Green Worker Cooperatives is a new organization dedicated to creating worker owned and environmentally responsible manufacturing businesses in the South Bronx. An outgrowth of New York City's environmental justice movement, its philosophy is that to really address our environmental and economic problems, people need to be able to earn a living restoring the earth, rather than polluting it.
"Each day in the South Bronx we are asked to choose between low-paying work that threatens the health of our communities or no work at all," says Director Omar Freilla. "Working-class manufacturing jobs have abandoned our neighborhoods. What we've been left with is high unemployment, low-paying service jobs, and more and more polluting waste facilities.
According to the NYC Department of Design & Construction, NYC generates 13,500 tons of non-fill Construction & Demolition waste each day. Much of it comes to the South Bronx. Therefore, the coop's first project will be a Building Materials ReUse Center and DeConstruction Service. It will recover valuable building materials from construction and renovation projects, keeping them out of the waste stream, and supplying low-cost building materials in the process. A feasibility study has been completed; the coop is preparing a business plan and is looking for suitable warehouse space.
GWC is also working with Sustainable South Bronx to block construction of a 1,075 megawatt power plant, and instead revive a prior vision to develop a Recycling Industrial Park there. The Park would consist of manufacturers that reuse or recycle materials that would otherwise end up being trucked to a distant landfill. Such an industrial park would incorporate systems that minimize all forms of waste and encourage clean fuels and alternative energy.
The coop is part of a larger effort to manage waste sustainably in the NYC area. The first conference was held on construction waste in May 2004, The Future of a Sustainable Construction Industry in the NYC Region. Represenatives from the construction industry, government, labor unions, and environmental groups attended.
And GWC participates in a coalition that is aiming to radically change the way New York City handles waste. Zero Waste by 2024 is a comprehensive package of initiatives that together would enable the City to reduce, reuse, and recycle all the waste currently exported to distant landfills and incinerators.
GWC is organized as a cooperative because local ownership creates community through participation in decision-making and profits, as well as keeping the fruits of their labor in the community. The first national federation of worker-owned businesses - the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives/ Democratic Workplaces - was formed at a May conference, with the goal of promoting worker coops, collectives, and democratic Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), and supporting the growth of worker-owned enterprises in the U.S. www.usworker.coop