The 1980s saw major changes in the nature and practice of social work. The Reagan “revolution” substantially changed the face of the welfare state in the United States, as the tenets of laissez-faire capitalism once again became the major guiding force behind the support, funding, implementation, and evaluation of social welfare policies. As Jayaratne, Siefert, and Chess (1988) note, the “penetration of the market system into the human services is a relatively recent development, but the long-term result may be a fundamental shift and redefinition of social work practice” (p. 325).

In 1972, about 3.3 percent of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) members were working in the private, profit-oriented sector of the economy, most as therapists (Jayaratne, Siefert, & Chess, 1988). By 1982, 10.9 percent of NASW members were private practitioners—7.6 percent serving individuals and 3.3 percent working with groups. Not surprisingly, by 1987 this figure had increased to 15.3 percent-11.1 percent in private practice, and 4.2 percent in group practice (NASW, 1987). There is strong reason to believe that these trends will continue into the future.

Concomitantly, NASW members employed in the non-profit sector have decreased

Dr. Soifer is an Assistant Professor and Dr. Resnick is a Professor, at the School of Social Work, University of Washington, 4101 15th Avenue NE, JH-30, Seattle, WA 98195. Appreciation is expressed to Frank Adams, Tim Carleton, Vanessa Hodges, David Gil, Lorraine Gutierrez, Dan Kriegman, Virginia Sencchal, Alice Slining, and Rick Surpin for their useful comments on several drafts of the manuscript.

Administration in Social Work, Vol. 17(3) 1993
© 1993 by The Haworth Press. Inc. All rights reserved.

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during the same period of time. In 1982, 87 percent were employed in the non-profit sector (42 percent in private sectarian and non-sectarian agencies and 45 percent in public sector agencies) But by 1987, only 79.8 percent were working in non-profit agencies(38.9 percent private, 40.9 percent public) (NASW,1987).

Based on their survey of NASW members, Jayaratne, Siefert, & Chess (1988) conclude that many agency-based practitioners experience a “loss of control over the workplace brought about by agency structure and demands and by related cost containment measured [that] may result in a less challenging work environment and ‘assembly-line service.” ” Bumout or alienation is a prevalent problem in the field of social work, one which affects those in the non-profit sector far more than those employed in the private sector (Karger, 1981; Jayaratne & Chess, 1984; Jayaratne, Siefert, & Chess, 1988). Clearly, the context of social work practice can strongly affect a practitioner’s experience on the job.

Given these trends, social workers need to develop new models for practicing in the private and public sectors that are congruent with the profession’s historical mission and values. Examination of workers cooperatives and the principles of democratic self-management will be useful in exploring new modes of social work practice in the 1990s. To do this, we will begin by exploring workers’ Cooperatives generally, the relevance of worker Cooperatives to the field of social work, and several successful and unsuccessful attempts to start such ventures. Following this, we will describe forces opposing and favoring the development of worker cooperatives in social work, and look at possible new models for practice in the field.


Generally speaking, worker cooperatives have been defined as “any enterprise in which control rests ultimately and overwhelmingly with the member-employees-owners, regardless of the particular legal framework through which this is achieved” (Rothschild & Whitt 1986, pp. 1-2). Worker self-management, on the other hand, is “the collective process of self-governance and democratic management within an organization” (Gunn,

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1984, p. 15). Thus, while in worker cooperatives both ownership and management is in the hands of its worker-owners, in self-managed firms the workers do not “legally own” the corporation (Rothschild-Whitt & Lindenfeld, 1982).

Democratically managed and owned worker cooperatives have two basic common features: (1) their owner-members earn a living through an equitable division of the surplus or “profit” of their collective labor, and (2) they are established to provide their owner-members with a maximum degree of control over the workplace through the involvement of everyone in decision-making based on the principle of one member, one vote (Honigsberg, Kamoroff, & Beatty, 1982; Adams & Ellerman, 1989).

