In the age of unemployment, downsizing, and outsourcing, where can a poor soul find a job? Well, maybe it’s time we create our own. Self-employment is an option and can seem freeing, but it’s hard to do everything yourself and find time for a non-work life. The worker coop is an alternative to the isolation of self-employment and the exploitation of traditional jobs.

Worker coops can be more satisfying than working for the man. Worker-owners aren’t forced into a hierarchy, and they have more say over what the business does than traditional employees. You still have to be responsible managing a coop, maybe more so, but your coworker-owners will likely be nicer and more understanding of personal needs and quirks than middle-management at any corporation. You will probably make more money by cutting out the investors and managers, unless you were one of them, in which case: welcome to egalitarianism! In typical low-paying industries, worker-owners can make several times what they were pulling in as employees.

How to Start A Worker Co-op
By Mira Luna

In the Unites States of America cooperation exists, and “worker-owned cooperatives” existed and prospered for many years to this day, thanks also to the spirit of entrepreneurship that is widespread and to the practice of democracy, practice that is taught at school, starting from the elementary grade.

bthomes bt homes
An architecture and building co-op in Montana that uses recycled materials and builds eco-friendly buildings
Big TimberWorks Homes

Cooperatives are part of the self-help tradition of America. Cooperatives are businesses organized by people to provide needed goods and services. Cooperative businesses:

• Are owned by the people who use their services;
• Provide an economic benefit for their members;
• Are democratic organizations, controlled by their members;
• Are autonomous and independent;
• Recognize the importance of education about cooperative business and organizational practices;
• Support cooperation among cooperatives, which has resulted in the growing importance of cooperatives in today’s global economy; and,
• Exhibit concern for their communities.

Cooperative businesses provide just about any good or service their members need. Cooperatives offer credit and financial services, health care, child care, housing, insurance, legal and professional services. Cooperatives sell food, farm supplies, hardware and recreational equipment. They provide utilities, such as electricity, telephone and television. And cooperatives process and market products and goods for their members.

From Michael Moore film “Capitalism: A Love Story”

…I don’t know much about politics, I have been part of Union Cab of Madison Wisconsin for 21 years, I wouldn’t have stayed around so long if it wasn’t for its structure….

Fred Schepartz, taxi driver, Madison Union Cab

… I have a PhD in anthropology, so I love to see people behavior. The first ten minutes I was in a cab I asked myself “what I have been doing wasting my life not driving a cab?”… I can expect to make between 18$ and 26$ an hour… we are the most successful cab company in Madison, and this is in part due to the fact that we don’t have to pay the CEO a six figure salary… I think our name, Union Cab, is beautifully evocative of how we are as a company,… we have republicans, we have democrats, we have socialists, we have anarchists,well, I don’t think we have any communist…

Rebecca Kemble, PhD, taxi driver, Madison Union Cab

A map of the 200+ worker cooperatives in the U.S., and some other organizations
(map by Joe Marraffino)

View Worker Cooperatives in the United States in a larger map

The chart below shows the economic impact for each type of cooperative.


Worker Cooperatives

Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and democratically governed by their employees. They operate in numerous industries, including childcare, commercial and residential cleaning, food service, healthcare, technology, consumer retail and services, manufacturing, wholesaling and many others. Some 300 worker co-ops throughout the U.S. provide their employees with both jobs and ownership—allowing them to directly benefit from the financial success of the business. Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) are a more common form of worker ownership in manufacture, although they often lack the democracy inherent to co-ops.

Some examples of worker Co-ops.

This dossier wants to illustrate some of the different realities of worker-owned cooperatives that are closer to the libertarian cooperative concept, realities that are often not well known and/or understood outside of North America.

bycicle store

alexander house

From the video “The evergreen cooperatives”

Ohio Cooperative Solar

The cooperative has begun to install photovoltaic panels on the three anchor institutions that are part of Cleveland’s economic empowerment zone: Case Western University, University Hospitals, and the Cleveland Clinic.
The cooperative will install, own, and maintain the panels that they install and sell the generated power to the host institutions. As a for profit business they are entitled to government solar incentives that non-profit universities and hospitals cannot receive. Because solar installation is not a year-round business in the Ohio, the cooperative diversified with a weatherization program for the colder months in order to create full-time jobs.

