Worker Cooperative

It is our goal to become a worker-directed enterprise.

We’ll operate as closely as possible to a worker co-op, until we meet NC’s qualifications (5+ members) to actually become a cooperative association

A worker cooperative is a business which is owned and directed by its employees on a one-person one-vote basis, which operates according to values and principles set forth by the International Co-Operative Alliance.

When it comes to work, most people think of two different types of employment – working for a company for a wage or salary, or someone working independently or “freelance” for themselves. However, in a worker cooperative, the arrangement is a little different – it’s neither wage labor nor freelance, but rather a community of real ownership of labor, in which the group arranges for its own management to complete its work.

In this respect, the ultimate goal of a worker cooperative is different. Rather than a conventional business, which typically seeks only to drive profit to its owners or shareholders, or freelance labor which seeks only to fund its own living, a worker co-op serves its community of work. The members are served not only through the profits of the cooperative, but also by endeavoring to establish lifelong careers and retirement savings, providing a working environment that respects those doing the work, improving the standard of living in the community, and promoting local business.

Additionally, the worker cooperative provides its members with democratic structure and self-direction. While most people interact with democratic systems a few days a year when their governments hold elections, cooperative members deal with democracy on a weekly or daily basis, and quickly become adept at it. The cooperative’s management structure and internal rules and judgement of those rules are all chosen and adjusted democratically by its members – often prompting the creation of a true justice system, rather than a simple chain of command. In addition, the members’ fluency with the democratic process has a beneficial effect on the local community – improving engagement with local government and other social organizations (such as churches, clubs, volunteer groups, and homeowner associations)

This member control flows naturally to another property of worker cooperatives – that they maintain their sovereignty when it comes to business decisions. An established worker cooperative will not enter into contracts with financial institutions, other businesses, or governments that restrict the cooperative’s ability to govern itself with regards to finance, ownership, or labor.

Since the functioning of a worker cooperative requires the direction and input of those executing its work, a co-op will seek to only employ people as member-owners, not as conventional labor, and to ensure that any available work is filled by its members capacity first. This is often handled by requiring that new workers join the cooperative within a certain timeframe from beginning work (typically 6-12 months), and that members may only continue to exercise their voting rights if they complete at least a certain amount of work per time period. Of course, since the pay and profit distributions are both based on work completed, keeping members active is typically not a problem. This ensures that most work is done by members, and members continue to work so they may exercise their rights.

When there is more work needed for the cooperative than its membership can provide, typically the cooperative will expand its membership. While more generally cooperatives have a principle of free and voluntary membership, meaning anyone can join, this is somewhat restricted in the case of a worker co-op. Firstly, worker cooperatives typically only accept new members when there is availability for work, to ensure that its membership is optimally employed. Secondly, since a worker cooperative is a community and not just a place you go to do work, there is often a grace or onboarding period for new potential members, after which the membership meets to decide whether to accept the new member or terminate their contract – depending on legitimate concerns. Continued non-member employment for a prospective member is not an option – either they must be allowed in or removed.

Large cooperatives and other democratic organizations and workplaces have discovered that the internal-political climate of their membership depends in large part on Robin Dunbar’s threshholds. When a single working body surpasses a size of roughly 150 members, it tends to become divisive as its members can no longer consider their peers individually, but must begin dividing their opinion as “us vs them”. At this point, it’s advisable to split the organization into two separate working groups, each with their own organization and physical space, under a partnership agreement between them. This allows the cooperatives to grow organically – dividing as they grow and specializing into different related fields. Even before the larger split happens, Dunbar’s smaller number of approximately 30 people will be reached (also the maximum effective size of a classroom!). This creates teams with different focii or specialties within the company, and provides natural seams to split along, when the larger company is ready to divide. Eventually, a very large cooperative, such as the Mondragon cooperatives in Basque Spain, will have developed its own governing body, similar to the US Congress, to maintain relationships between its members and member-cooperatives.