From the NYU Women of Color Policy Network
As unemployment and joblessness soar, low-wage workers across the country are embracing and successfully developing co-operative business structures. Here are some stories of workers who are taking control and reducing their risk of exploitation, while lifting wages and gaining managerial experience.
In Richmond, California, Mayor Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, inspired by co-operatives in Mondragon, Spain is encouraging new worker-owned ventures. Richmond’s co-operative businesses include the up and coming Liberty Ship Cafe that will cater to city employees, and Richmond Solar, which will be a solar energy cooperative. In Cleveland, Ohio Evergreen Cooperatives boasts a solar energy and weatherization business, a cooperative laundry, and in the next few months, an urban farming co-op.
In New York, the South Bronx’s Green Worker Cooperatives counters environmental racism and joblessness by recruiting local residents for a skills training academy for green jobs. Brooklyn is home to the Park Slope Food Co-op, one of New York’s best known worker-owned businesses and the country’s largest co-operative of its kind. More recently, Sunset Park’s Center for Family Life, a Brooklyn community development organization has incubated a number of low-wage worker-led initiatives including Sí Se Puede, a co-operative cleaning business. The women worker-owners of Sí Se Puede‘s have raised their hourly wages, now earning as much as $25 per hour or as much as three times what they would be making otherwise, while gaining more independence in their schedules and working hours.
As the Women of Color Policy Network discussed in our First to Fall, Last to Climb Policy Brief, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to currently be represented in low-wage and service jobs. The face of worker-owned co-operatives in America is shifting to reflect more women, communities of color and multilingual populations. These innovative business structures provide an innovative path to wealth accumulation. They also often recognize the need for childcare and health benefits of their workers– essential components of occupational support for families and many women workers. Greater emergence of co-operatives also creates a need for banking arrangements that can accommodate and support businesses with many owners. Many co-operatives turn to credit unions for their banking needs. As American cities strive to overcome the residual impacts of the recession, worker-owned co-operatives present an attractive alternative to conventional top-down models of job growth and business development.