CEO Steve Kiel, who says he is like an employee of the cooperative’s 20 worker-owners, explains his goals include structured wealth creation for the workers’ long term economic security. A share of the company’s surplus is allocated to the workers but retained in the company, capitalizing the business while creating long-term individual savings.
Ohio Cooperative Solar, offers weatherization services and solar-panel installations — the first a 100-kw system on the roof of the Cleveland Clinic. According to Kiel, Ohio now has 2 solar megawatts of the 60 the state requires by 2012. “Most installations in Ohio are small,” he says. “One hundred kilowatts is a pretty significant system.”

Watch a short video that introduces the opening of Ohio Cooperative Solar, one of the network of Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland Ohio.

Some examples of worker-owned coops in the USA

An Architectural and construction firm Big TimberWorks Homes, Gallatin Gateway, MT
A chain of three copy and print centers CollectiveCopies, Amherst, MA
A co-op of 1,600 Home care providers Cooperative Home Care Associates, New York, NY
A co-op of 85 providers of home care Cooperative Care of Waushara County, WI
A Chain of 6 bakeries and a cheese store Arizmendi Bakeries, San Francisco Bay area, CA
A health food supermarket and general store Rainbow Grocery Co-op, San Francisco, CA
An anarchist collective bookstore Bound Together, San Francisco, CA
A Bicycle store Broadway Bicycle School, Cambridge, MA
A Wool spinnery The Green Mountain Spinnery, Putney, VT
A new and used bicycle and repair store Citybikes, Portland, OR
Installation and maintainance of food-producing gardens C’Ville Foodscapes, Charlottesville, VA
A house and office cleaning cooperative We can do it! Si se puede!, Brooklin, NY
A Child care service Beyond Care, Brooklin, NY
A women owned house painting service Color Me!, Brooklin, NY
A women owned gourmet cooking co-op Émigré Gourmet, Brooklin, NY
An international restaurant Colors, New York, NY
An Architectural and construction firm Builders Commonwealth, Duluth, MN
A restaurant, cantina and bodega Casa Nueva, Athens, OH
A Housing Collective Portland Collective Housing, Portland, OR
A Café Red and Black Café, Portland, OR
Recycling drop-off centers across Central Texas Ecology Action, Austin, TX
A Café and Bookstore Firestorm Café and Books, Asheville, NC
A Inn & Hostel Alexander House Inn & Hostel, Charlottesville, VA
A technology design and manufacturing firm Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing, Madison, WI
A health food supermarket and general store The Big Carrot – Toronto, Canada
An importer and distributor of fair trade products Equal Exchange, West Bridgewater, MA
A distributor of propane products and services Sunshine Propane, Port Hadlock, WA
A shipyard Port Townsend Shipwrights, Port Townsend, WA
A collective of computer service technicians TechCollective, San Francisco, CA
A web design collective Quilted, Berkley, CA
A graphic arts design collective Design Action, Oakland, CA
A web hosting collective Electric Embers, Oakland, CA
A solar panels and weatherization company Ohio Solar Cooperative, Cleveland, OH
An optical filters manufacturer Chroma Technology Corp, Rockingham, VT
An organic food consumer cooperative collectively run People’s Food Cooperative Portland, OR
Service cooperatives Evergreen Cooperatives, Cleveland, OH
An elderly care service Golden Steps, Brooklyn, NY
An organic retail grocery store Other Avenues, San Francisco, CA
A 81 years old bakery converted to coop Taste of Denmark, Oakley, CA
A network of cooperatives Farmers and Builders Network, Buffalo, NY
A coop trying to setup a truck food outlet Liberty Ship Cafe, Richmond, CA
A Mobile Homes Housing Collective Parkhill Cooperative, Salt Lake City, UT
An old metal industry reorganized as a coop Market Forge, Everett, MA
A cleaning coop Ecomundo, New York, NY
The Occupy Wall Street Movement Occupying Workplace Democracy, New York City, NY
Worker cooperatives and financing A video by Mike Leung
A coop development company Worker Development, New York, NY
A yoga cooperative Brooklyn Yoga Cooperative, Brooklyn, NY
An health Community Center Third Root Community Health Center, Brooklyn, NY
A herb exchange coop Sonoma County Herb Exchange, CA
A biodiesel and feed products coop Biofuel Oasis, Oakland, CA
A soap manufacturer coop Co-Soap, Oakland, CA
A consumer coop Mandela Foods Cooperative, Oakland, CA
An art and craft collective Rock Paper and Scissor, Oakland, CA

Purchasing Cooperative

Consumer Food Cooperatives

CNN’s “Issue #1” featuring National Cooperative Business Association’s (NCBA) Adam Schwartz
talking the ability of food cooperatives in providing an economical food distribution alternative.

