Worker cooperatives are owned and operated by their employees. This allows the worker-members to directly benefit from the business’s success. Profit distribution to worker-members is based on a combination of job position, hours worked, seniority, and salary. The model has proven to be an effective tool for creating and maintaining sustainable, dignified jobs; generating wealth; improving the quality of life of workers; and promoting community and local economic development, particularly for people who lack access to business ownership or sustainable work options. One of the most versatile cooperative forms, worker cooperatives are found in a variety of sectors, from transportation to manufacturing to home healthcare.
In the US, there are over 500 worker cooperatives employing more than 8,000 people, and generating over $400 million in annual revenues.
Examples of Worker Cooperatives
Union Cab of Madison Cooperative is a worker-owned cooperative providing taxi and transportation services in the city of Madison, WI. Union Cab Cooperative was organized after several cab companies in Madison went on strike in the late 1970s. Since then it has grown to be Madison’s largest taxi fleet providing 400,000 rides annually.
In 2001, caregivers in Waushara County formed Cooperative Care to provide better wages and benefits to workers while offering superior service to people in our communities who need support. Since then, Cooperative Care’s service area has widened throughout Central Wisconsin and continues to expand their mission of helping people stay in their homes. Cooperative Care is currently made up of 40 dedicated caregivers, each with his/her own experience and talents, providing more than 1,000 service hours per week.
Equal Exchange is one of the largest worker cooperatives in the United States and is dedicated to giving deep meaning to participation and worker ownership. Based outside of Boston, Equal Exchange distributes organic coffee, tea, sugar, bananas, cocoa, and chocolate produced by farmer cooperatives from around the world. Founded in 1986, it is the oldest and largest fair trade coffee company in the United States.
Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing is an industrial worker-owned cooperative specializing in custom automation solutions and equipment. Although the U.S. manufacturing sector has faced challenges over the past several decades, Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing has thrived and provided competitive incomes for its employees.
Board Training and Member Education: A Learning and Training Toolkit for Understanding Worker Cooperative Finances. UW Center for Cooperatives, 2018.
Worker Co-ops: FAQs about Employment Status. UW Center for Cooperatives, 2017
Worker Cooperative Definition. Democracy at Work Institute, 2015.
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Becoming Employee Owned: A Small Business Toolkit for Transitioning to Employee Ownership. Democracy at Work Institute, 2018.
Technical Service and Professional Services Providers for Employee Owned Businesses in the Upper Midwest. UW Center for Cooperatives.
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Worker Cooperative Case Study: Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing. UW Center for Cooperatives, 2011.
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Creating Better Jobs and A Fairer Economy with Worker Cooperatives. Democracy at Work Institute, 2014.
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A Technology Freelancer’s Guide to Starting a Worker Cooperative. Network of American Tech Worker Cooperatives, 2009.
Worker Cooperatives in Wisconsin Two Pager. UW Center for Cooperatives, 2023.