‘Worker cooperatives have a long history around the world, including the United States. The largest network is the Mondragon cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. Begun in 1956 with one cooperative and 23 workers, by 1986 it had grown to include 103 cooperatives employing 19,500 workers (Whyte & Whyte, 1988). In the United States, between 1790 and 1959, several historical cycles of workers’ cooperatives have produced over 700 known case examples (Jackall & Levin, 1984). Lichtenstein (1986) gives a good overview of this history. The most recent wave of cooperative activity in the United States happened in the 1960s and 1970s, and while it was quite different in nature than the previous cycles, thousands of worker cooperatives and collectives were formed, though many of these did not survive (Jackall & Crain, 1984). The exact number of presently operating worker cooperatives in the United States is unknown, but the best estimate is that there were probably 1,000 in 1990 (Industrial Cooperative Association, personal communication; August 30, 1989).


Social work personnel are caught in a number of contradictions (Resnick, 1979), including those between (1) agency requirements and community needs, (2) professional and bureaucratic goals, (3) staff and management interests, and (4) professional values and societal norms. The tension generated by such conflict of interest is transmitted to workers and impacts their effectiveness, morale, empowerment, and identity (Sherman &

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Wenocur, 1983). We contend that (1) such contradictions and the resulting impact on service effectiveness and staff are related to, if not caused by, the traditional hierarchical model of organization in the private and public human service sector, which currently supports most social work practice systems, and (2) eliminating those contradictions by creating a cooperative model of organization will lead to a much more positive organizational climate in the relationship between management and staff, as well as among staff themselves. This assumption is supported by evidence that worker cooperatives can be more productive than traditional capitalist businesses (Grunberg, Everard, & O’Toole,1984).

We believe that social workers in a cooperatively structured organization will have increased energy, enthusiasm, and a greater level of commitment to organization objectives, a greater awareness of and sensitivity to job safety issues, and an increased team and organizational orientation. The assumption undergirding such optimistic outcomes is that the worker/owner has a true vested interest (economic, legal, and social) in both the survival and good reputation of the organization, including how it will operate formally and informally to ensure its efficiency. We would also expect to see a more creative and supportive work climate and a desire to seek more win/win interactions; leading to increased trust throughout the Organization.

Because the workers in such a cooperative organization would be taking responsibility for government and administrative roles, their skill base would be broadened by the expansion of roles with different responsibilities, tasks, and rewards attached to them. This would provide the workers/owners with opportunities to be engaged in policy-making and administrative procedures and decisions, as well as in their service/delivery tasks. According to Bernstein (1982), essential factors affecting the worker participation continuum include,” (1) the degree of control employees enjoy over any particular decision; (2) the issues over which that control is exercised; and (3) the organizational level at which their control is exercised” (p. 53)

Finally, the authors predict that the normal resistance to change found in most social agencies today among lower and middle-echelon workers would also be reduced as a result of their very real stake in the ownership of the organization.

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According to Gil (1979), “work processes . . . redesigned into nonhierarchical and nonfragmented patterns {can] … facilitate the integration of the physical, intellectual, creative, and emotional capacities of people at work. People understand their work and become masters rather than ‘factors’ of production. They work cooperatively rather than competitively, thus providing opportunities for the emergence of mutually supportive, caring, and loving human relations” (p. 48).

The authors acknowledge that social work cooperatives have and will have their share of organizational issues and problems. Under the one-member, one-vote principle, larger worker cooperatives may discover that an enormous amount of time is consumed in trying to make decisions. In turn, this may take time away from worker productivity and the delivery of services at a time when funding for social services is increasingly scarce. There could also be a breakdown in democratic decision-making because of the sheer size of the worker cooperative. On the other hand, those cooperatives that try to share power equally among members nonhierarchically may be subject to what one author describes as the “tyranny of structurelessness” (Joreen, 1973). Finally, the question of how to balance the sharing of responsibility for many, if not all, organizational tasks among members and accommodating workers/owners’ specialized competencies has to be addressed.


In this section, we will examine a variety of social work-initiated or social work-related cooperative ventures, ranging from an unpaid collective to a flourishing human service;’ workers’ cooperative. Giver: that there are so few of these ventures, we feel it is important to describe those that exist in the field.

According to Michael, Lurie, Russell, and Unger (1985), the Social Workers’ Cooperative or Coop in New York City started in 1976 “as a [non-profit] self-help group of MSW-level social workers for the purpose of job finding and professional development” (p. 249). The Coop holds seminars and sponsors lectures on various social work topics. Organizational decisions are made in a cooperative, consensus manner, while active members provide

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some administrative structure by serving on the Coop’s Board of Directors. Perhaps the most successful external project undertaken by the coop was the implementation of Rapid Response Mutual Aid Groups in response to the death of John Lennon (Michael, Lurie, Russel,& Unger 1985).

