A Year After Sandy, a Co-op Alliance Could Bring Jobs Back to the Rockaways

Last year, Sandy massively disrupted of some of the East Coast’s neighborhood economies. But worker-owned cooperatives are creating jobs with real wealth and meaning.

One year ago, when Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast of the United States with its high tides and winds stretching a 900-mile span, it hit communities in 24 states. Damage estimates range from $50 billion to $68 billion. In New York, loss estimates exceed $19 billion with no areas harder hit than that spit of land south of Brooklyn known as The Rockaways.

This week,  GRITtv and Commonomics look at rebuilding in the Rockaways. When the storm hit, whole sections of the area were demolished, leaving local people displaced and without a job. With a medium income under $28,000 a year, many residents had already been enduring tough economic times.  Would they have a say in rebuilding? In fear of the sort of commercial land grabs seen in other places after disasters, groups like Occupy Sandy, The Working World and others banded together with Far Rockaway residents to construct a plan to serve the needs of the community.

"If we want a society that looks the way the people want, you should give the people control," Brendan Martin of the Working World told GRITtv. (Working World is the same group that helped the New Era Windows cooperative.)

In early 2012, the collaboration resulted in Worker Owned Rockaway Cooperatives (W.O.R.C.), a training and incubation program with the goal of creating living-wage jobs in the local economy.

Rockaway resident Virginia Deer, who is part of the program, told GRITtv, “A lot of the jobs that are available and that are coming into the neighborhood are mostly minimum-wage jobs. This is an opportunity that can build some sort of wealth in the community and keep it here.”

The worker-owned businesses that went through W.O.R.C.'s 12-week training along with Deer's cooperative grocery include a bakery, a health food store, a construction company, a restaurant, and an entertainment collective. To date, two have gotten off of the ground and one is in the process of becoming a viable business. The other two might never be realized.

In the world of building worker co-ops this is actually a positive outcome and it's opened up an even bigger conversation in the community. As Naomi Klein has written in The Shock Doctrine, the alternative to "disaster capitalism" is "people's reconstruction." Watch the full story, this week on GRITtv. And go here for a refresher on New Era.