Village People: Gabriel Lara On The Power Of Worker Ownership

Saturday, September 22, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Gabriel Lara, right, on Sept. 5 at the Proviso Giving Garden. | VFP 

According to a recent New York Times article, “In recent decades, the nation’s tremendous economic growth has not led to broad social uplift. Economists call it the “productivity-pay gap” — the fact that over the last 40 years, the economy has expanded and corporate profits have risen, but real wages have remained flat for workers without a college education.

“Since 1973, American productivity has increased by 77 percent, while hourly pay has grown by only 12 percent. If the federal minimum wage tracked productivity, it would be more than $20 an hour, not today’s poverty wage of $7.25.”

During a Sept. 5 trip to the Giving Garden in Maywood by some rural farmers — they came as guests of state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), who the farmers adopted as part of the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Adopt-A-Legislator program — Gabriel Lara explained what might be an antidote to the productivity-pay gap.

“The idea,” Lara explained, “is to create a structure so that we can own the jobs.”

Lara, a member of the Food Justice Hub —an initiative of the nonprofit Proviso Partners for Health — said that the Hub helped to create a worker-owned cooperative that grew from a group of women helping out in a local food pantry.

Lara and others with Proviso Partners for Health helped the women secure a food and sanitation license and even provided them with a food source — the Proviso Giving Garden’s freshly grown organic produce.

The women are now co-owners of their own catering business — the Maywood-based Living La Fiesta Catering Co-op.

Area students, Lara said, have even honed their video and photography skills to help market various Food Justice Hub initiatives — which include the creation of two worker-owned cooperatives and 14 “worker-owners” to date. 

“The idea is to be able to have people in the community take ownership of the economy,” Lara said, adding that he looks to national examples, such as the Cleveland Model, for inspiration. 

In the Cleveland Model, which was launched in 2008, a group of organizations, the city of Cleveland and the city’s major employers, such as hospitals and universities, collaborated to form an economic ecosystem based on worker-owned enterprises.

The first enterprise created by the model was the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, a large commercial laundry headquartered in Cleveland that is completely worker-owned — which means that the employees share in the company’s profits and have a real stake in decision-making.

The main thrust behind the success of these worker-owned enterprises, Lara said, is that jobs are created based on what people need.

“We want to create something that is modeled and shaped to the needs of the community,” he said. VFP 

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