The immigrant population in the United States stands at approximately 13.3% and over 26%, if you consider children of immigrants (data from 2014; for more stats see here). Many immigrants come to the United States from countries that have been hit hard by unfair trade deals, wars and civil conflicts, high levels of crime and corruption or some natural disaster. They come to the U.S. in search of decent paying jobs and a future in which they can fulfill their dreams in a respectable manner. However, many immigrants are exploited (see also here) and feel disrespected by their employers and the communities in which they live.
Worker cooperatives serve to create alternative, nonhierarchical, democratic and employee-owned companies in which immigrants are not exploited, forge lasting bonds with their community and fulfill their dream of living with dignity in their adopting country.
Here in Jackson Heights, Queens, Pa’Lante Green Cleaning is one such cooperative. Pa’Lante consists of Latino and Latina immigrants who believe that democracy in the workplace is essential. Conscientious of the environment, they collaborated with the Queens College Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to use organic cleaning techniques and hazard control. We were fortunate to speak with Ana Rodriguez, Worker Cooperative Office Coordinator:
When, how and why was Pa’Lante Green Cleaning formed?
AR: “Pa’Lante Green Cleaning was formed March 18, 2013. It was fashioned by the vision of the workforce team of Make the Road NY to provide adequate paying jobs to the immigrant community. The workforce team wanted to provide a safe haven where workers would not be exploited and were able to earn a decent wage.”
What is Make the Road NY, and what is its role in Pa’Lante?
AR: “Make the Road NY (MRNY) is a non-profit organization that helps the community in various ways. They helped us to develop a cooperative in order to earn a decent wage with good working conditions, they help immigrants with workplace justice, civil rights, LGBTQ justice, housing rights, fraud prevention and education.
Make the Road served as an incubator to Pa’Lante so that many immigrants could fulfill their dream of owning their own business. We were able to make our dream a reality by working with the MRNY workforce team and with Workforce and Worker Coop Project Director Saduf Syal.”
I’ve noticed Pa’Lante has members from several foreign countries. How has Pa’Lante helped its workers integrate into American society?
AR: “Yes, the member–owners of Pa’Lante come from several foreign countries. Most of the members were exploited or mistreated at their previous jobs and did not have adequate equipment to do the jobs they set out to do. It helps integration by providing a dignified workplace.”
How are decisions made?
AR: “Decisions are made by the Coop-Members in a democratic fashion. No decision is made by any one member; we always take a vote.”
What are some of the challenges you face as a collective? How did you go about solving difficulties?
AR: “Though we are all Latino, we all come from different countries, and therefore we have to learn to deal with different cultures. Our customs are different; we have to be able to come together as members, partners and colleagues for the welfare of our cooperative. The important thing is to manage our business in a collaborative manner in order to have a successful future. When we encounter a problem, we rely heavily on communication and the honesty of our members in order to reach a just resolution.”
How is Pa’Lante involved in social struggles?
AR: “We contribute by serving as an inspiration to other immigrants who come to this country in pursuit of the American dream. We show that an immigrant can achieve the dream of working and even owning the company s/he is employed at, without being exploited as cheap labor with little rights.”
Where is Pa’Lante heading as a collective?
AR: “The aim of Pa’Lante is to grow in the foreseeable future and provide opportunities for immigrants. We also aim to inspire them to start new businesses and become part of their own business in a cooperative manner.”