New York, NY

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Worker Cooperatives Lead With Policy in the Largest City in the Country

New York City is the largest and most complex city in the United States, and its economy is marked by extremely high inequality. With more than 325,000 employees and annual purchasing in the billions, the city government is a major player in the local economy and has a highly centralized “strong” mayor-council system. In 2014, New Yorkers elected a staunchly progressive mayor who publicly committed early in his term to worker cooperatives as a strategy to address inequality. The City Council allocated $1.2M in discretionary funding for worker co-op development in 2014, and in 2015 the allocation increased to $2.1M. This infusion of funds has resulted in a flurry of activity by a loose coalition of co-op developers and support organizations to promote, start, and convert existing businesses to worker cooperatives.

 

The South Bronx is home to the country’s largest worker cooperative, Cooperative Home Care Associates (founded 1985), with 2,200  workers, almost all women of color, doing home health care work. The rest of New York City’s worker co-ops are very new and small-scale—grassroots cooperatives initiated by workers themselves. The nascent coalition formed around city funding is still formulating its strategy and membership.

Ecosystem Analysis 

Riding the wave of advocacy and city support, New York City’s ecosystem contains Important Elements for scale. The Essential Elements, however, are still emerging and too reliant on city funding to be immune to the next election cycle.

coop_ecosystem_statistics_nyc

Strong Elements in This Ecosystem

– Policy strength and relationships with government officials forged in the collaborative work around city funding
– Advocacy Partnerships, formed by the NYC Worker Cooperative Coalition, that are expanding to new social movement actors and the small business community

Opportunities to Build and Leverage Strengths in This Ecosystem

– Build Member Skills and Capacity within worker co-ops, especially the 50% that were formed in the past ten years
– Increase the quantity and diversity of patient capital available as Financing for NYC worker cooperatives and Co-op Developers
– Make Cooperative Education and Business Supports available through educational institutions, community programs, and city agencies

coop_ecosystem_cities_maps_nyc_v2-01

Food for thought

Strengthening the Essential Elements of this ecosystem may be the key to scale. There is an opportunity to use current city funding to build skills and capacity within worker co-ops, and to access business supports and education to build the capacity of co-op developers to drive business success, quality job creation, and co-op growth within the low-income communities where they are already operating. How can the relatively new coalition of worker cooperatives and co-op developers set standards and build capacity for worker cooperative development that aggregates resources for scale? How can today’s city government support be leveraged to institutionalize the city’s priority of worker ownership more broadly—in city procurement, city agencies, and small business support services?