June 6, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – This weekend marks the official launch of the city’s newest workers cooperative – the Trusty Amigos Dog Walking & Pet Care Co-op in Sunset Park – and the group responsible for the innovative venture is hoping that elected officials will now get behind immediate plans to launch 20 other worker-owned businesses around town.
The Trusty Amigos Dog Walking & Pet Care Co-op, is the eighth worker-owned business to spring out of a cooperative incubation program started by the SCO Family of Services’ Center for Family Life (CFL) since 2007.
Over the past year, Trusty Amigos’ 15 members trained in proper pet care techniques at the Sean Casey Animal Rescue, while also studying important business skills like consensus building, decision making and conflict resolution at the CFL.
“They’re a really dynamic group of people,” Cooperative Developer Emma Yorra told LaborPress just prior to a scheduled meet & greet with Trusty Amigos members at 41st Street and 6th Avenue on June 7. “They’ve really blown us away in terms of putting in the work in preparation for launch.”
Unlike the CFL’s other service industry-centered worker co-ops – which are almost exclusively female – about half of Trusty Amigos’ membership is male.
When taken together, the CFL’s current roster of worker co-ops consist of 146 member-owners – first and second generation Latinno emigres residing in Sunset Park – who are now responsible for generating more than $7.3 million in estimated revenues.
From the start, the CFL viewed Trusty Amigos as a natural fit with sister co-ops like the top-earning housing cleaning service Si Se Puede! (“We Can Do It!”) Women’s Cooperative, and childcare service BeyondCare.
Most, if not all, of Trusty Amigos’ members can point to at least one family member who is actively engaged in one of the CFL’s other worker co-ops. That relationship, according to Yorra, not only inspired members of Trusty Amigos to try and replicate their success – it might also now give the new pet care service a head-start in establishing itself as a thriving business.
“We’re really hoping that the existing cooperatives are going to be able to give a leg-up to the new dog walking co-op by introducing them to their clients,” Yorra said.
Not all the businesses that the CFL’s worker cooperative program has launched have been successful.
A handyman service called “We Can Fix It,” and an interior painting operation dubbed “Color Me,” both failed during the early years of the CFL’s incubator program.
Current obstacles in the city’s procurement process are at least partially to blame, and among a list of initiatives that the SCO’s Center for Family Life – as part of a coalition that also includes Make the Road NY and the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies among other developmental organizations – is pushing the New York City Council to address.
The coalition is presently seeking a $1.2 million package aimed at providing groups operational aid and technical assistance, as well as helping to launch 20 new worker cooperatives throughout the city.
Although the exact total seems unclear, organizers say there are presently anywhere between 25 to 40 worker cooperatives now operating around the city.
Make the Road's Pa'lante Green Cleaning service debuted in April.
In addtion to funding, SCO Family Services and its partners are also hoping that the City Council will help research procurement options through the Economic Development Corporation, so that, in the future, new worker cooperatives have a shot at successfully competing against already well-established companies.
Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal [D-District 6], has already proposed legislation which would require the Department of Small Business Services to report on the efforts it makes around worker cooperative financing, training and other support.
"I look forward to bringing this legislation to fruition and working with this administration to support and grow worker coperatives wherever possible," Councilwoman Rosenthal said.
The benefit for low-wage workers is clear. While almost 70 percent of all the new jobs created in New York City last year were in low-wage industries, a report issued by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies earlier this year, found that Sí Se Puede’s worker-owners, many of whom did not speak fluent English, tripled their wages to as much as $25-an-hour.
Trusty Amigos member Cristal Muñoz , 24, is eager for that same kind of success.
“We’re all excited and happy [about the launch], Muñoz said. “I really hope we have a long run with this co-op, and we attract even more members and get other people involved.”