Beginning in the 1970’s the steel mills and many of the industrial factories around Southeast Chicago and Northwest Indiana began to close their doors. Along with the closing of their doors, went many of the union jobs that working class families throughout the Southeast Side depended on. Almost overnight, thousands of workers were left without jobs, unable to support themselves and their families. Over twenty years later, the effects of many of these large businesses leaving the area are still felt deeply by the community on the Southeast Side. The area currently experiences a high rate of unemployment coupled with a lack of available jobs.
After years of organizing against a climate of exploitation that has left many low-wage workers to fight to reclaim stolen wages and improve workplace conditions, we recognized that what our community needed most is jobs. More importantly, good quality jobs, where workers can have a say in how they and their coworkers are treated and paid. We realized that the pathway out of poverty and into sustainable community wealth building is entrepreneurship through local worker cooperative movements. Cooperatives lead to future sustainable employment opportunities, fostering a culture of high road business practices, fair wages, safe working conditions and serve as an alternative for workers who are typically excluded from the economic system.
Worker Cooperative Incubator
Our long term vision is to build neighborhood institutions that represent the interests of working people. To begin working towards that vision, we are developing worker-led cooperatives founded and run by community members.
In 2014 CTU started the Southeast Cooperative Institute Business Incubator to prepare and train members, many former low-wage workers, how to form and operate their own worker cooperatives. The goal of the incubator is to transform the current economy that suffers from high unemployment and poverty rates into a resilient and thriving community guided by the values of democracy, solidarity, and mutual support. At the root of this work is the respect for human life that includes dignified wages. Thanks to a partnership with Adelante Center for Entrepreneurship, John Marshall Law School and the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, the incubator is able to provide comprehensive business development services to low-income, immigrant and Latino community members on the southeast side of Chicago and in the south suburbs.
CTU’s Southeast Cooperative Institute is a high-touch incubator focused on recruiting, training and supporting workers with the purpose of establishing successful cooperative businesses on the southeast side. Through the incubator, workers learn the history of cooperatives and receive financial training, education on collaborative governance business models, leadership development and one on one mentoring and counseling.
Las Visionarias is a Chicago catering cooperative founded by immigrant women that got its start through the Southeast Cooperative Institute Business Incubator.
Coalition & Policy Work
Illinois Worker Cooperative Alliance
CTU is a co-founder of the Illinois Worker Cooperative Alliance (IWCA) along with Chicago Community & Workers Rights, the Domestic Worker and Day Laborer Center of Chicago, New Hope Rising and The Co-op Ed Center. The IWCA was formed in 2015 to help forge an environment that supports worker cooperatives for low-wage workers whose typical employment opportunities are driven by companies with little interest in the financial and physical well-being of the working poor. IWCA’s mission is to support a worker-owned cooperative system that promotes economic stability and independence for workers and their communities and instills values of social justice, democracy and collective participation.
IWCA has been working to bring community awareness about the worker cooperative model and its impact on building and strengthening communities; advocating for local and state legislative policies to obtain resources and recognition; developing an ecosystem that supports the technical, education, legal, and monetary development of cooperatives; and to strengthen the economic impact of worker-run businesses in marginalized communities. The Illinois Worker Cooperative Alliance believes worker cooperatives can be a model in Chicago, and the region, setting the standard for long lasting economic stability.
Illinois Coalition for Cooperative Advancement
In 2018 CTU co-founded the Illinois Coalition for Cooperative Advancement (ICCA), a statewide coalition, with Catatumbo Cooperative Farm, Chicago Community & Workers’ Rights, Chicago Food Policy Action Council, The Coop Ed Center, Las Visionarias, Upside Down Consulting, D@W Chicago, Domestic Worker and Day Labor Center, Englewood Village Farms, Grow Greater Englewood, John Marshall Law School, Illinois Worker Cooperative Alliance, LVEJO, Kola Nut Collaborative, New Era Windows and the Raise the Floor Alliance.
In the Spring of 2019 the ICCA successfully passed HB3663: Limited Worker Cooperative Association Act in the State of Illinois, which:
- Creates a new business entity better suited for worker coops,
- Allows for businesses to assert themselves as worker coops under State statue
- Allows coops to raise capital without the burden of costly securities registration
- Creates more access for worker-ownership for low-moderate income entrepreneurs, formerly incarcerated individuals and immigrant communities in Illinois