In 1982, the Community Service Society (CSS) of New York started the Center for Community Economic Development, whose goal was to help develop worker-owned and controlled businesses For unemployed and/ or underemployed people. In 1985, the Cooperative Home Care Associative(CHCA), which provides home health care services, was begun as a project of the Center (Surpin,1984,1988a). The goals of CHCA were two-fold:(1) to work for “better wages, fringe benefits, working conditions, and job stability For a low-income, primarily black and Latin female workforce” and (2) to “high-quality care services for elderly and disabled patients “(Surpin 1987,p,2).

Since its inception, CHCA has become the largest low-income worker-owned cooperative in the United States. It employs about 200 paraprofessionals and 15 administrative and educational staff 75 ‘of whom are worker-owners. The organization’s Board, which used to be dominated by the CSS is now “employee-controlled.”CHCA pays its workers an average of $6.50 an hour (better than the home healthcare industry standard) employs 70 percent of its workforce full-time (much better than the industry standard), and does $2.5 million in sales of paraprofessional services to hospitals and community health care centers per year. However, the organization needed about $1 million in capitalization expenses, mostly loans from lending sources and grants from foundations (Surpin, n.d.; Surpin personal communication, January 18, 1991; April 1991; May 28, 1991).

Every three months, CHCA conducts a three-hour job skills and workers education session for its employees. After three months and an initial investment of $50 ( and a total of $1,000 paid over five years), workers can become owners. Profits are disbursed to workers-owners based on the members of hours they work an average $500 per person per year(Surpin, 1988b; Surpin personal, communications January 18, 1991;

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April 29, 1991; May 28, 1991). A remarkably successful venture, CHCA is a model to emulate across the country.

The author knows of one egalitarian human services partnership and two human service worker cooperatives on the East Coast. There may be more in the United States, but at this time we are unaware of them. Clearly, egalitarian partnerships and workers-cooperatives in the human service field are new phenomena.

Linden Oaks’ Sexual Abuse Treatment Services (LOSATS) is located in Rochester, New York, and consists of three practitioners ( two social workers and one clinical psychologist) in private practice. Formed in January 1989 as a legal partnership, LOSATS provides intensive family counseling from a systems perspective on child sexual abuse issues.(Neilans, Petracca, & Slinning,n.d.).

While LOASTS is not legally incorporated as a worker’s cooperative, it operates on a number of principles important to the cooperative movement and which are not standard fare for most small businesses. All three partners have equal weight in making decisions. Before incorporation, the partners met monthly for a year and a half to discuss what structure would work best to meet their needs; now, they meet much more frequently. LOSATS’s current structure gives the partners control over the provision of treatment to their clients. There appears to be a great deal of satisfaction with this arrangement among the partners (Slining, personal communication, November 15, 1990; February 7, 1991).

Two of LOSATS’ partners work about ten hours a week for the partnership, while the other one works less hours. For the most part, the partners make decisions on a consensus basis. Together, they discuss clinical cases, management issues, finances, and macro-factors influencing sexual abuse issues in the Rochester area (Slining, personal communications, November 15, 1990; February 7, 1991).

The partnership is supported by a $77,000 county contract and individual fees. This allows them to hire several part-time employees as consultants, too. LOSATS was set up as a partnership for pragmatic reasons: The county required them to be a legal entity in order to accommodate the county’s accounting procedures (Slining, personal communications, November 15, 1990; February 7, 1991).

Recovery Counseling Associates, Inc. (RCA)3 located in Albany, New York, started in

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1988. It is legally incorporated as a worker’s cooperative under New York state law and is modeled after Mondragon, the very successful Spanish industrial workers’ cooperative. RCA provides education and counseling services to a variety of clients, as well as consulting services to area agencies. Currently, there are six owners, including an MSW, an MA, and three New York State credentialed alcoholism counselors (CACs). All employees Are part time-two maintain a private practice, one is a doctoral Pludent, and the remainder have full-time employment in conventional agencies. (Carleton, personal communication, November 1, 1990; February 5, 1991).

