In contrast to the corporate structure where CEO’s reap an exponentially higher percentage of the profits than the employees, the co-op model is set up democratically to empower wokers by giving them a decision making role in their company. The money is distributed more equitably. The employee owners directly reap the rewards of their work.
As cooperative members, workers can participate in decisions that affect the way their work is organized, performed, and managed. Workers also determine the growth and success of the business. Typically workers receive wages established by the cooperative and then share in the year-end profits (or losses) according to their participation in the business). Cooperatives characteristically expect members to:
- Accept the full risks and benefits of working in, owning, and operating their cooperative business.
- Equitably contribute to and benefit from the capital of their cooperative.
- Decide how the net income, or net losses, are allocated.
- Govern and control the enterprise on the basis of one vote per member, decision-making by consensus, or an alternative democratic structure.
- Work together, instead of as independent contractors, in a commonly owned business.
An excellent example of cooperative empowerment is WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security) in Oakland, California. Their cooperatives employ migrant, non-English speaking women only. WAGES has created jobs that give these women a living wage and benefits. Some have been able to put their children through college. Without WAGES, they would not have been able to accomplish that goal.