Thursday, June 16, 2011

Green Coop Industrial Laundry Wins $250,000 from Heinz in Pittsburgh

From SteelValley.Org

The Heinz Endowments awarded $250,000 to the Pittsburgh Steel Valley Authority (SVA) to manage a project development team to build a new green industrial laundry cooperative in the Pittsburgh central district. The goal of the project is to re-employ 100 primarily minority laundry workers who are being dislocated by the Sodexho Corporation. The SVA will be working with a large consortium---the city, county, the laundry workers’ unions (SEIU, Operating Engineers, Teamsters), the Allegheny Conference, the large, Spanish workers cooperative corporation - Mondragon, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, UPMC, the Hill District KIZ, and other urban community leaders.--to help develop the project.

The idea of cooperative companies as competitive instruments of worker-friendly capitalism has become very popular these days; the Cleveland Foundation’s Evergreen Cooperative platform has spawned a couple of other successful businesses, including a profitable cooperative laundry, employing Mondragon industrial cooperative “one worker, one vote” principles.

The Evergreen Cooperative Laundry began operating last year in a new $6 million plant and services the health care and hospitality industries. Formed through a community economic development initiative to promote the development of urban cooperatives as a means to improve the quality of life in the community, this initiative was strongly supported through the leadership of the Cleveland Foundation and other local foundations, the City of Cleveland, major educational and medical stakeholder institutions, as well as professionals from the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, the Democracy Collaborative, and Mondragon.

As an important step in this direction, on April 7th, 2011 the SVA participated in a meeting with the workforce at the Sodexho Laundry in the Lower Hill District to discuss the potential development of this new business concept to replace the 100 or more jobs that will soon be lost when Sodexho closes. Representatives from the largest worker’s union at the laundry, the SEIU, participated in the meeting along with the Chief Executive Officer, Jim Anderson, and Plant Manager, Medrick Addison, of the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry in Cleveland. Sixty of the workers, primarily African-American and Asian, signed on to join the project and make it their company.

Equity is important to foundations and other large civic organizations as a means to alter the cycle of poverty. Today, too many working families work for low-wage employers in dead end jobs or are underemployed and unemployed. The proven Evergreen-Mondragon worker ownership and worker empowerment model has proven capable of transforming the current workplace status quo into one that is more participatory and more accountable to the workers, build worker equity based on meritocratic participation and enterprise success, create sustaining good and green job opportunities, engender self-driven wealth in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and reduce the environmental impact of the current industry. In October 2009, the United Steelworkers Union and Mondragon announced their collaboration to develop a Mondragon-USW union-coop model to transform manufacturing enterprises in a similar manner. The Pittsburgh union-cooperative laundry represents a starting point for what Heinz and SVA want to accomplish throughout the Pittsburgh metropolitan region.

Primary project goals include:

- Create job opportunities for historically disadvantaged individuals and provide for an opportunity to create family wealth through business ownership & equity

- Establish a sustainable, market-competitive, green laundry in a disadvantaged Pittsburgh neighborhood to support the regional healthcare and hospitality industry

- Build a hybrid co-op/union enterprise as a model for existing and new regional businesses, with help from community partners

- Reduce the environmental impact of regional laundry services by creating a fully competitive green enterprise.

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