RCA’s roots go back to an enthusiastic group of eight people who were dissatisfied with traditional agency practices. After meeting for several months, participants were asked to invest in start-up capital and unpaid work hours to formalize the cooperative, At this point the group dwindled down to the four who, with a few new members, currently form the core of RCA. While other individuals have expressed an interest in joining, or have actually joined, they have not maintained a consistent commitment. Two are presently “on the cave,” one has resigned, one has drastically limited her hours, and Several others, after initial enthusiasm, failed to follow through on the application process (Carleton, personal communications November 1, 1990; February 5, 1991).

RCA’s success relies on obtaining licensure by New York State an alcoholism and substance abuse treatment agency, which would allow the certified alcoholism counselors to bill for Medicaid and third-party reimbursements. Once this happens, RCA would provide full-time employment to its owners, with the potential foresting as a model for other clinical cooperatives in New York State. 1 order to be licensed, RCA must demonstrate sufficient financial acking. Banks have not been willing to back RCA due to its lack of lateral. The National Cooperative Bank has tentatively agreed to match dollar-for-dollar funds raised by RCA for capitalization expenses. Other possibilities include the Minority Revolving Loan of the Urban Development Corporation of New York State CA is eligible since it is two-thirds women-owned), a local urban development corporation, several local philanthropists, and various friends and relatives of the owners, RCA receives help from the Albany-based Employee Ownership Project, a group which

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provides technical assistance and financial advice to worker-owned businesses are currently consulting with RCA (Carleton, personal communications, November 1, 1990; February 5, 1991).

The final example is the Boston-based Human Services Cooperative (HSC).* Formed in 1986 under Massachusetts cooperative laws, it too is based on the Mondragon model. HSC has six worker-owners—one psychologist, two social workers, one lawyer, one MA in psychology, and one administrative assistant. The group also employs twenty other people who are currently in the process of being invited to become worker-owners (Kriegman, personal communications, November 20, 1990; February 11, 1991).

HSC has been quite successful in garnering state contracts to support its work. One contract for $350,000 allows HSC to do psychiatric and psychological evaluations and treatment planning for sexual offenders in a corrections facility. The other contract for about $800,000 permits HSC to run a psychiatric emergency facility in one of Massachusetts’s catchment areas. There is a dilemma, however, since those hired to provide the emergency services were not part of the workers’ cooperative; HSC hired them to provide these services when it took over the contract. While the new workers are being invited to join, HSC may not be able to make worker ownership a condition of employment. The contractee (the Massa- chusetts Department of Health) would not be pleased to have long-term reliable clinicians forced to leave over a failure to buy into the vendor’s (that is, HSC) corporation (Kriegman, personal communications, November 20, 1990; February 11, 1991).

Because of the precarious condition of the Massachusetts economy and the massive cutbacks in human services, HSC needs to diversify its work. For example, the cooperative would like to provide alternatives to hospitalization for private insurance companies. Furthermore, HSC is exploring the possibility of setting up a non-profit worker-owner educational organization, which would then allow the group to receive foundation and other monies. Eventually, the non-profit arm might legally own HSC, since nonprofits can own for-profit organizations, but not vice-versa (Kriegman, personal communications, November 20, 1990; February 11, 1991).

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In addition to the above examples, we are aware of several unsuccessful efforts to set up a social work worker cooperative. There are invaluable lessons to learn from these examples.

One failed attempt to set up a social work workers’ cooperative in the United States was an employee Assistance Program (EAP) at a large psychiatric hospital in the East. A group of twelve to fourteen social workers provided a variety of services to corporations in the workplace. While they were generalists, the program had a strong focus on drug and substance abuse. The EAP experienced financial difficulties when the state, which had funded EAP services for its employees, experienced a budget crisis. The hospital thus decided to cancel the program because it was not generating enough money. Some of the social workers tried to get the rest of the staff to consider purchasing the program from the hospital, but it was not successful.

According to someone involved in this effort, there were several reasons why the attempt failed. First, a number of the social workers were part-time staff who had families and could not come up with the necessary funds. Second, none of the social workers earned a lot of money, there was a significant degree of risk involved in the venture. Third, there Was not a single bank that would consider financing the worker buy-out. Fourth, the hospital asked for much more money than employees could conceivably raise. Fifth, the hospital was not willing to even consider financing the loan. Lastly, there was ambivalence on the part of social workers, many of whom were not willing to accept the responsibility involved in the effort.

