Sharing the wealth: The push for workers to buy the companies that employ them


Employee-owner Carolyn Berke works in the Niles Pie Company on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Union City, Calif. Berke, who founded The Niles Pie Company made the transition from a single owner to a employee-owned buisness model to help expand and prolong the company. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

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Carolyn Berke knows the challenges of owning a food business in the Bay Area.

As the owner of Union City-based Niles Pie Company for several years — and having owned and worked in bakeries on the East Coast — she’s experienced some of the industry’s long-standing challenges: a struggle to find and keep employees in what is notoriously a high-turnover, low-wage profession, and the challenge of growing a business in a high-cost region.

As of recently, however, Berke’s not handling the challenges of business ownership alone. Her employees are now owners themselves, since Niles Pie Company made the shift to a worker-owned cooperative about six months ago.

Employee-owner Carolyn Berke works in the Niles Pie Company on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Union City, Calif. Berke, who founded The Niles Pie Company made the transition from a single owner to a employee-owned buisness model to help expand and prolong the company. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

The worker-owned model is nothing new, but it could have important implications as businesses try to get ahead of the challenges of operating in the Bay Area and as the wave of baby boomers — who own more than half of all privately owned businesses in the Bay Area — retire, sometimes without a succession plan for their business.

“We are looking at employee ownership as a way to stabilize local ownership versus absentee ownership,” said Alison Lingane, co-founder of Project Equity, an Oakland-based nonprofit that helps businesses, including Niles Pie Company, transition to worker-owned models.

Absentee ownership, the argument goes, makes it easier for businesses to make decisions that are disconnected from what is good for workers, and with union membership lower in many regions than it has been in the past, low-wage workers …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business

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