What is Employee Ownership?

At an employee-owned company, the workers—not outside shareholders—own all or at least a significant percentage of their workplace. Employee-owned companies are found throughout the world, in almost every industry, and are often leaders in their field.

In the United States today, there are an estimated 300-400 democratically employee-owned firms including worker cooperatives, democratically operated employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), and other firms owned and controlled by employees. In these firms, all tenured employees participate in the company’s profits and have a say in how the company is governed, generally by voting for the board of directors on a one-person-one-vote basis.  Internationally, many countries have a much higher density of democratic employee-owned firms than exists currently in the United States. For example, Italy has an estimated 25,000 worker cooperatives, there are several thousand in Spain, and approximately 2,000 in France. Argentina has also seen a rapid rise in worker cooperatives and now has an estimated 6,000 worker-owned companies employing approximately 300,000 people.

In addition to democratic employee-owned companies, there are approximately 6,200 private companies in the US—employing approximately 3 million people—that have shared ownership with employees through an employee stock ownership plan.

Learn about democratically employee-owned companies in the US and abroad:

Companies around the world have embraced employee ownership as a better way to do business. These businesses are community leaders that model innovation and sustainability. They provide good jobs and build local wealth.

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Alvarado
Street Bakery

Alvarado Street Bakery manufactures baked goods using primarily whole grain and organic ingredients, which are distributed nationally as well as to Canada and Japan. Located in Sonoma County, California, the bakery has been a worker cooperative since 1981. The company currently employs over 100 people and distributes over 30 products. (United States)

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Carris Reels Inc

Carris Reels, Inc. was founded in June of 1951, and has 9 manufacturing plants (Canada, US and Mexico) combined with 8 assembly/warehouse locations, offering a range of reel packaging. The company started an employee stock ownership plan in 1995 and  became 100% employee-owned through the plan in 2008. The company is owned and governed by its 450 employees, and non-management employees serve on the board of directors.  (United States)

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Ceralep

Created in 1921, Ceralep SN is a 60-person manufacturer of high grade porcelain insulators. The company was sold to US investors in 2001, and was unable to remain competitive. In 2003, on the brink of bankruptcy, workers purchased the company from US investors to form a worker cooperative. (France)

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Cooperative Home
Care Associates

CHCA is a worker-owned home care agency in the Bronx, NY. CHCA was founded in 1985 to provide quality home care to clients by providing quality jobs for direct-care workers, starting with 12 home health aides. The cooperative now employs more than 2,000 staff, and serves as a significant driver of employment in the Bronx. (United States)

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Equal Exchange

Founded in 1986, Equal Exchange is a well-known national distributor and retailer of fair trade, organic goods based in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts with over 100 workers. Best known for their coffee, Equal Exchange also specializes in tea, sugar, bananas, avocados, cocoa, and chocolate bars. The goods are produced by farmer cooperatives in Latin America, Africa and Asia. (United States)

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Isthmus Engineering
& Manufacturing

Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing (IEM) has worked with clients to develop custom automation equipment and systems since 1980. The company currently has over 30 worker-owners. (United States)

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John Lewis
Partnership

The John Lewis Partnership is an employee-owned company that owns and operates John Lewis department stores, Waitrose supermarkets, and other subsidiaries. The company is owned by a trust on behalf of all its more than 80,000 employees, which is governed by a written constitution that sets out their principles, company structure, and rules . Employees receive a share of annual profits in addition to their salary. John Lewis Partnership is one of the largest and most profitable companies in the UK. (United Kingdom)

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Maryland Brush
Company

Maryland Brush Company provides stock and custom industrial brush products and related merchandise to the metalwork, rubber, pipeline/welding and other industries. The company was established in 1851, and operated as a subsidiary of Pittsburgh Plate & Glass from 1901 to 1989. In 1990, Maryland Brush Company became employee-owned through an ESOP transaction involving the United Steel Workers union. It is now 100% owned by its employees, where employees and management each choose three directors, with with a seventh director selected by mutual agreement of the parties. (United States)

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The Mondragón
Corporation

The Mondragón Corporation is a corporation and federation of worker cooperatives based in the Basque region of Spain. It was founded in the town of Mondragón in 1956.  Its first product was paraffin heaters. It is the tenth-largest Spanish company in terms of asset turnover and the leading business group in the Basque Country. At the end of 2014, it employed 74,117 people in 257 companies plus four support organizations focused on finance, industry, retail and knowledge. (Spain)

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Namasté Solar

Based in Boulder, Colorado, Namasté Solar was founded in 2005 to provide residential and commercial solar services. The company chose to restructure as a worker cooperative in 2011. Prior to the transition, the company operated on a one-person-one-vote basis for most operational decisions, but shareholder votes were made on a one-share-one-vote basis.  The cooperative model more closely matched the democratic ideals and also enabled the company to accept external investors without sacrificing internal control. (United States)

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South Mountain
Company

South Mountain Company is a 37 year old design and build company located on Martha’s Vineyard. The business began as a partnership in 1975 and then became a sole proprietorship owned by the company’s co-founder, president and CEO John Abrams in 1984. After a period of unexpected growth, the leadership team decided to restructure the company in a way that distributed ownership and control to committed employees, ultimately deciding that a worker cooperative was the best fit. The company, which converted to a worker cooperative in 1987, currently employs over 30 people, 18 of whom are currently worker-owners. (United States)