How worker cooperatives work – Joe Marraffino


A list of DVDs and movies on worker cooperatives

Another serie of video presentations

On Time magazine’s website, Judith Schwartz reports on Cleveland’s Evergreen worker co-op project, and the inspiration it draws from Mondragon.,8599,1947313,00.html

Nancy Folbre, economist from the University of Massachusetts, covers the Mondragon/USW deal in an article for her blog on the New York Times website, including a link to a prescient article from GEO friend Dan Bell on unions and worker co-ops, from a 2006 Dollars and Sense issue.

Nancy then follows up with a compelling, more general piece, “The Case for Worker Co-ops”, and includes many useful links and references.
Aaron Smith at CNN Money profiles six worker co-ops, including Isthmus Engineering in Madison, WI, and Ronin Tech Collective of Brattleboro, VT.

John MacNamara of worker-owned Union Cab was on the conference call that accompanied the signing of the agreement. He was able to live-blog some of the Q&A – part one and part two.
On Friday, October 30th, 2009, worker co-op developers Andrew McLeod and Lisa Stolarski sat down with Rob Witherell, who is coordinating the plan for the Steelworkers, to discuss how the plan came about and what lies ahead. Andrew’s blog has a synopsis of this discussion.

Andrew recently toured Mondragon and the surrounding area, and has written a wonderful four-part blog entry about his trip.
Mondragon 2: Getting down to business
Visit to Mondragon – interesting blog (part 2) with critics of what they do outside Spain.


A list of software generally of interest to coops that’s been forming over the past year:

Converting an existing business to a worker-owned cooperative

Selling to Your Employees through a Worker Cooperative – and Sheltering Your Capital Gain
by Eric D. Britton & Mark C. Stewart
INTRO: Since 1984, Federal tax law has permitted owners who sell 30% or more of the stock in their closely held company to their employees through a worker cooperative to get the same deferral of taxes on the capital gain on the proceeds of the sale as they would have received if they sold to their employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. This is the so-called “1042 rollover” tax break. As far as we can determine, that provision has never been used for cooperatives – despite the fact that cooperatives can be set up economically in companies with far fewer employees than ESOPs.

About the author: Eric Britton and Mark Stewart are attorneys at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, in Toledo. Britton has a well-established ESOP practice and Stewart is Ohio’s leading expert on cooperative law.

Emplopyee Cooperative as a Plan for Business Succession
by Mark Stewart

INTRO: Many small and medium size companies are the result of the enterprise, vision and lifetime work of one or a few individuals (the Owners). When an Owner grows older, he/she begins to have intimations of mortality and realize the need to plan for retirement and sale of the business. If the Owner would like to see the company continue with his or her vision intact, or if the most logical and desirable market for the company is some or all of the Owner’s closest business associates (the employees), the Owner may consider some form of employee acquisition of the company. This inter-generational transfer may be within the Owner’s family, in which case, the Owner may use traditional estate planning techniques. But many business Owners find that handing the business over to the next generation within the family is not an option. Even though the company’s corporate culture may be like a “family”, the next generation who will succeed the Owner may not be members of the Owner’s family. In this case, the Owner and the Owner’s heirs (or charitable beneficiaries, if the Owner has no children) will expect to extract full value upon transfer of the company. This means a sale/purchase agreement with a plan for the ongoing organization and capitalization of the company.

About the author: Mark Stewartis a partner in Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, a law firm with offices in Toledo and Columbus, Ohio, Tampa, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Stewart’s primary practice emphasis is on matters of cooperative law and taxation.