Several other background factors also seemed to be operating, according to one of the organizers. First, the profession of social work does not teach its members to take risks. Second, the profession is general and does not recruit entrepreneurial-minded types (although this may be changing), consequently those so inclined often seek out her professions. Finally, social workers who are business-minded as opposed to being client-oriented tend to be stigmatized.

Another unsuccessful effort to set up a social work workers’ cooperative was in Canada. Several social workers (one PhD and co-MSWs) in one of the provinces tried to put together a workers’ consulting cooperative. The group worked for over a year on this

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collective venture. Their reason for doing so was a deep dissatisfaction with the traditional ways of doing business, as well as a commitment to a non-hierarchically structured workplace.

Some in this group had been involved in a prior attempt to convert a prior partnership into a workers’ cooperative. One reason this first attempt failed was the presence of gender issues. The men had been in control of the partnership, while the women had been employees. Based on this experience, two members of the partnership and another friend decided to start over.

The group of three social workers had bimonthly meetings to discuss their common goals and vision. Much attention was put on the group process. The key issue confronting the failed cooperative was how much of the cooperative’s work would focus on traditional bureaucratic organizations and how much would focus on grassroots, alternative organizations. A related concern was to decide whether one of the three would work with conventional organizations in order to finance the work of the other two consulting with non-conventional organizations.

Some of the projects that the partnership was involved in included community development and evaluation efforts with Native American communities, consulting with an organization for people with disabilities on housing issues, consulting with battered women’s shelters on cooperative board and agency structures, and training and action research with housing cooperatives.

In the end, the major reason this venture failed was financial. Two of the major participants were having personal financial difficulties, leading one to take a more lucrative position with a private corporation. There were also some unresolved conflicts between these two individuals. In place of the workers’ cooperative, about five or six individuals are now operating as a network or clearinghouse for each other, dividing up various job opportunities and contracts.


There are many forces working against the introduction and/or maintenance of worker cooperatives in the field of social work. The major ones are our present economic system and the nature of the social work profession itself.

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Our free enterprise economic system discourages worker cooperatives in a number of ways. First, our economic system promotes individualism and competition. As we have seen, many attempts at setting up workers” cooperatives view wang as economically depressed or socially unstable times. If the economy is doing well, and there is social stability, people are less likely to see that something is wrong, and consequently not look for alternative ways to do business. The second reason is political. There is little support by any level of government for cooperative ventures. Thirdly, there is an ideological/educational component. As a matter of course people are not socialized to know about, much less organize, worker cooperatives. This is true of our profession as well. Moreover, when worker cooperatives are discussed, it is done in the context of the industrial, rather than service sectors. The fourth reason has to do with elements of society’s social control function. The state businesses, and foundations, which control and fund the vast majority of social service programs in this to support alternative organizations. Legalities are the fifth reason. Most states do not have legislation supporting the formation of worker cooperatives. Finally, there is a cultural factor. Worker cooperatives are not; part of the general milieu of U.S. society, in contrast to most European countries. ’

Social work history, professional models, ideology, and orientation also work against the formation of worker cooperatives. Generally speaking, the profession’s history has been systems maintaining rather than systems challenging or systems changing. Too often, the focus has been on the individual rather than the system, Barly on, the Charity Organization Societies became one of the main models for organizations within the profession, a hierarchical, bureaucratic one. Alternative models of organization especially cooperative ones, have almost never been utilized.

In terms of professional models, the medical and psychiatric models have also strongly influenced social work practice and organizational structure, Yet, unlike other institutionalized professions, such as law, medicine, and accounting, social work does not operate in a protected or “sheltered market.” Moreover, unlike the above-named

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professions, social workers often do not find themselves in “distinct occupational cultures with common hours and places of work and play and with widely shared backgrounds, work experiences, and occupational norms.” More like teachers, social workers are often hired by public or private organizations. For these and other reasons, our profession, unlike the others mentioned, has its labor fairly easily controlled and regulated by both the market and the state (Russell, 1985).

