When we tell people we're a worker co-operative, the most common response is a blank stare, followed by the question 'what's a worker co-op'?
Great question. Here's a quick explanation provided by the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation, with some of our comments sprinkled in:
Worker co-operatives are businesses that are owned and democratically controlled by their member-owners (employees who have chosen to become a member). The main purpose of a worker co-operative is to provide employment for its members through operating a business that follows the Co-operative Principles and Values. When new employees join the business, after a successful probationary period they are encouraged to apply for membership. The worker co-op is designed to provide benefits not just to the founding members but also to all future employee/members. At Careforce, we are currently owned by 26 of our employees.
To create their worker co-op, members combine their skills, interests and experiences to achieve mutual goals such as creating jobs for themselves, providing a community service and increasing democracy in the workplace. The variety of businesses operating as worker co-ops is very broad. Virtually any business can be organized as a worker co-operative.
Each member pays a membership fee, or purchases a membership share, and has one vote no matter how many shares they own. At Careforce, we require that employees work for us for 750 hours and one year before they can become a member of our worker co-op. Through the democratic management of the co-op, all members have equal opportunity to affect the way the business is run and to offer input on the decisions affecting their everyday work lives. Because they develop the policies that determine the co-operative’s daily and long term operation, trust, communication and co-operation are vital to the co-op’s success. The co-op’s assets are owned by all members, and profits are shared with member-owners in proportion to hours worked.
Worker co-ops differ substantially from conventional businesses. Conventional businesses’ primary aim is to make profit for the owners who may be - but in many cases are not - employed by the business. Such an owner’s voting control and share of profit is based on the amount of money invested, not for any services that they provide the business. This is a fundamental difference, as in conventional businesses the ultimate authority rests with a single individual, or with a small group, and the business decisions are based upon maximizing their benefit as owners. Any profit sharing with the workers or with the broader community is at the owner’s sole discretion.
At Careforce, we strongly encourage our employees to seek out membership when they become eligible. Given our organization's success over the past number of years, our member-owners have enjoyed financial gains and have had a direct vote on how we run our business. If you've ever worked somewhere where your opinion didn't matter, we have no idea what that is like: because at Careforce, our very design ensures that your opinion does matter.