Worker-Owned Businesses

Imagine a workplace where the people who work there are also the owners. That's the idea behind worker cooperatives, businesses driven by the values of their worker-owners.

The Core of Cooperation

There are two key things that set worker cooperatives apart:

  • Worker-owners call the shots: They own the business and share in its success based on how much work they contribute.
  • Decisions are made democratically: Worker-owners elect a board of directors, with everyone getting one vote – one worker, one vote.

That’s not all. Worker-owners often play a direct role in running the day-to-day operations of the business.

A Growing Movement

While there’s no single source of data on exactly how many worker cooperatives exist in the US, we’ve found over 465. These democratic workplaces provide jobs for around 7,000 people and bring in over half a billion dollars in revenue every year.

From Humble Beginnings to Big Dreams

The number of worker cooperatives has been steadily growing for the past two decades. They range from well-established businesses to exciting new ventures, with some even being created when employees buy their companies from the original owners.

Where You’ll Find Worker Co-ops

Worker cooperatives can pop up in any industry, but in the US, they’re more common in service and retail. Think restaurants, healthcare providers, manufacturers, tech companies, and even design firms.

A Story of Inspiration

Many worker cooperatives today draw inspiration from the Mondragon Cooperatives in Spain. These co-ops helped the Basque region transform itself and become a powerhouse with Spain’s 7th largest corporation – a worker cooperative, no less!

Worker Power on the Rise

Worker cooperatives are gaining serious momentum. They’re appearing in more and more industries, and there’s a growing network of support groups, lenders, advisors, and industry associations to help them thrive.

This rise in worker cooperatives can be traced back to the 70s and 80s, when many of the biggest ones we see today were founded. The successful ones have paved the way for a new wave of worker cooperatives starting in the late 90s.

By the 2000s, worker cooperatives were being seen as a powerful tool for creating good jobs, especially for low- and moderate-income workers. This led to a rise in worker cooperatives in areas like home care and cleaning services.

The year 2004 saw the founding of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC), a national organization that supports worker cooperatives across the country. They even launched the Democracy at Work Institute in 2013 to help even more communities discover the potential of worker cooperatives.

Worker Co-ops by the Numbers (US)

  • Number of worker cooperatives: estimated between 900 and 1,000
  • Total worker-owners: estimated between 8,000 and 10,000
  • Median revenue: $298,016 per cooperative
  • Median size: 6 worker-owners
  • Largest co-op: Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA)
  • Worker cooperatives started as regular businesses: 12%
  • Average age of a worker cooperative: 5 years old