Social workers also have been trained to focus their attention almost exclusively on the clients, and in the process disregard their own status as workers. Hence, social work unions and social work worker cooperatives are not seen as important or even desirable within the profession; unions are perceived by some as detracting from our “professional” status while worker cooperatives are alien to the profession.

One of the ironic consequences of such attitudes is that the organizational structure and working conditions within our workplaces are seen as having no bearing on the nature or delivery of work, or even potential client satisfaction. Questions about the most effective work environment for the delivery of social services are rarely asked.

The trend toward professionalization and credentialing has also mitigated the formation of social work workers’ cooperatives. As we try to become more and more professional as an organization, we adopt the methods of other, more conservative professions. The “monopolization of knowledge” becomes all-important (Jackall & Crain, 1984). Licensing and supervision requirements also make the formation of cooperatives less likely. Yet, social work still remains what some refer to as a “semi-professional.” Frumkin and O’Connor’s (1985) three criteria for social work to become truly a profession recognized by society (essential function in society, unique role, and monopolization of knowledge base) have not been achieved today. To a large degree, social workers do not control our professional status in society.

Finally, worker cooperatives are built on a profit model and require substantial start-up capital. Since social workers tend not to think of their workplaces as businesses and

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generally speaking do not know how to raise the necessary capital to start such enterprises, it is very difficult for us to think in the way necessary to begin such ventures,


Some societal trends and historical tendencies in the field of social work favor the formation of social work workers’ cooperatives. The new community economics movement has been promoting new forms of ‘work organizations for decades, and this knowledge is slowly permeating different fields. Also, the participatory democracy movement, a legacy of the 1960s and 1970s, with its call for anti-authoritarian, anti-bureaucratic tendencies has had an impact. This movement influenced the formation of many of the democratic collectives of the 1970s and 1980s and has affected the movement for democratizing the workplace, even in corporate America. The women’s movement and the application of feminist principles to the workplace, both in terms of process and structure, has had a major impact too, especially on alternative organizations. These principles dovetail nicely with more traditional cooperative values.

The above-mentioned trends, as we have seen, have combined to spawn the formation of many collectives and alternative social service agencies. While many of these experiments during the 1960s and 1970s failed, others have survived and even thrived into the Coals. These may serve as important role models in the 1990s. currently, twenty states have enabled legislation permitting the formation of worker cooperatives.

The social work profession has several factors that would ‘encourage the formation of worker cooperatives. One is its more aggressive history. The Settlement House Movement in the early 20th century is an important model for us to turn to in relation to social work. worker cooperatives. The idea of a group of college students living: and working together in poor and working-class neighborhoods in order to provide needed services in the community and to work for social reform is indeed inspirational. Settlement 1ouses were organized for “child labor laws, public health laws (kindergarten and day! care programs, visiting nurse programs, public housing, music schools, arts

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programs for the poor, community-based adult educational services, [and] . . . parks and play-grounds” (Loavenbruck & Key, 1987, p. 557). Finally, the nature of the profession may favor the formation of worker cooperatives, since it is “labor-intensive rather than capital intensive,” making it more feasible, given the right set of knowledge and skills, for social workers to start worker cooperatives (Russell, 1985).


One model to explore would be social worker private practice collectives. Social workers in private practice are able to engage in the “sale and delivery of personalized services directly to the public” (Russell, 1985, p. 171). Three to eight social workers could practice together in these cooperatives. They could incorporate as a workers’ cooperative, or else set up a partnership or corporation but adhere to the one-person, one-vote principle, and then perhaps switch over to being a workers’ cooperative once the venture proved viable. Income and costs would be equally divided, or based on a percentage of work time formula. The key difference between such a proposed agency and most of the existing work arrangements between private practice social workers is the cooperativeness of the venture. Those forming the workers” cooperative would do so not primarily for private gain, but instead to work together with others sharing similar values in order to practice social work collectively. Such an arrangement should cut down on isolation and provide a supportive environment to do social work. It would also be easier for such a workers’ cooperative to collectively fulfill its obligation to serve indigent clients since this responsibility could be shared by the entire cooperative.

