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Learn about employee ownership options

Broad-based employee ownership sustains quality jobs, creates stronger businesses, and preserves your company’s legacy. Project Equity can help you choose the form that is the best fit for you and your business.

Worker cooperatives and ESOPs have been around for decades. Worker-owned cooperatives are 100% employee-owned and have democratic practices such as majority board representation built into the model. ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans) can be fully or partially employee-owned, and Democratic ESOPs integrate employee voting and board representation. 

Worker-owned cooperative

A worker-owned cooperative (or worker coop) is a company that is owned and controlled by the people who work there.  The Board of Directors is made up by a majority of worker-owners who are elected by the full membership on a one-person, one-vote basis, and profits are shared based on hours worked. Their hallmarks are a highly participatory culture with most having traditional management structures and ‘representative’ democracy through the Board and the Annual General Meeting.

Democratic ESOP

ESOPs are retirement plans that hold all or a portion of the company’s shares in a trust on behalf of the employees. The benefits of employee ownership that research has demonstrated—improved company performance and employee wellbeing—require participatory culture and are deepened by 100% employee ownership. Democratic ESOPs build this into the business structure by incorporating employee participation in electing Plan Trustees, on Trustee Committees, or on the Board of Directors.


Worker cooperative Democratic ESOP
Broad-based employee ownership
Democratic governance
Built-in profit sharing Recommended
100% employee ownership Recommended
Employee stock value appreciates, redeemable upon retirement
Potential tax breaks
Annual valuation required (ERISA / DOL regulated)
Suitable for large companies
Suitable for small companies

To learn more about worker-owned cooperatives, take a look at these inspiring companies: Cooperative Home Care Associates, Isthmus Engineering, and Alvarado Street Bakery.

To learn more about Democratic ESOPs, check out Carris Reels and Once Again Nut Butter.

Explore our Small Business Crisis case studies

Just released!

New studies in the SF Bay Area, Twin Cities, Western North CarolinaDetroit and Central Pennsylvania show millions of businesses at risk, pointing to employee ownership as a solution.

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