Norma Sanchez’s hand still flutters to her chest when she remembers the incident that was the beginning of the end of her career as a $5-an-hour janitor.
She was mixing heavy-duty cleaners in a supplies closet when the mixture exploded, filling the space with caustic smoke. Unable to read the English labels, she had accidentally combined ammonia and bleach.
The Oakland resident’s lungs ached for a month but taking a night off seemed impossible.
“Now I look back at all of that and I say, ‘Wow, I was really suffering,'” she said.
Today, Sanchez, 35, cleans with baking soda and natural Castile soap and takes sick days when she needs them.
She is one of dozens of low-income, low-education, sometimes undocumented workers who have gone into business for themselves thanks to a boom in worker-owned cooperatives.