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Reasons to consider worker cooperatives

It’s important to examine why people will choose to join or start a worker cooperative, and there are a large diversity of reasons. Some may be applicable to you while others may not.

For Lower-Income Communities

The following are some stories from the WAGES cooperatives in California. WAGES is a worker cooperative incubator. This means that it creates and develops new cooperatives and it helps them survive throughout their first few years. In particular, WAGES helps Latina women start eco-friendly house-cleaning cooperatives.

People who work in house cleaning in California are often low-income Latinas. They are regularly subjected to harsh treatment by employers, given low pay, and constantly exposed to harmful chemicals that make them sick. WAGES cooperatives, however, are different because the worker-owners use environmentally friendly cleaning techniques – which are also a lot better for their health. Since 1998, WAGES has helped start a number of cooperatives. Here are a few things that the members have said about what the co-op experience has meant for them:

Economic Security and Stability

The following is from a magazine article written after interviewing some WAGES cooperators:

“For corporate employers, obligations to shareholders means a never-ending search for lower costs, and that often means employees are shunted aside. But that can’t happen at a cooperative, because the workers, managers, and shareholders are the same people. They don’t need to make huge profits for shareholders to stay in business, and there’s no pressure to keep wages low. Co-ops also have the advantage of needing only modest amounts of capital to get started. ‘People can pool their skills and resources,’ says Abell… …Natural Home Cleaning Professionals, announced a year-end profit of more than $90,000 last year. The worker-owners voted to take 70 percent of that amount in bonuses and put the rest into growing their business.”[1] Thus, the “co-op business model enables workers to reap more benefits and have a stronger voice in their workplace.”[2]

Respect for Workers

Below are two stories from individual members of two different WAGES cooperatives. The stories of Luz and Lupita illustrate that respect for workers follow directly from higher pay and workers’ direct control over the workplace – especially for those who are traditionally denied value in their work and livelihood:

LUZ: “Three years ago Luz questioned whether she would ever find a workplace that respected her rights. Luz was working for a local hotel and struggling, together with her co-workers, for decent wages and humane workloads. ‘I’ve always looked for a workplace where one’s ezfuerzos [efforts] are recognized,’ said Luz, who fought against unfair labor conditions for more than two years before hotel managers agreed to pay decent wages and reduce each woman’s workload… but not before Luz was fired. Luckily for Luz, local community groups referred her to… [a] WAGES co-op affiliate serving the East Bay. ‘I’ve been very fortunate to have found a place I can call my own. With the help of WAGES’ training and support, we socias [members] have our own place, and from here we can only grow. From here we can help other women in our community and the community at large,’ said Luz. Today Luz earns $12.00 an hour plus profit-sharing, a far cry from the $8.00 an hour she earned as a hotel worker under harsh working conditions. She is proud of her work, of the products she uses, and of her ability to help her youngest daughter through college. ‘Being an owner of such a great organization delights me,’ said Luz. ‘I am proud of it all — One day I hope to retire and live a quiet life, but for now I’m grateful to have a stable, full-time job that allows me to help my children pursue higher education. It’s my inheritance gift to them, one they can always keep,’ she added…”[3]
LUPITA: “The future looked bleak for Lupita, a young mother working in an orange-packing plant. Lupita’s household earned barely enough to pay for food and rent during the harvest season that lasted only seven months out of the year. Outside of this season, things were even worse. ‘We worked hard to make ends meet but were always struggling for the most basic things. This got worse when I had to leave work and focus on raising my son who has Down Syndrome.’ Fast forward to today and you’ll understand why Lupita wants to make sure that more Latinas know about WAGES: Lupita’s income has doubled and she is a co-owner of a successful green cleaning business… all things she never thought possible. ‘Before helping to found Eco-Care [her co-op], I thought that I wouldn’t be able to achieve much more in my life. But thanks to WAGES, I began asking questions and became active and involved. And that’s not just true for me. Other Latinas like me have an amazing opportunity to feel secure and proud…’ For Lupita, the security of a stable, healthy job has meant that she can support her four children, while she in turn is supported in many ways by her fellow successful co-op business members. ‘Two years ago my co-op supported my request for a leave of absence when my second son was diagnosed with cancer. My husband’s employer, on the other hand, threatened to decrease his pay and reduce his hours if he took a few hours off of work for important doctor’s appointments. There is just no comparison. To be supported by a stable job with good pay and benefits is a dream.’ It is this ongoing support that makes her co-op a second family she can count on…”[4]

Spotlighted Discussions

Consider these questions on your own, in a notebook, in the discussion area (click on the question), or with people you know. If you are an educator, you can also facilitate these for group conversations.

  1. Why did you join or start a worker co-op?
  2. What advantages do worker cooperatives pose over mainstream businesses for people working in them?
  3. What disadvantages do worker cooperatives have over mainstream businesses for people working in them?
  4. What roles can worker co-ops play in historically disadvantaged communities? How can they do this (and are there any specific examples)?
    1. How can worker co-ops be used for community economic development?

See Also

References

  1. Aslani, Layla. "Create Your Own Workplace." YES! Magazine; Fall, 2008. http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?id=2835
  2. Todd, Anne. "Housecleaning co-op members see income, benefits rise sharply. BNET. Mar.-Apr. 2007. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0KFU/is_2_74/ai_n19022190/., http://www.bnet.com
  3. "Latinas Reaching the Green Dream, Luz's Story." WAGES Cooperatives. http://wagescooperatives.org/LuzStory.pdf.
  4. Stories of Hope - Lupita's Story http://wagescooperatives.org/stories