Nada Khader – Oct 30, 2022

According to the New York State Department of Labor, there are 477,400 residents of Westchester County that form our local labor market in our county of over a million people as of May 2022.  Officially, only 14,500 people are unemployed representing 3.14 percent of the labor force.  We know that these unemployment rates do not reflect the actual number of people who are either unemployed or underemployed because this figure is not able to capture the number of people who have either stopped looking for work or who currently have part time work and would much rather have a full time job with benefits.

This official unemployment figure also does not tell the whole story of racial disproportionality in terms of which groups of people are overrepresented in low-wage work with little employment benefits and job security.  We know that well over half the labor force locally is employed in the service sector, not in productive manufacturing or agriculture. The overwhelming majority of workers in Westchester County do not own their own businesses.  Why does this matter?

A parallel can be drawn between owning one’s own home or apartment versus renting a home.  When we own our own home, we have such a different feeling and approach to our home than if we are simply renting it and paying the landlord the monthly rent.  When we own our own home, we want to maintain it and invest in our home and keep it in excellent condition for our children to inherit.  Similarly, if we own our own private business, we have a very different attitude towards our business than if we are simply an entry level low wage earner working for a corporation.

Herein lies the beauty of the worker-owned cooperative business movement.  Worker-owned cooperatives are privately owned, values-driven businesses that put worker and community benefits at the core of their purpose.  In contrast to traditional companies, workers at worker cooperatives participate in the profits, oversight, and often management of the business using democratic practices.  Workers own the majority of the equity in the business and control the voting shares.

This model has proven to be an effective tool for creating and maintaining sustainable, dignified jobs; generating wealth; improving workers’ quality of life, and promoting community and local economic development, particularly for people who lack access to business ownership or even sustainable work options.

I am very pleased to announce that we have formed the first Westchester Cooperative Network here locally to promote worker owned businesses.  We are dedicated to fostering a solidarity economy in Westchester County that is based on economic cooperation and ensuring that all Westchester residents have access to meaningful and dignified employment at living wages with appropriate benefits so that people are able to support their families.  We are also very pleased to announce that, with big appreciation to the Elias Foundation for their support, the Westchester Cooperative Network is able to provide funding in the amount of up to $10,000 for assistance to groups of people who are seriously considering starting a worker owned business in Westchester County or who are thinking of transitioning a privately owned business into one that is owned by the workers to turn this plan into a reality.  Please visit all details.  Together, we can work to make our local economy more fair, just and livable for all of our residents.

Nada Khader has served as the Executive Director of WESPAC Foundation for the past 21 years and is a founding member of the Westchester Cooperative Network.