Worker-Owned and Unionized Worker-Owned Cooperatives: Two Tools to Address Income Inequality - CLEO Skip to main content


This article evaluates worker-owned and unionized worker-owned cooperatives as alternatives to the conventional corporate structures for businesses in the United States. With their focus on democratic governance and shared ownership, worker-owned cooperatives offer an antidote to the extreme inequality of income and deterioration of working conditions that workers are experiencing. These are inequities for which corporate prioritization of executive compensation and shareholder enrichment are at least partly responsible. While questions have been raised concerning the sustainability of the cooperative form, two examples of large, well established cooperatives – Mondragon and Cooperative Home Care Associates – demonstrate how capitalization strategies, cooperative ecosystems, and strategic affiliations with unions can leverage resources to start and keep cooperative businesses functioning. The article also documents the growth of municipal and institutional support for the cooperative form of business ownership, and the role that the City University of New York’s Community Economic Development Law Clinic (CEDC) has played in supporting that movement domestically and internationally. That support has included developing curricula to build the capacity of worker cooperatives, participating in creating and sustaining the creation of a city-wide advocacy coalition, organizing annual conferences, and successfully working with local legislatures to increase funding for cooperatives. Law students in CEDC have gained skills of transactional lawyering, movement lawyering and coalition-building through their representation of individual worker cooperatives and their work with a city-wide advocacy coalition for cooperatives. Of particular note in the pedagogy of this representation are the advanced skills of integrative counseling and inclusive problem solving that assistance for complex actors requires.