Launch of a cleaning worker cooperative owned by immigrant women on the southeast side

Estela Nava has been a cleaner for 40 years. During this time, she went from working at the congress hotel to cleaning schools and working in people’s homes. Nava says that throughout her career she has been underpaid, yelled at and disrespected.

Fed up with the abuse she has suffered, Nava starts a cleaning worker co-op in the southeast called Mujeres Brillantes Cleaning Co-op.

Owned by Nava and two other immigrant women, Esmeralda Gutierrez and Mairim Fernandez, the co-op was announced Monday at City Hall with the support of Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya and Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th).

The co-op, the first of its kind in the Southeast, has been in the works for three years with help from the City of Chicago and the United Workers’ Center.

Forming a co-op is different from a typical business because workers are also responsible for making all decisions about wages, working conditions, and negotiating with places that hire them for their services.

Sadlowski Garza said the announcement was “long overdue” because cleaning workers are usually exploited by bigger companies that employ them.

“It’s really important because these are workers who have always been on the back burner, workers who have been exploited, workers who have participated in wage theft, and now we are putting those workers first,” he said. she declared. “And they go out and start their own business with the help of the city of Chicago.”

The three co-owners have been trained over the past few years to own their own business.

“We are not going to suffer any more abuse,” Nava said, in tears. “We will be free to do our best.”

Sadlowski Garza said the southeast side is a “worker-oriented” area.

“Popular movements have always come out of the 10th arrondissement,” she said. “We empower our employees to run their own business and make their own decisions.”

This is the second cooperative launched on the southeast side. The first was a group of women with a salsa company.

“We are going to make them keep the promises they make in terms of salary and work,” Nava said. “I know I’m old, but you’re never too old to do what you want to do.”

Virginia S. Braud