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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Against the Odds

Four NYC worker-owners talk co-ops, family, and jobs with justice

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July 25, 2014
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Editor's introduction: Today we present testimony from four worker-owners, delivered at the the New York City Council Committee on Community Development hearing this past February.  the hearing was to consider a proposal for a city budget line devoted to cooperative development.  Given that we don't often get to hear directly from worker-owners, we've rescued this important documentation from the bowels of the NYC Council website.  The full transcript from the hearing is embedded below.  Written testimony can be downloaded from the Council website here.  And, of course, the hearing was a success--NYC recently approved $1.2 million for co-op development

Added 8/1: part two Cooperative Empowerment


Building a Just Economy Based on Trust and Care

My name is Rosa Palaquibi.  I am a member of the Workers Justice Project and Apple Eco Cleaning.

Apple Eco Cleaning is a green cleaning and worker owned cooperative founded in 2010 with the support of the Workers Justice Project and Urban Justice Center.  We were founded by a group of female day laborers who against odds have found a way to organize themselves in the quest for a better job, a better treatment and eventually a better quality of life to our families.

As a worker owner of Apple Eco Cleaning, I am able to provide to my family.  The cooperative provides me job stability, which was impossible to have when looking for work at the street corner.  Now, I can support my daughter's dream to become a mechanical engineer with a salary of 25 dollars per hour, which was hard to do before with a salary of 10 dollars per hour. 

My work allows me to think and protect my health using green cleaning products and personal protective equipment.  I work in a healthy environment without the pressure of employers.  My work at the cooperative allows me to think about my family and my health as well. Now, I can take time off to attend my medical appointment without fear of losing my job.  [T]he cooperative also offers me a flexible schedule that allows me spend quality time with my kids. 

[These] positive changes would have not been possible without the cooperative and the support of the Workers Justice Project and Urban Justice Center that allow us to organize and protect our rights and dignity of work while building a just economy based on dignity and care.  For this reason, it is important for the city to support the development of models within our communities by providing funding for cooperative developers, like Workers Justice Project, and make our cooperative as a preferred contractor for the city.  Now, it is the time to work together to build a new economy that provides dignity and justice for all the workers.  Thank you.


Fighting Wage Theft

Greetings, my name is Claudia Leon, I'm a member of Make the Road New York and a co-owner of Pa'Lante Green Cleaning Coop, a cooperative that offers cleaning services formed by workers like me, [who] had been victims of wage theft and workplace abuse.

I'm originally from Puebla, Mexico.  I moved to the United States three years ago.  I came to this country looking for new employment opportunities and personal growth for me and my family in Mexico who depend on me.  Once here I found a job as a waitress where I worked 6 days a week, 9 hours per day earning $20 per day--I worked under these conditions for three years, in an environment where I felt humiliated and where my personal growth was limited.

Through my participation in English classes offered by Make the Road and my engagement in community meetings, I learned about my rights as an immigrant woman and as a worker in this country.  After learning my rights I realized I was being a victim of labor exploitation.  I decided to quit my job even though I knew how difficult it would be to find a new one.

At that time Make the Road was developing a new project to help members to establish worker cooperatives.  During our weekly cooperatives trainings, we realized that we were victims of workplace abuse as well as the lack of good jobs in different industries.  We decided to commit to the creation of a different type of workplace, where everyone has a voice, a fair wage, stable jobs, and can work in a atmosphere of respect and dignity.

Pa'Lante Green Cleaning Coop  is made up of 16 individuals who have received training to ensure the success of the cooperative and the satisfaction of our future customers.  As of February 2014 we have received our certificate of incorporation as a business.  I am part of the publicity committee working on advertising for the cooperative.  We are workking to ensure the success of the cooperative, so that we can one day offer more jobe to people who desire better working conditions and to improve their lives.  We are a group of 16 people, each dedicated to doing monthly hours of publicity and to attending regular meetings where we engage...important topics such as customer service, training and the use of natural products, etc.

In Mexico I got my accounting license and now I will have the opportunity to implement what I learned there to improve the performance of my cooperative.

Today I want to acknowledge the support we have received from organizations and different cooperatives through their trainings and information.

Thanks for your interest and commitment to help workers' cooperatives in the city of NY.


