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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Queens cleaning ladies form workers cooperative

They were tired of being taken to the cleaners by their bosses — so they’re taking out the trash on their own.

Pa’lante Green Cleaning, a 15-member Jackson Heights cleaning cooperative owned and operating by the cleaning ladies themselves, celebrated its grand opening Wednesday.

“Now that I’m part of this project, I’m very excited to be an owner as well as an employee,” said Claudia Leon, a 36-year-old Mexican immigrant who was earning just $20 a day as a waitress at a taqueria in Jackson Heights.

Pa’lante Green Cleaning will be among just 25 so-called worker cooperatives in the city and only the fourth employee-owned cleaning service, according to Make the Road New York, a nonprofit that collaborated with the workers over the course of two years to form the new company.

“The overwhelming majority of them have had experiences of wage theft and exploitation on the job, and that’s one of the main reasons they’re coming together in this worker cooperative,” said Saduf Syal, an organizer with Make the Road. “Basically they’re cutting out the middle man — the cleaning service owners — and keeping 100% of the profits.”

Pa’lante members hope to boost their wages from the $8 to $12 per hour they were earning at established cleaning services to $20 per hour by trimming supervisory expenses and by acting as their own board of directors.

“The core principle is that people have the right to democracy in the workplace,” said Chris Michael, director of the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives, an advocacy and consulting organization for the cooperatives. A Brooklyn worker cooperative incubator named the Center for Family Life used grant funds from the City Council to help the cleaning ladies start the company

Pa’lante’s President Blanca Palomeque, an Ecuadorian immigrant and ovarian cancer survivor, said she often took home $50 a day for up to 12 hours of work when she began cleaning homes as a self-employed maid 10 years ago.

“You don’t know what the going rate for the work is, so you just accept whatever they give you,” said Palomeque, 51.

The new cooperative, whose name translates to “move forward,” will offer cleanups starting at $90 for a studio and $130 for a 3-bedroom. The members collaborated with the Queens College Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to learn organic cleaning methods and hazard control.

“We are going to distinguish ourselves by offering natural products and bringing customer service that makes people want us to return,” said Leon, the marketing manager.

More than 50 attendees jammed into Make the Road’s tiny office, including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

“You’ve empowered yourselves,” Katz told the cleaning ladies Wednesday. “You’ve fulfilled the American dream.”

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