Worker co-operatives are businesses that are owned and democratically controlled by those that work there — its member-workers. The main purpose of a worker co-operative is to provide ownership rights and self-determination for its members through operating an enterprise that follows the Co-operative Principles and Values. When new employees join the business, after a successful probationary period they are encouraged to apply for membership. The worker co-op is, in principle, designed to provide benefits to all future employee/members, not just its founders or investors.
To create a worker co-op, members combine their skills, interests, and experiences to achieve mutual goals such as creating good jobs, providing a community service, and increasing democracy in the workplace. The variety of enterprises operating as worker co-ops is extremely broad; virtually any enterprise can be organized as a worker co-operative. The worker co-op idea works for you if you have a marketable product, start-up capital, a plan for organization and growth, and want to be part of an inclusive economy.
Each member purchases a membership share, or pays a membership fee, and has one vote no matter how many shares they own. Through the democratic governance of the co-op, all members have equal opportunity to affect the way the business is run and to offer input on the decisions affecting their everyday work lives. Because they develop the policies that determine the co-operative’s daily and long-term operation, trust, communication, and co-operation are vital for success. All assets are collectively owned, and surplus earnings are allocated to the workers according to the bylaws and policies established by the co-op, often in proportion to hours worked by members and with limited return on shares and member loans.
Worker co-ops differ substantially from conventional businesses. A conventional business’s primary aim is to make profit for the shareholders; who may be, but in many cases are not, employed by the business. Voting control and share of profit is based on the amount of money invested, not for any services that they provide to the business. Any profit sharing with the workers or with the broader community is at the shareholders’ sole discretion.
In summary, worker co-operatives are a radical break from the conventional business model. The primary aim in operating an worker co-op is to service its employees and its community, rather than in service to distant shareholders. The goal is to provide the best possible employment conditions for the members and to provide the customers and community with a service or product at a fair price that meets their needs and leads to a sustainable community.