Think about the last job you held. As long as your check cleared, how much did you care about the company’s success? How much did you care about their goals and ambitions? Maybe a little, if you were a committed employee. Conversely, how much do you think the CEO or owner of the company cared about you? Did they view you as a person to invest in and nurture? Or, more likely, did they view you as an asset which they were trying to squeeze the most labor out of at the least cost?
This traditional relationship between an employer and employee is the only relationship that most of us know. These social relations seem fundamental and immovable, but they can be changed. By allowing employees to own and run their companies, we can break the status quo and create a more equitable economy. Employee-owned businesses are motivated by worker welfare and community building rather than profit and efficiency.
The most common way to promote employee ownership is the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which gifts or allows employees to buy stock options in their company. Large companies like Publix, the hugely popular Florida grocery chain, operate under ESOPs and are over 50% employee-owned. Employee-owned businesses can also take the form of worker cooperatives — a much more holistic solution, in my opinion. In this setup, workers — and workers only — vote on company decisions. Imagine electing your boss, for instance. It’s a tantalizing model, particularly if you believe that workers are being crushed under the heel of wage stagnation and hobbled by collective bargaining power.