In 2013, Judith Daluz was a nanny making $650 a week, waiting for her four children to arrive from the Philippines. With her hard-earned savings, she had started paying $1,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in the New York borough of Queens that she hoped would be big enough for all of them. She hadn’t seen her children in years.
In 2006, Daluz was trafficked to the United States as a domestic worker. Now, as a free, documented worker, she was able to bring her children to live with her—but worried about how she would support them.
Organizers at the Damayan Migrant Workers Association, a member-led organization helping Filipino workers understand and protect their rights, realized that many of its members had similar concerns. Established in 2002, the grassroots organization, led by Filipino survivors of human trafficking and other low-wage workers, has helped dozens escape abusive conditions, recover stolen wages, and pursue T visas, which allow trafficking survivors to remain in the United States. But many of Damayan’s members, once freed from forced labor, found themselves in another troubling, if less shocking situation: Even with better working conditions, they often had little job security and earned a pittance.
In June 2014, members of Damayan’s board heard that New York’s city council had set aside $1.2 million to fund a Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative. The city directed money to 11 organizations with experience incubating cooperatives in low-income communities of color, allowing them to expand their reach to new entrepreneurs. It was the largest investment in cooperatives by any city government in U.S. history. In the last year, the initiative has helped facilitate the launch of 21 new cooperatives, provided guidance for 19 new worker-owned businesses that will open in 2016, and assisted 26 existing cooperatives. By the end of 2016, there will be 66 new worker-owned cooperatives in New York City. One of them is the new Damayan Cleaning Cooperative.
With support from an organization participating in the city’s initiative, Damayan launched its worker-owned cooperative in September 2015—a natural next step from their anti-trafficking and anti-exploitation work. Damayan’s members envisioned an enterprise that both protects their rights as workers and is guided not by profit but by their needs and those of the community.
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Story courtesy of YesMagazine.org