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Workers launch green cleaning service

A new workers cooperative offers homeowners, nonprofits and businesses with an alternative to cleaning services that exploit employees and use toxic chemicals.

A project of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, Workers United for General Maintenance was launched earlier this year, and already has ten contracts, said Tim Bell of CWC. They aim for 300 new contracts by the end of the year — enough to provide 23 worker-owners with full-time employment.

They offer residential and commercial cleaning services, aimed at people and organizations that care about labor and environmental standards.

Cooperative members have years of cleaning industry experience; many had moved on to factory jobs which were subsequently shut down, Bell said. “People were getting laid off; there were no options except to create work themselves,” he said.

Initial members each paid $5,500 to cover startup costs — incorporation, licenses, insurance, and OSHA certification classes, as well as materials, equipment, and initial marketing. New workers can become full voting members after working 4,000 hours.

The democratically-run cooperative chose members to get training as front-line supervisors, bookkeepers, marketers, material handlers and personnel managers.

They’ll get a living wage, and neither they nor their customers will be exposed to toxic chemicals — a sharp departure from industry standards, Bell said.

“The cleaning industry is one of the worst for wage theft,” he said. CWC’s legal clinic has filed over 50 lawsuits for wage and hour violations over the past several years. Beyond wage theft — checks that bounce, nonpayment of overtime — many companies pay substandard wages, he said.

And standard cleaning products can cause cancer, birth defects, asthma, and eye and skin irritation. While they pollute the indoor atmosphere for anyone who uses the space, exposure for workers is far more direct. Discharged into the water system the chemicals are toxic for aquatic species.

Workers United offers residential and commercial services, and they’re reaching out to larger nonprofits including schools and hospitals. One goal is to grow to the point where they can compete with temporary staffing agencies that provide cleaning for public facilities, Bell said

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Category: environment, green jobs, labor

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One Response

  1. Tim says:

    Important to let people understand that protecting the environment and workers rights are things that we ourselves can do by making informed choices about who we have to clean our house or place of work.

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