By Amaya Gomez
Divina Taveras, 53, moved from the Dominican Republic with her daughter in 2001 to New York City. Every job she found working in restaurants and cleaning private homes had a challenge—low wages, inconsistent schedules, and wage theft. Taveras said she experienced mistreatment from both employers and fellow employees. She was also not compensated for extra hours of work and unsure of when she would leave each time she worked.
This all changed when Taveras joined NannyBee, a worker cooperative that provides nanny services.
“It allows you to have a humble job and make an honest living,” Taveras says. “We are our own boss and you complete the job in the hours specified and there is no abuse from the boss. You can say no.” Taveras’ nanny contracts with her employers provide reassurance that she is earning a fair wage and holds a consistent schedule. “Being a business owner is one of my dreams.”
A worker cooperative is a business entity that is owned and self-managed by its workers, according to the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives. Different models of cooperatives exist and may be of any size. Each one functions like a traditional business that sells goods and services in any industry. But that’s where the similarities end. They are democratically controlled, giving worker-owners equal participation in the decision-making of the company.
NannyBee, upper Manhattan’s only worker-run childcare service, is owned and run by nannies– and it’s making a difference in the lives of the immigrant women that are a part of it. Ten founding members launched NannyBee in 2017 with the goal “to advance the collective well-being of families and the community.”
Nannies who work for families privately are considered domestic workers, according to state law. The average New York City nanny salary is $17.63 per hour according to a 2017 survey of Brooklyn families conducted by Tammy Gold, parenting expert and certified parenting coach. According to 2016 Care.com data, the average national salary for full-time nannies is $14.12 per hour. The New York State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights requires families to pay nannies on the books. However, Gold’s 2017 nanny compensation survey also found that only 55% of the survey respondents have a formal work agreement in place, and only 13% of employers pay their nanny completely on the books.
Nannies who accept informal agreements are more susceptible to unfair working conditions and unable to fight for their rights. The Fair Labor Standards Act and Wage Protection Act stipulates that their salaries must meet minimum wage requirements and live-out nannies are entitled to overtime for work above 40 hours per week. They are also entitled to worker’s compensation, disability insurance, and paid sick leave.
Cooperatives raise standards for workers by helping employees establish formal agreements with employers. These contracts support employees in negotiating conditions, establishing minimums, and maintaining fair working conditions. Members are entitled to dignified treatment, flexibility, and guaranteed benefits.
Cooperatives, like NannyBee, offer more than stability and ownership over employment. They also offer support programs like workshops and job trainings related to business management, child/infant CPR, child nutrition, child development, and parent communication.
At 26, Luisa Cordero, another member of NannyBee, emigrated from Madrid in 2014 to join her family after the Spanish financial crisis made it difficult to find work there. Cordero says she gained economic independence when she took charge of her own schedule. She describes joining the cooperative as an exciting experience. “I am really excited to be part of a cooperative and be an owner with more women,” Cordero says. “It’s also really incredible that I can learn from each one of them. Of course, I’m super proud.”
The democratic business structure does pose some disadvantages. The decision-making can be slowed down without centralized authority, and all owners must be able to weigh in on decisions. Plus, starting any business is expensive. There’s the lack of financial support from lenders, and cooperatives face difficulty attracting capital and receiving loans from banks.
New York City has supported the growth of worker cooperatives with the Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative. Funding from the NYC Small Business Services over the program’s three year history has grown from $1.2 million to $2.2 million, and the number of partner organizations has grown from 11 to 13. This initiative has helped to launch 84 cooperatives since 2015 and support their development with specialized one-on-one services such as bookkeeping, market research, producing internal manuals, and financial planning.
The financial support of cooperative development networks advances the collective well-being of the businesses and the workers operating them. Service industry workers are able to pursue economic and personal growth simultaneously. Cordero says joining the cooperative has helped her learn everything from A to Z, including her rights as a domestic worker.
“What they teach you are the values that you have and that you have rights being employed in whatever area. In any area, you have rights, even in either the cleaning service or the nanny service,” Cordero says. “You have the right to defend yourself.”
Editor’s Note: Interviews for this article with Divina Taveras and Luisa Cordero were conducted in Spanish and translated.