Another possible model is a variation of the ideas of the early settlement houses. Modifying this model, a group of social workers with diverse interests and skills could come together and practice in areas such as health, mental health, advocacy, and community organizing, as well as working with specific population groups.® Social workers would practice together in this social service collective. A wide range of social services could be provided to the community. (An analogy would be a medical

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specialists’ group practice.) Various legal structures could be tried, such as a genuine workers’ cooperative, a partnership, a non-profit corporation, or some combination, of the above. One hybrid might be a nonprofit agency that would be eligible for grants, but which would also have a for-profit workers’ cooperative arm attached to it. this idea is somewhat similar to CSS’s cooperative Home Care Associates, though the agency spin-off is a workers’ cooperative for home health care workers, and to what HSC in Boston may try. The essential feature of any of these ventures would be adherence to the basic principle of the cooperative movement.


These fresh ideas for social work practice are intended to stimulate thinking and debate in the field. Given the current trends in the field discussed at the beginning of this paper, it is perhaps timely for social workers, to come to grips with the organizational context of the profession which impacts workers and develops new models for practice and organizing work. Otherwise, we are likely to see a continued bifurcation in the field, with private-sector social workers becoming more and more narrowly therapeutic and public-sector social workers becoming increasingly burned out and frustrated in their attempt to “help” clients because they have little if any control over their workplace. Social work worker cooperatives seem to be a possible alternative vehicle for those in the profession who seek a work environment that is conducive to the well-being of both the workers and the clients.


  1. Rick Surpin can be contacted at CHCA, 349 149th Street, Room 706, Bronx,” NY 10451.
  2. Alice Slining and her fellow partners, Emanuel Petracca and Thomas Neilans, can be contacted at LOSATS, 100 Linden Ozks, Suite 200, Rochester, NY 14625.
  3. Tim Carleton and his fellow cooperators can be contacted at RCA, P.O. Box 2146, Albany NY 12209.
  4. Dan Kriegman and his fellow cooperators can be contacted at HSC,701 saw Mill Brook Parkway, Newton, MA 02159
  5. The only discussion, albeit briefly, the authors have seen concerning the possibility of worker cooperatives in the field of social work is in Karger & Stoesz, 1990.

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  1. Stoesz (1981) describes one organization, the Family Life Center, which provided various mental health and community services in a fairly original, non-bureaucratic manner, but it was clearly not a workers’ cooperative.
  2. We are indebted to Frank Adams for this insight. He works with the Industrial Cooperative Association, 20 Park Plaza, Suite 1127, Boston, MA 02116.


Adams, F, & Ellerman, D. (1989). Your own boss: Democratic worker ownership. Social Policy, 19(3), 12-18.

Bernstein, P. (1982). Necessary elements for effective worker participation in decision-making. In FE. Lindenfeld & J. Rothschild-Whitt (Eds.), Workplace democracy and social change. Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers.

Frumkin, M., & O’Connor, G. (1985). Where has the profession gone? Where is it going? Social work’s search for identity. The Urban and Social Change, 18(1),13-18.

Gil, D. G. (1979). Beyond the jungle: Essays on human possibilities. social alternatives, and radical practice. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co.

Grunberg, L., Everard, 1, & O’Toole, M. (1984). Productivity and safety in worker cooperatives and conventional finns. International Journal of Health Services, 14(3), 413-432,

Gunn, C. E. (1984). Workers’ self-management in the United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Honigsberg, P. I., Kamoroff, B., & Beatty, J. (1982). We own it: Starting and managing coops. collectives. & employee-owned ventures. Laytonville, CA: Bell Springs Publishing.

Jackall, R., & Crain, J. (1984). The shape of the small worker cooperative movement. In R. Jackall & H. M. Crain (Eds.), Worker cooperatives in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jackall, R., & Levin, H. M. (1984). Work in America and the cooperative movement. In R. Jackall & H. M. Levin (Eds.), Worker cooperatives in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jayaratne, S., & Chess, W. A. (1984). Job Satisfaction, burnout, and turnover; A national study, Social Work, 29(5), 448-453.

Jayaratne, S., Sicfert, K., & Chess, W. A. (1988). Private and agency practitioners: Some data and observations. Social Service Review, 62(2), 324-336.

Joreen (1973). The tyranny of structurelessness. In A Koedt, E. Levine, & A. Rapone (Eds.), Radical feminism. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co.

Karger, H. J. (1981). Burnout as alienation. Social Service Review, 35(2), 270-283.

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