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Combatting Inequality in Workplace Structures: Worker Cooperatives and Employee Stock Ownership Programs in Buffalo-Niagara

Date: Dec 7, 2020
Author(s): Kristin (Szczepaniec) Ksiazek, Annabel Bacon
Topic(s): Economic Development: General
Type: Report

This report engages with present forms of ownership and power in the workplace, using Buffalo-Niagara as a case study. Its broader thrust is that current crises have placed our society at a critical juncture where we must question “business as usual” and begin charting a course to a new, more democratic economy. In short, we need business structures and policies designed to pull us out of crisis, drive us away from inequality, and carry us toward shared prosperity for all. The report concludes by identifying policies and mechanisms for bringing
democratic economic enterprises to scale at local, state, and national levels.

Two structures that alleviate inequalities in wages and representation across race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation are Employee Stock Ownership Programs (ESOPs) and cooperatives, specifically worker cooperatives.

In Buffalo-Niagara, ESOP firms employ more than 6,100 workers and achieve nearly $430 million in annual sales volume. There are 20 identified cooperatives in Buffalo-Niagara, the majority of which are consumer cooperatives. 

Worker cooperatives offer the most worker power by positioning workers as co-owners, democratically run by employees. Benefits of this model include:

  • locally rooted ownership makes firm relocation less likely
  • job preservation is prioritized over profit maximization
  • workers' reported health and happiness is increased
  • civic engagement, social and environmental responsibility is increased