker cooperatives have a long history in the American workers’ struggle for economic democracy and hold potential for expanding the labor movement into unexpected workforces, as well as providing alternatives for better serving the workers we already represent.
Worker Coops Unite! Collaborative Double Issue with the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives
Source: Grassroots Economic Organizing, GEO 73/72 (I), 2008

Articles include:
Worker Cooperatives – A Powerful Force for Justice and Democracy
The People’s Grocery: Developing a Worker-Owned Community Grocery Store
Searching For the Next Cooperative Principle
A Strategy for Unions and Coops: Toward Building A Labor-Ownership Economy
Unions & Cooperatives: Allies in the Struggle to Build Democratic Workplaces
Our Eyes On the Prize: From a “Worker Co-op Movement” to a Transformative Social Movement
World Social Forum at a Crossroads: 5th International, Solidarity Economy, or Stand Pat?
Dreaming of America Beyond Capitalism? Gar Alperovitz
Autonomy and/Or Economic Development? David Ellerman and Helping People Help Themselves