What is a Worker Cooperative?

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 over 300 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.


Worker-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. 
  • 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.

For more information see CO-OP RESOURCES

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