Legal aspects of setting up a Co-op in the USA

Selling to Your Employees through a Worker Cooperative – and Sheltering Your Capital Gain
a recent article that can help sort out worker coop laws Legal Entity Options for Worker Co-ops

Reviews of “Coop made in USA”

An extensive review from

Coop made in USA – a new book – G.E.O.

An Italian View of “Co-op: Made in USA” by Dave Gutknecht – Cooperative Crocer (English)

Cooperative Association: Towards a Participation Society  – De AS – Anarchistisch tijdschrift – Netherlands

WERKPLAATSDEMOCRATIE” – De Vrije – Netherlands

Coop: Made In USA – Social Economy Arizona

Coop made in USA – Karakok Autonome TR/CH

“Worker owned cooperatives made in USA” – Void Mirror

America’s Cooperative Movement Achieves New Growth and Success –

Reading Resources:

Worker Coop Development Organizations:

Books on US Cooperative Theory and Overviews

Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation, by Robin Hahnel (2005)
Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the 21st Century (1999) and The Political Economy of Participatory Economics (1991) by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel.
Parecon: Life After Capitalism, 2004; Moving Forward: Program for Participatory Economy (2001); and Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism (2006) by Michael Albert.
Against Capitalism, by David Schweickart (1996)
The Transformation of Capitalist Society, by Zellig Harris (1997)
Workplace Democratization–Its Internal Dynamics by Paul Bernstein
The Participatory Economy (1971); or The Labor-Managed Economy (1977); or Self- Management: Economic Liberation of Man (1975), by Jaroslav Vanek
The Evolution of Cooperation (1984, 2006) and The Complexity of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod (1997).
Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (1990) or Trust & Reciprocity: Interdisciplinary Lessons from Experimental Research (2005), by Elinor Ostrom
Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny, by Robert Wright, 2000.
Benello, C. George. From the Ground Up: Essays on Grassroots & Workplace Democracy, 1992.
Carnoy, Martin and Derek Shearer. Economic Democracy, 1980.
Gates, Jeff. The Ownership Solution: Towards a Shared Capitalism for the 21st Century, 1998.
Gastil, John. Democracy in Small Groups: Participation, Decision Making and Communication, 1993.
Greenberg, Edward S. Workplace Democracy: The Political Effects of Participation, 1986.
Hancock, M. Donald, John Logue, and Bernt Schiller, eds. Managing Modern Capitalism: Industrial Democracy in the United States and Western Europe, 1991.
The Ownership of Enterprise, by Henry Hansmann (2000).
Hill, Patricia M., Maryjean McGrath, and Elena Reyes. Cooperative Bibliography: An Annotated Guide to Works in English on Cooperatives & Cooperation, 1981.
Howard, Michael. Self-management and the Crisis of Socialism, 2000.
Ireland, Norman J. and Peter J. Law. The Economics of Labor-Managed Enterprises, 1982.
Jackall, Robert and Henry Levin, eds. Worker Cooperatives in America, 1985.
Krimerman, Len and Frank Lindenfeld, eds. Workplace Democracy Takes Root in North America, 1992.
America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy (2006) by Gar Alperovitz
Making a Place for Community: Local Democracy in a Global Era (Alperovitz with Thad Williamson, and David Imbroscio, 2002).
Curl, John. History of Work Cooperation in America: Cooperatives, Cooperative Movements, Collectivity and Communalism from Early America to the Present, 1980.
Curl, John, Allen Cohen, Judy Berg, Morris Older, and Steve Sutcher. History of Collectivity in the San Francisco Bay Area: From Indian Times to the Present, 1982.
Ellerman, David. The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm (1990).
Ellerman, David. Property & Contract in Economics: The Case of Economic Democracy (1992).
Lutz, Mark A. and Kenneth Lux. Humanistic Economics: The New Challenge, 1988.
Wisman, Jon D. Worker Empowerment: The Struggle for Workplace Democracy, 1991.
Whyte, William Foote, Tove Helland Hammer, Cristopher Meek, Reed Nelson, and Robert Stern. Worker Participation and Ownership: Cooperative Strategies for Strengthening Local Economies, 1983.
Carnoy, Martin and Derek Shearer. Economic Democracy, 1980.
Zwerdling, Daniel. Workplace Democracy: A Guide to Workplace Ownership, Participation, and Self-management Experiments in the United States and Europe, 1980.
McLeod, Greg. From Mondragon to America: Experiments in Community Economic Development, 1998.
Hunnius, Gerry, G. David Garson & John Case. Workers’ Control: A Reader on Labor & Social Change, 1973.

