WES Mariam Assefa Fund Grantee Partners

Pioneer Valley Workers Center

Category: Skills & Supports; Immigrant Leadership

Amount: USD$100,000

Term: October 2020 – August 2022

Focus: Pioneer Valley Workers Center’s Vida Cooperativa program provides economic opportunity for immigrant workers in the U.S. to start and lead their own cooperative businesses.

About Pioneer Valley Workers Center

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center (PVWC) equips and empowers low-wage and immigrant workers throughout Western Massachusetts. Worker-leaders develop and organize grassroots campaigns for food chain workers’ rights to win wage theft protections and stop deportations, and advance the solidarity economy through worker cooperatives.

What type of work will the grant enable?

PVWC’s Vida Cooperativa program offers cooperative economics worker trainings and cooperative business incubation. Riquezas Del Campo is a 4.5 acre cooperative farm, owned by PVWC majority-immigrant members, which serves as the program’s anchor.  The farm became a crucial source of food for PVWC’s mutual aid community food distributions as COVID-19 hit last spring, offering fresh, free produce to a wide variety of low-wage workers suffering from unemployment and underemployment.  PVWC also incubated and supports Just Words, a multilingual interpretation and translation cooperative. Vida Cooperativa will provide technical assistance to these existing co-op programs, as well as develop cooperative business education curriculum to support the creation of new, interconnected cooperatives, including a possible digital hiring hall and a new worker-owned restaurant.

Why is this work important?

The Vida Cooperativa initiative is a worker-led response to the significant problems immigrant food-chain workers encounter. PVWC members and leaders are primarily recent immigrants with precarious or undocumented legal status who work in low-wage food system industries, such as agriculture and restaurants. Immigrant food workers are uniquely vulnerable to wage theft, workplace harassment, hazardous working conditions, and other labor exploitation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these members are especially vulnerable to economic insecurity and lost work, making cooperative development all the more important.

Vida Cooperativa unites a cohesive movement to enable food worker power, equipping workers with the tools they need to launch cooperatives and regain control of their workplaces. The cooperatives strengthen food security and generate vital income opportunities across PVWC’s membership and the wider Western Massachusetts immigrant community.