What is a Worker Owned Cooperative?
By the end of 2020, Nashville Foodscapes will officially become a worker-owned cooperative.
A cooperative is a voluntary association of people who come together to meet their shared goals through a jointly-owned and democratically-governed enterprise. In the United States, many people are members of consumer coops like cooperative grocery stores and financial coops such as credit unions. Customers are the members of consumer and financial cooperatives. In a worker cooperative, however, employees are the members.
In worker cooperatives, each worker-owner owns an equal share of the business. When workers join the cooperative, they invest a set amount of money into the business. This is referred to as a buy-in. This entitles them to share in company profit and to vote on company decisions such as budgets and business strategy.
While all cooperatives are democratically governed, their management structures vary from flat collectives to more traditional hierarchies. Nashville Foodscapes employs a centralized management team to execute the cooperative’s business strategy and to make sure that day to day operations run smoothly. However, because every worker-owner has a stake in the coop’s success, worker-owners have more autonomy, authority, and responsibility than workers in similar roles in conventional landscaping firms.
At the end of each year, worker-owners are allocated a portion of the business’s profit or “surplus,” based on the amount of work they contributed to the coop in that year. Worker-owners vote on how to distribute this money, including what to use for employee bonuses, equipment purchases, and other expenses to grow the business. Worker-owners also share the responsibility and expense if the business is doing poorly or losing money. Shares cannot be sold, transferred, gifted, or inherited, so control of the cooperative always remains in the hands of the current worker-owners.
We aren’t becoming a co-op to get rich. Cooperatives are not organized with the intention of maximizing shareholder profits. Although we are a for-profit cooperative corporation, we measure ourselves by a “triple bottom-line” of people, planet, and profit. We make choices like avoiding using synthetic chemicals and paying a living wage to all employees. These choices may cost us more in the short term, but we believe that the safety of clients and co-workers, the health of our planet, and the investment in people who will become our future co-owners is worthwhile.