Co-ops have real power to transform structurally disinvested communities into strong, vibrant places of opportunity. Through Capital Impact Partners’ Co-op Innovation Award, three cooperative organizations have the chance to create systemic change in their communities.
For the 5th Annual Co-op Innovation Award, Capital Impact Partners and The Workers Lab partnered to award grants totaling $50,000 to the Independent Drivers Guild and Centro de Trabajadores Unidos: United Workers’ Center, and to award a $50,000 grant to CLEAN Carwash. These awards recognize organizations leading initiatives that address workers’ rights as well as wealth building and asset creation for immigrant workers.
“Each year, we strive to work deeper in partnership with communities to help them achieve their goals. This year, it has been wonderful partnering with The Workers Lab to empower innovative cooperatives that are meeting immigrant communities where they are and creating space for economic and social justice,” said Ellis Carr, president and CEO of Capital Impact Partners.
“The Workers Lab is committed to investing in people and projects that show promise when it comes to building power for workers. We are proud to partner with Capital Impact Partners to support innovative models aimed at shifting existing power structures,” said Betsy Edasery, Program Director at The Workers Lab.
The Co-op Innovation Award aims to increase co-op development in low-income communities and/or communities of color. Organizations that focused on local community-driven co-op development initiatives broadening opportunities for quality jobs, wealth creation and asset building were given priority. Some of this year’s winners are also demonstrating new models and standards for their industries that can have a transformative impact on their communities.
The Independent Drivers’ Guild (IDG) has been awarded $25,000 to launch a purchasing cooperative that will reduce expenses for drivers, including fuel, car washes, oil changes, dash cameras, meals-on-the-go, and car repair. Culturally appropriate meals-on-the-go will be provided by the Drivers Cooperative Café, a worker cooperative that IDG is in the process of establishing. Building on this first step toward a purchasing co-op, IDG envisions eventually creating a rideshare app to help its drivers compete in the New York City market. The guild represents more than 85,000 for-hire vehicle drives in New York City, 90 percent of whom are immigrant workers. For these low-wage drivers, these cooperatives are a means of finding more financial stability in a highly competitive industry by providing more take-home pay.
“We are honored to work with Capital Impact Partners and The Workers Lab to pioneer a new union-cooperative strategy to turn the gig economy into a launching pad for the new economy. In the for-hire vehicle industry, workers spend around half of their income on the tools that they need to do their jobs. Developing worker and consumer cooperatives to source these key inputs has the potential to elevate the earnings and transform the lives of thousands of immigrant workers and workers of color in New York City, and eventually around the world,” said Erik Forman, Education Director at Independent Drivers Guild-IAMAW.
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos: United Workers’ Center (Centro) has also been awarded $25,000 to fund a dual-language, culturally appropriate train-the-trainer curriculum for both worker cooperative developers and individuals seeking to start worker cooperatives. Additionally, Centro will start two new cooperatives and advocate for policy change to enable greater worker cooperative development locally and across the state.
The organization is driven to improve workplace standards for immigrant workers. Centro has already supported the start-up of worker cooperatives and has trained partner organizations throughout the Chicago area in cooperative principles. Centro’s goal is to transform the local economy in Chicago by empowering low-wage workers to achieve economic resilience. Through the grant, immigrant workers who often experience workplace discrimination and wealth stripping can instead determine their own wages and work environments, improving their quality of life and opportunities for prosperity.
“We are honored to receive the Co-op Innovation Award funded by Capital Impact Partners and The Workers Lab. We envision our communities—which have been overlooked for years—empowered to stand for their workplace rights as a result of education and training. Through the incubation of worker cooperatives, our communities will have a greater chance to flourish as they build their skillsets, create alternative economies, and become independent,” said Ana Guajardo, executive director of Centro.
The Community Labor Environment Action Network (CLEAN) is being awarded $50,000 to establish CLEAN Carwash, a worker-owned car wash cooperative in Los Angeles that prioritizes worker and environmental rights. In addition, CLEAN will conduct two campaigns focused on improving wages and working conditions for car wash workers, and will advance two policies to address the rights of low-wage immigrant workers.
CLEAN is a grassroots, immigrant, worker-led organization that seeks transformative change to the exploitative car wash industry, reaching 5,000 car wash workers each year with information about their rights. CLEAN seeks to create wealth building and asset creation opportunities for worker-owners and employees while improving industry practices around worker rights and environmental sustainability.
“For years, car wash workers have fought to improve conditions within the car wash industry. This funding from Capital Impact Partners and The Workers Lab provides the opportunity for our organization to establish income mobility and financial stability for our workers and our communities. We are now empowered to lead our industry and workers across the country by example,” said Flor Rodriguez, director of the CLEAN Carwash Worker Center.
Co-ops can provide economic mobility to individuals who have been marginalized and locked out of the mainstream economy. Democratic ownership empowers worker-owners to control their financial destiny and build hard-earned assets. Moreover, employee ownership can also spur greater civic engagement, as well as community self-determination, agency, and resilience. As mission-driven organizations focus more on expanding economic, social, and racial justice across the country, cooperatives and organizations that empower them will continue to be partners in broadening opportunities for all.
“For years, we who work in the co-op development field have heard of the need for culturally appropriate co-op development and technical assistance in our communities. Throughout this year’s Co-op Innovation Award, it has been exciting to see a trend toward community, labor and worker-focused organizations integrating co-op development into their existing services in innovative ways that are tailored to meet the needs of their members and broader communities,” said Alison Powers, manager of Cooperative and Community Initiatives at Capital Impact Partners.