Worker-owned co-operatives startup guides

There are several written guides for starting worker cooperatives, and many more for starting cooperatives in general that include sections on worker cooperatives.  Having a good organizer or consultant, or mentor, surely makes any of the guides more useful.  A few examples are:

How-To Guides

Putting Democracy to Work: A Practical Guide for Starting and Managing Worker- Owned Businesses, By Frank T. Adams and Gary B. Hansen.
We Own It: Starting & Managing Cooperatives & Employee Owned Ventures, by Peter Jan Honigsberg, Bernard Kamoroff, and Jim Beatty (1991)
No Bosses Here!: A Manual on Working Collectively and Cooperatively, by Karen Brandow, Jim McDonnell,
Vocations for Social Change Developing Successful Worker Co-operatives (Britain, 1988), by Chris Cornforth, Alan Thomas, Roger Spear, and Jenny Lewis.
The Internal Capital Account System, by Richard Feldman (1988).
Workers’ Cooperative Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Setting Up a Workers’ Cooperative, by Peter Cockerton and Ann Whyatt (Britain, 1984)
Hansen, Gary, E. Kim Coontz, and Audrey Malan. Steps to Starting a Worker Co-op, 1997. (copy in Spanish as well)
Bell, Daniel. An Employee Onwer’s Guide to Understanding Financial Reports, 1994.
Bell, Daniel. Bringing Your Employees into the Business: An Employee Ownership Handbook for Small Business, 1988.
Hunter, Dale, Anne Bailey, and Bill Taylor. Co-operacy: A New Way of Being at Work, 1997.
SAJE. Cooperando: A Guide to Spanish Resources on Worker-owned Businesses, 1997.
Worker Ownership Development Foundation (Canada). Starting a Worker Cooperative: An Introduction, 1985, 40 pages.
Linkster, Alex. The Handbook to Get Things Done in Companies with Organizational Democracy, 2008.
Bayat, Assef. Work, Politics, and Power: An International Perspective on Workers’ Control and Self-Management, 1991.
Cheney, George. Values at Work: Employee Participation Meets Market Pressure at Mondragon, 1999.
Ellerman, David. The Mondragon Cooperative Movement, Harvard Business School case study, 1982.
Holmstrom, Mark. Industrial Democracy In Italy, 1985.
Holmstrom, Mark. Spain’s New Social Economy: Workers’ Self-Management In Catalonia, 1993.
ICA Group. Mondragon: An English Language Bibliography, 1985.
Issac, T.M. Thomas, Richard W. Franke, and Pyaralal Raghavan. Democracy at Work: An Indian Industrial Cooperative, 1998.
Axworthy, Christopher S. Worker Cooperatives in Mondragon, the U.K. and France: Some Reflections, 1985. Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan.
Azurmendi, Joxe. El Hombre Cooperativo: Pensamiento de Arizmendiarrieta, 1992.
Ormaechea, Jose Maria. The Mondragon Cooperative Experience (1991).
Mondragon Cooperative Corporation. Mondragon: Forty Years of Co-operative History, 1996.
Dolgoff, Sam, Ed. The Anarchist Collectives: Workers’ Self-management in the Spanish Revolution, 1936-1939, 1990.
Kasmir, Sharryn. The Myth of Mondragon, 1996.
Kaswan, Jaques & Ruth. Cooperative Systems in France, Basque Spain and Frankfurt.
Philip, Kate. “Cooperatives in South Africa: Their Role in Job Creation and Poverty Reduction”, South Africa Foundation Occasional Paper No. 2/2003.
Russell, Raymond. Utopia in Zion: The Israeli Experience with Worker Cooperatives, 1995.
Spiro, Melford E. Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia, 1970.
Whyte, William Foote and Kathleen King Whyte. Making Mondragon: The Growth and Dynamics of the Mondragon Cooperative Complex, 1988.
McLeod, Greg. From Mondragon to America: Experiments in Community Economic Development, 1998.
Magnini, Esteban. The Silent Change: Recovered Businesses in Argentina, 2009.

prepared by Enrico Massetti: