Working Without a Boss

Maria and Rosa are working as their own boss. Photo: Stanford.
Maria and Rosa are working as their own boss. Photo: Stanford.

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HOST INTRO: The minimum wage increase stalled on Wednesday in the Senate when it failed to get the 60 votes due to a Republican filibuster. In New York City, 30 percent of workers count as “low wage”. Last year, fast food workers made headlines when they unionized to secure higher wages. But in the last couple of years, a growing number of low wage workers in the city have been choosing collective ownership rather than bargaining – and becoming their own boss. Eleanor Stanford has the story.

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Maria Cruz and Rosa Peraito spent Friday morning cleaning a cozy one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx.

They vacuumed

POST VACUUM AMBY

They made the bed

POST AMBY

They cleaned the floor

        POST AMBY + FADE UNDER NARRATION

In the past, Cruz or Peraito would do this sort of cleaning job alone. But now they choose to work together.  Before, they would also be assigned their schedule. But they arranged this job directly with the client. This is because they are co-owners of the green cleaning company EcoMundo.

POST AMBY

The boardmembers meet every two weeks, in a book-lined room in the Bronx. Along with 10 other Latina immigrant members Cruz and Peraito make all the decisions in the day-to-day running of the business. The women founded it when they met in the Bronx at a domestic abuse support group. A local development non-profit helped them start EcoMundo.

It is one of 12 new coops that have started in the past three years, nearly doubling the total in the city.

President of the EcoMundo board and Hilda Rebollar says the thing that motivated the women most was making more money.

REBOLLAR: Cuanto mas? Le doble

STANFORD: Le doble?

REBOLLAR: Si le doble (laughs)

Double the wages: $20 an hour. For some of the women, that wage is more than three times what they were making. Some of them say they were earning as little as $6 an hour because their bosses were paying them less than minimum wage. That put them below the federal poverty line.

Rebollar says because she earns so much more, she can work less.

REBOLLAR: POST AND FADE DOWN

(Another benefit is that I can spend time with my young 2 year old daughter. I can take her to school and picker her up. It’s quite flexible).

Melissa Hoover is the Director of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. She says cooperatives are increasingly attractive to…

HOOVER: Low wage workers, immigrant workers, people who face discrimination in the job market, workforces that are focused in exploitive, race to the bottom industries – vulnerable workers across the board.

Working at a cooperative isn’t like working at conventional companies. Georgeanne Artz teaches economics at Iowa State University. She says they aren’t for everybody.

ARTZ: It takes a certain mindset and a certain willingness to be flexible and a certain willingness to cooperate. Not everyone is willing to do that.

In fact, companies have organized themselves like cooperatives for a long time. Especially when they don’t need a lot of capital or they’re run by high skilled workers.

ARTZ: If you think about a law partnership, it’s not technically organized like a cooperative, but it works a lot like a cooperative.

Organizing like a cooperative can provide a competitive advantage, according to Jeremy Shannon. He and his wife merged their architecture and construction companies in December to form a Brooklyn-based coop called Build with Prospect. All the employees now have health care and get paid vacation – neither of which is typical in the construction industry. And business is better.

 SHANNON: We’ve definitely seen kind of a mental shift from many of the workers.

Before Build With Prospect became a cooperative,

SHANNON: there was no incentive for many of them to find creative ways to save the company money and improve efficiency

But now that each of them own an equal share of the company they are working more productively, Shannon says.

At EcoMundo’s general meeting on Tuesday evening, spirits were high.

         POST AMBY + FADE AS BED

The members call the company a family. They share a huge plate of cut fruit. They squabble – but then split to do an exercise to get to know each other a little better and to find three things they have in common.

POST AMBY

One of the items on Tuesday’s agenda was bringing in new members, including two men. If they’re approved, they will work as employees for a while as employees of the cleaning firm. But once they’re vested, they’ll join these women as co-owners of the company.

Eleanor Stanford, Columbia Radio News.

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