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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Chronicle
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Unique new worker cooperative planned

Make the Road is boosting support for transgender Latina immigrants.

One idea for a Queens-based workers’ cooperative aims to empower transgender residents who face workplace discrimination.
“We see a lot of transgender individuals living in poverty and this doesn’t just happen in Queens, it happens all over New York City,” Daniel Puerto, worker cooperative developer at Make the Road New York, said.

He reinforced how paving the way for quality employment for all individuals in the LGBTQ community goes beyond simply implementing new legislation — there also needs to be education of said laws to curb cases of employment discrimination.

Puerto explained there are laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender and expressed gender identity, but there are still too many cases where job applicants are quietly excluded from employment opportunities, while not directly harassed.

Make the Road is in the planning stages of creating a workers’ cooperative that will focus on providing jobs, career support and training for transgender immigrant Latinas in Western Queens, many of which face a language barrier and discrimination in the job market.

“We did some research but I’m pretty sure that this cooperative will be the first trans Latina immigrant cooperative in the nation and definitely one of the first in New York City,” Puerto said. “This cooperative definitely will address the lack of employment opportunities, the termination of jobs, the discrimination in the workplace, the harassment in the workplace.”

The project is part of the NYC Cooperative Development program. In 2013, Make the Road New York received funding to create worker cooperatives such as this one.

While the cooperative idea is still very new — having a tentative launch date of June 2016 — Puerto said the setup will be similar to Pa’lante Green Cleaning, a 15-member cleaning cooperative in Jackson Heights which is owned and managed by the members and launched last year with help from Make the Road.

The trans Latina immigrant cooperative will tentatively be a beauty salon, with each beautician acting as an independent entrepreneur. Right now, Make the Road is focusing on conducting a feasibility study, assessing the initial costs of a salon and looking at higher skills training and licensing.

Make the Road is known for harnessing similarly structured programs to prepare workers for job hunts, develop careers and guard vulnerable workers by offering training on their rights and health and safety on the job.

Last Wednesday, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) expressed her support for the idea.

“This group of people has come together to empower themselves and be their own employers,” Ferreras said. “We are here to help them connect to business services and other opportunities.”

Puerto said the workers’ cooperative would address real needs beyond just providing job opportunities, adding that it gives individuals the tools to save, acquire a living wage, contribute to taxes and survive in today’s economy.

“It provides empowerment and professional development to community members that often times are limited due to multiple barriers they face,” Puerto said.

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