Working Without a Boss For Better Wages

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

In New York City, 30 percent of workers earn minimum wage or less. In an effort to gain control over their pay and workplace conditions, some are turning to a centuries-old business model: cooperatives. In the past three years, 12 coops have been set up, doubling the city's total. 

With the help of local community groups, these cooperatives operate democratically as each member owns a share of the company. In particular, the model has been used in the cleaning and home healthcare sectors. 

The member-owners of the green cleaning cooperative Ecomundo met at a domestic support group in Washington Heights. All Latina immigrants, the women were earning as little as $6 an hour cleaning apartments for their previous agencies. 

Now, they control when they work and with whom. Most important, the women can now earn up to $20 an hour, according to the president of the board, Hilda Rebollar.

The coop model, however, doesn't provide answers to every issue that workers may face.

"It doesn't solve anything to join a coop,” explained Melissa Hoover, director of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. “You're still subject to the really difficult market pressures of whatever industry that coop is in."

Equally, not everyone is suited to or welcomes roundtable discussions and democratic decision-making involving her job.


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Comments [3]

Jordan Stewart from Manahttan

Too often do we all see well intentioned individuals with a sincere desire to learn, work and prosper get lost in inefficient, bureaucratic structures that exist only because they are the status quo. Cooperatives are a way to spur change for the betterment of society. They are a powerful tool to unleash the full potential and creativity of our work force. And should be used for that purpose as much as possible.

Aug. 10 2014 10:08 PM
Jennifer from Washington Heights

As a cooperative developer at Northern Manhattan Improvement Corp, it has been exciting to see the growth of Ecomundo Cleaning, which we initiated in 2011. The members, many of whom are survivors of domestic violence, have seen a rapid increase in their earnings and considerably more control over their work life. At the same time, we have seen an increased momentum to develop more of these democratically controlled businesses in NYC and more resources are becoming available to them with the support of the City and a growing body of organizations committed to this model.

Jul. 02 2014 03:12 PM
Julia Jean-Francois from Brooklyn

The Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, a program of SCO Family of Services, has worked for the past 7 years to incubate worker cooperatives with worker/owners in our community. We have been honored to be part of the cooperative movement, and have seen men and women in our community earn fair wages, gain business development skills, exercise leadership and bring essential income to their families. The coop movement is about much more than entrepreneurship, it is about dignity and about understanding the mechanism of business development in our economy. People in cooperatives are not just employees, directed by business owners who maintain control over the mechanism of their business, they are themselves in control of the structure of their enterprise, the placement of their product or service in the marketplace, and the tone and focus of their marketing approach. This enables them to understand far more about the mechanism of enterprise, and opens many doors for future business development and professional growth.

Jul. 02 2014 09:12 AM

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