Bridging the Opportunity Divide

These Organizations Are Empowering Female Workers

July 22, 2014
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These Organizations Are Empowering Female Workers
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Women-owned worker co-ops provide fair wages and safe working conditions.

There aren’t a ton of bright spots in the working world. After all, there’s the continued problem of unemployment, millennials’ struggle to find jobs and the high poverty rate amongst minimum-wage workers — which is something that women struggle with in particular since they make up two-thirds of minimum-wage employees.

However, some organizations and cities are working to alleviate some of that burden. One of which is Seattle, which just became the city with the highest minimum wage: $15 an hour. Fortunately, this wage increase may be just the first of many, now that the movement 15 Now is spreading through the country.

While this will greatly benefit the women in Seattle, women nationwide still earn only 77 cents for each dollar that a man earns. The poverty rates are also higher for women: 15.4 percent in 2012 compared to 11.9 percent for men and 31 percent for women-run households.

That’s why some women are taking matters into their own hands. Instead of waiting for change in government policies, they’re forming worker cooperatives that offer guarantees of fair pay and non-exploitive working conditions. These co-ops focus on specific female needs by providing an empowering environment that helps women fight feelings of isolation, vulnerability and inferiority.

While these co-ops can be found across the country, here are a few examples of ones making a big difference:

The country’s largest female-owned co-op is Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), which was founded in the Bronx in 1985. The group’s business? Direct personal health care. CHCA offers jobs and benefits for 2,000 people, earning $60 million a year. Additionally, the co-op offers a free training program focusing on workforce development to 600 low-income and unemployed women.

The Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES) began in 1995 in Oakland, California. Comprised of low-income immigrants (mainly Latinas) the organization now boasts five eco-friendly housecleaning co-ops. More than 95 women are employed by WAGES, all of which are worker-owners — entitling them to vote in business decisions and receive an equal share of the profits.

Another one is the New York City-based Beyond Care Childcare Cooperative, which started in 2008. Working in partnership with the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, the co-op is owned by immigrant women and now boasts 30 members. Its services include business development, nanny training and social support and education opportunities.

While change may be slow, these female-owned co-ops are demonstrating that women are not willing to wait any longer for it.

MORE: Ask the Experts: How Can We Solve the Young Adult Unemployment Crisis?

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