April 11, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Jackson Heights, NY – A group of immigrant workers have turned the tables on their crummy bosses this week with the official launch of Pa’lante Forward Green Cleaning – a new worker cooperative that already enjoys the strong support of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and a whole host of other elected officials.
“Work can, and should be a space where you exercise creative potential,” said Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make The Road New York [MRNY]. “But for most people in this city, work is a place where you just get beat down and treated like crap.”
The founding 15 members of the Pa’lante worker cooperative started organizing with MRNY about two years ago, intent on reversing that sad scenario by empowering themselves and learning how to start their own business.
Mexican immigrant Claudia León used to work at local restaurant where a nine-hour day would earn her the grand sum of $20. Now, however, she says that her abusive work experience has been “transformed,” and she is optimistic about the future.
“The co-operative has shown me how to exercise my rights as a woman and as an immigrant,” León said.
With this week’s launch, Pa’lante Forward Green Cleaning becomes just the 25th worker cooperative operating in the city – and only NYC’s fourth employee-owned cleaning service.
That might be changing, however.
According to a 2013 Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies report, worker cooperatives are improving the lives of low-wage workers by boosting earnings anywhere between $10 and $25 an hour.
“This is the American Dream,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “I would like to see about 30 more of these around the borough.”
More than anything, Axt said the launch of Pa’lante Forward Green Cleaning is about immigrant workers – in this case mostly women – coming together in a collective space and affirming each other’s dignity.
“We’re taking out the boss who tends to abuse workers and skim profits, and we’re creating a space where workers themselves are developing a business acumen and driving their own futures,” Axt said.
Like León, Rosa Sanchez held numerous jobs where she was mistreated and paid unfairly.
“That's why I wanted to be the owner of my own business,” Sanchez said. “And now my dream has come true. Now I will be able to give my family a better life.”
The worker owned and operated cleaning service utilizes organic methods and materials – and is now accepting jobs throughout the five boroughs.