Citizen Action Monitor

While others talk about income inequality, this Texas-based organization is busy helping low-income earners start-up worker-owned cooperatives

Non-profit center puts those most directly affected by social and economic inequality at the center of its mission.

No 546 Posted by fw, August 13, 2012

”Founded in October 2009 in response to growing economic inequality, Cooperation Texas (formerly known as Third Coast Workers for Cooperation) is an Austin-based non-profit committed to the creation of sustainable jobs through the development, support and promotion of worker-owned cooperatives. We believe everyone deserves equal access to dignified employment, which is why we place those most directly affected by social and economic inequality at the center of our work.”

The above passage is how Cooperation Texas describes itself in the opening paragraph of its website’s About Us page. Here’s the rest of the description —

Cooperation Texas — Creating dignified jobs for the planet, for the people

Cooperation Texas is the only worker cooperative development center in Texas. We provide education, training and technical assistance to existing and start-up worker cooperatives in all sectors of the economy, helping launch and strengthen businesses across Texas that put people and the planet first.  In an effort to build a more just and sustainable economy, Cooperation Texas has successfully launched a worker-owned vegan bakery, established close partnerships with cooperative organizations at the local and national level, strengthened a variety of existing worker cooperatives through technical assistance and training, and built awareness on the nature and benefits of worker-ownership through educational events at schools, churches and community-based organizations in Austin and beyond.

What is a worker cooperative?

In a worker-owned cooperative, the business is owned and democratically controlled by the people who work there. Worker co-ops can be found in a range of industries across the country and around the world–from restaurants in New York City to manufacturing plants in Argentina.  As members of the cooperative, workers have a direct say over key decisions that affect their workplace and share the profits and losses equitably amongst themselves, enjoying the dignity and security that comes with having a direct stake in the business.

Worker cooperatives offer a powerful alternative to conventional businesses. Instead of being driven solely by profits, or the “bottom line”, worker cooperatives often have a “triple bottom line,” measuring success not simply by the money they earn, but by the well-being of their workers; their sustainability as a business; and their overall contribution to the community and the environment. Worker co-ops also tend to create:

  • Long-term, stable jobs
  • Higher wages & better working conditions
  • Personal and professional development opportunities
  • Deeper connection to the local community and local economy

For the planet, for the people

For the planet, for the people

Since 1980, Texas has had the dubious distinction of having a larger percentage of its population living below the poverty line than the overall average in the United States. In the last decade alone, Texas workers at all levels of education experienced stagnant or declining wages while the cost of raising a family has increased around the state. According to the Austin American Statesman, “Texas and Mississippi are tied, at 9.5 percent, for the highest proportion of hourly workers earning at or less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.” Many Texans also lack basic health insurance, retirement savings, and sufficient assets to keep themselves afloat during tough economic times.

The asset poverty rate in Texas, which measures the percentage of households without enough net worth to subsist at the poverty level in the absence of income for three months, is a staggering 24.8% — one of the highest in the country.

As in other states throughout the United States, wealth inequality in Texas is even more pronounced within communities of color. In 2010, the average African-American worker earned $30,600 in Texas, as compared to the average white worker earning $40,800; and in a state where 38 percent of the population is Latino/a, median earnings for Latino/as, at $24,480, were 60 percent of those for whites.

In the City of Austin, people of color are also less likely to own businesses than white residents. Though African-Americans were 7.96% of the population in 2000, they owned only 3.69% of businesses in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical area in 2002. Likewise, only 11.64% of business owners were Latino/a, despite the fact that Latino/as represented 26.23% of the population.

Yet wages, ownership and benefits only tell part of the story.

The debate is over. Our planet is in serious trouble. Resource-heavy production, over-consumption, and dramatic climate change are delivering a severe blow to mother earth. Our economy needs to shed its “grow or die” approach and develop new ways to relate to the environment to meet our needs without compromising the ability of the next generation to meet theirs.

The heavy weight of our environmental problems is placed largely on the shoulders of low-income communities here in Texas and elsewhere. For years, environmental justice advocates have demonstrated that, due to race and class discrimination, communities of color and low-income neighborhoods are most likely to be exposed to polluting industries; least likely to have access to healthy food; and least likely to hold leadership positions in environmental organizations.  If we are serious about equity and sustainability, we need more businesses that are rooted in their local communities that put people and the planet first.

For over 160 years, worker-owned cooperatives have thrived in a range of industries across the globe, offering a proven model for addressing social, economic and environmental inequality.  Worker cooperatives, particularly in low-wage industries, provide long-term, stable jobs that support the development of local economies and lift people out of poverty through better wages, better working conditions, asset-building, and increased opportunities for personal and professional development.

Our Vision

We envision an inclusive Texas economy with businesses built on the principles of democracy, sustainability and cooperation, offering dignified jobs with a living wage, benefits and asset-building opportunities for all workers.

RELATED STORY

  • Building a new economy in Texas, June 14, 2012 — On June 1st, Dahlia Green Cleaning Services became one of the newest additions to this growing effort, graduating from our Cooperative Business Institute start up course and launching the first worker-owned green cleaning cooperative in Texas! Dahlia grew out of a partnership between the Workers Defense Project (WDP) and Cooperation Texas.  In response to poor working conditions in the cleaning industry, both groups joined forces with the goal of creating dignified, living wage jobs with the worker-members of WDP.  Through our partnership, we had the privilege of working with Eva Marroquin, Cyndi Jimenez, Brenda Jimenez, Maria Munoz, and Lorena Hernandez — five brave women who decided to take matters into their hands and create a new model for the cleaning industry in Austin.

L to R: Eva, Lorena, Cyndi, Brenda and Maria pose with graduation certificates

Fair Use Notice: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing

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