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Video: Can Co-Ops Curb Poverty In New York City?

Of the many businesses in New York, only 23 are worker co-ops. But those that exist have a strong record of raising wages and reducing poverty, especially in low-income communities like city councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo's South Bronx district.
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Can worker-owned co-ops lift families out of poverty? That's the question the Community Development Committee of the New York City Council took on in a first-of-its kind hearing convened by Committee Chair, Maria del Carmen Arroyo. Commonomics partner GRITtv was there, and spoke to Council member Arroyo in our studio afterwards.

"The question is, how do we, in the City Council, working in partnership with the speaker and the mayor's office create an opportunity for us to support and encourage the development [of worker coops] and strengthen the ones that already exist?" Councilmember Arroyo told me.

Of the many businesses in New York, only 23 are worker co-ops. But those that exist have a strong record of raising wages and reducing poverty, especially in low-income, low-wealth communities like Arroyo's South Bronx district.

At the packed February 24th hearing, workers, owners, and advocates spoke about the challenges co-ops in New York City face. In addition to cumbersome government protocols and lack of funding and technical support, there is a shortage of information. No government contracts currently go to worker-owned businesses. I asked Arroyo if New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio will change any of that.

"At the end of the day, talk is cheap," concluded Arroyo. "We need to work to put this opportunity out in the community and empower the local community residents who have an idea about a business but may not have the wherewithal to put it together that we also provide the technical assistance to ensure that they will have all of their bases covered."

For more on the hearing, check out our Storify. For examples of successful worker-owned cooperative models, watch our profile of the Green Worker Cooperative Academy in the Bronx.


Laura Flanders headshotLaura Flanders is YES! Magazine's Local Economies Reporting Fellow and is executive producer and founder and host of "GRITtv with Laura Flanders." Follow her on Twitter @GRITlaura.

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