Train a new corps of activists on how to convert businesses into worker-owned cooperatives

Worker coops aren’t the standard way of running a business in America. That’s a big reason why they’re catching on.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, worker coops are owned and run by the employees themselves—all sharing in the decision-making, the work, the financial losses, and the profits on an equal, democratic basis. A few executives at the top of a power hierarchy or profit-oriented investors aren’t the ones running the show; all the workers are.


Photo credit: Shift Change

The worker-owned cooperative form of business has been around for years, but interest in the model is on the rise along with the intensifying attention to economic inequality in the United States. As a typical American who works for a living can confirm, it’s no surprise why the rising concentration of wealth is so bad lately. Most rank-and-file workers nowadays don’t get much of a say in their corporate employer’s affairs or get to share in its financial successes.

The worker coop model has both pros and cons, with success depending on the participants’ buy-in and a range of other factors. There are also plenty of challenges facing the worker coop movement, including access to financing for launching new coops. But given its effectiveness and potential to do more, policymakers are taking a closer look and stepping up with support. Notably, New York City recently put $1.2 million towards fostering more worker coops in the city. Other proposals to boost the worker coop model are on the table, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bills to help states expand worker coops and to establish a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to lend specifically to cooperatives.

Here’s another idea to add to the menu: let’s train a new corps of people from regular workers to activists on how to convert existing businesses to worker-owned cooperatives. Providing resources is a good first step; for example, check out this guide “5 Steps to Turn Your Business Into a Worker-owned Co-op” from Yes! Magazine, excerpted below.

Stage 1: Deciding to move forward
What it entails: research and reading, worker ownership succession options workshop (for owner and their leadership team), initial owner conversation with employees, Worker Co-op 101 workshop for the employees, owner and workers decide to move forward, select steering committee, contact outside transition support team.

Stage 2: Employee training and business valuation
What it entails: financial training for employees, business and industry training, cooperative trainings for employees, business valuation process, determine financing options, review and revise current business plan.

Stage 3: Defining structures
What it entails: document current management plan, draft cooperative by-laws, define post-transition management.

Stage 4: Finalize the transition
What it entails: transfer business ownership, negotiate final price, seek financing, complete the transaction, elect new board, and transfer management as necessary.

Stage 5: Follow through and monitoring
What it entails: ongoing training with current employees.

For more information, see “Getting Rid of Bosses,” The Atlantic; “How Worker-Owned Companies Work,” Moyers & Company; and What is a Worker Cooperative?” US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. Also check out the website and trailer for the documentary Shift Change here.