Co-ops Care About Family Life

Hi all, my name is Yadira Fragoso and I am here to represent Si Se Puede Women’s cooperative

I came to the United States in 2000 and the first job I did was cleaning.  I was making $6.50 an hour.  I did cleaning just for one and a half year[s] and then I dedicated myself to my children. 

In 2006 I was going through a difficult time in my life and because of that I had to send my children to Mexico for a year.  And I was unemployed.

By that time I was receiving counseling at the Center for Family Life and my social worker told me that Si Se Puede would have an open house.  So I decided to apply.

Fortunately I was accepted to begin the approval process.  This process was for four months and and this process was for four months, and after eight months is when I finally became... an official member of Si Se Puede.

The year I had inteded hard was finished and my children returned from Mexico.  By then I was working at a restaurant and at the cooperative.

In the cooperative [I] just had one regular client and three clients every month.  So my main source of money was my job at the restaurant.  Unfortunately, I had no time to spend with my kids and sometimes had to bring them with me to work and [they] waited for me 8 hours or more.

My boss at the time told me that I need to resolve my situation and it was when [I] decided to give up the restaurant and...focus more on the cooperative.

Since then I can say that my life [has] changed.  I started to have more clients and therefore my entry money was higher, from $10 dollars to $20 or $25 an hour.

Finally, I would say that to be part of a cooperative is not easy and you need a lot of patience and dedication.  But all the effort you put in this, it will take you to a better lifestyle and most importantly it will give you enough time to spend with your children and raise them to [become] a good citizen of this country.


Co-ops Provide Personal Development

Good afternoon. My name is Elizabeth Mendoza.  I'm a member from the Beyond Care Child Care Co-op and support to Center for Family Life.

I have lived in New York 22 years...with my husband.  We [came] to work and have a better life. Like so many, we had the illusion of the American dream.

The first obstacle I encountered was the English language.  Also, shortly after leaving I realized that I was pregnant, but I was happy, but on the other hand I was worried about not having money.  We didn't have work, clothing, furniture, but bit by bit my husband began working and this come together.

My first child was born and in three months I began to work as a well.  We worked in clothing factories and the minimum they pay with was $2.75 for hour.  I lived in Bushwick for the first year and was here and then we moved to Sunset Point where I used to reach my cell continue to lie today.  My husband has started to work in a store where he earns a little more, but we also work in factories where we pay for each piece of clothing we save.  It's like...piece-work [and we work] with desperation to get 40 or 60 dollars per day and my last work is 10 dollar for day.  We also were cleaning in restaurants for similar pay.

We were always working to try to give a better life to my children.  In 2008 I had the opportunity to begin working with the cooperative, Beyond Care.  My life changed completely.  So now I am professional and economical. 

The beginning of the cooperative was not easy.  No one knew about the coop.  We did volunteer with organization and universities and offered to train for opportunities to market.  I worked in the place we volunteered.  I have basic English.  I have learned so much more.  I have also learned to use computers.  My salary is better.  I work the time I want to work.  I can spend time with my children.  I can give them the comfort of living in an apartment, before we all lived in only one room.  My daughter will be away at the college in June.  My youngest son is in third grade. The rest of the nephitos (sp?) are off this is giving my children the opportunities to have a better education.

The city should recognize cooperatives...for creating fair jobs and promotion living wages.  Co-ops have reduced income inequality, promoting democracy in workplace.  In the Co-op we recognize the work of nannies too.  We do not use foster children [phonetic].  We work with these teens on language and on other teens about life, treat them with the care they deserve when their parents are working. 

The Coop [began] with 25 members.  Today we have 40 members. And we continue to grow, giving more and more opportunities to work to others in our community.  I have gone from earing 10 dollars or less per hour before the cooperative to earning 16 dollars an hour.  This city should consider cooperatives whenever possible.  We are training and have experience.  We care about our work.  We have CPR certification.

We have the student nutrition with participating workshop on child development.  The city co-offered reduced tuition and English course...And so we would like to work with the City to have opportunities and support to open cooperatives like this.  City support[ed] cooperatives will help in the development of more living wage jobs along with more NYC residents to work in respectful and dignified conditions.  Once more is that cooperatives are for the personal, professional and economic growth of those involv[ed] in them.  Unlike other jobs, cooperatives promote development and growth of workers.  Thank you.


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