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Building Workplace Democracy and Green Industry in the Bronx

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Green Worker Cooperatives has worked since 2003 to build worker-owned green industry across the South Bronx. In early 2008, after years of fundraising, education, and building ties with the local community, the organization opened its first cooperative: Rebuilder's Source, which collects and markets waste construction supplies for re-use.

Building Workplace Democracy and Green Industry in the Bronx

Emerging from the environmental justice movements of the South Bronx in New York City, Green Worker Cooperatives has gained national fame for its integration of workplace democracy with an innovative green business model. Since 2003,  the organization has coordinated lobbying, consulting, and financing efforts to create worker-owned green industry in its area. It also held a series of courses, called the Green Worker Academy, to help local people transition into green careers in cooperatives. Early in 2008, Green Worker Cooperatives opened its first cooperative: Rebuilder's Source, whose worker-owners bring in construction supplies destined for the landfill, and set them up for re-use with new projects.

In this densely-populated neighborhood, dependence on heavy trucking has long been a serious environmental health hazard. While the state government has typically focused on reducing environmental impact in the communities where waste ends up, Rebuilder's Source is boldly working towards a zero-waste South Bronx. The organization believes that drastic reductions in the amounts of waste trucked out daily will have clear impacts on air quality and public health.

As part of its business plan, Green Worker Cooperatives set the ambitious goal of opening Rebuilder's Source with enough funding to last for five years of operation, independent of profits. In 2006, the study was concluded, a business plan was laid out, and fund raising began in earnest. The state government has provided the greatest amount of aid to the project, with many private foundations and churches contributing heavily as well.

This far-sighted plan for Rebuilder's Source is now allowing the young cooperative to take its time in developing strong skills among its worker-owners, and close relationships with local builders. For late 2008, the co-op plans to develop a major marketing push, to expand both their consumer and donor base. Already, the cooperative has received more donations of building supplies than expected, and has received a flurry of glowing media attention, in outlets ranging from Men's Vogue to the New York Times.

An audio interview by the Sundance Channel with Omar Freilla, a founder and worker-owner of Green Worker Cooperatives, can be listened to at this website.

More information and resources can be found at the  Green Worker Cooperatives website.

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