Democratizing the Invisible Workforce

Our Vision: We want to live in a society where the domestic work industry is cooperatively owned, where workers are truly honored for the value they provide, and where consumers have dignity, respect, and independence.


Photo Credit: Nic Walker

Even though more than 4.5 million elders and people with disabilities are serviced by caregivers each year these workers are effectively invisible to most of America. The domestic work sector is inherently isolating and the industry itself is rife with incidents of worker exploitation. Workers don’t have a voice in the companies for which they work. Approximately 45 percent of caregivers live in households that earn 200 percent below the federal poverty level. Further, an estimated 900,000 caregivers do not themselves have health coverage. We can not allow this industry to continue operating this way. We will not allow domestic workers to remain in the shadows.

Our Project:

Democratizing the Invisible Workforce works with low-income and immigrant communities in order to cultivate cooperative enterprises that meet the needs of our elders and people with disabilities and the workers that support them. Our first step in realizing this vision is to support the creation of a domestic care worker cooperative. We believe that this enterprise will show how cooperatives can be a pathway for dignified jobs, worker control, and living wage employment for our low-income and immigrant brothers and sisters in the domestic work industry.

Why the Domestic Work Industry?

Domestic workers and caregivers are some of the most vulnerable workers in the nation. Most caregivers are women, and a large proportion are immigrants facing language barriers, immigration hurdles, poverty, and limited social networks. The lack of regulation in the domestic worker market additionally contributes to the vulnerability of workers. Without regulatory oversight or support networks, exploitation of caregivers continues to go unnoticed and unreported.

The work of caregivers continues to be undervalued even as demand for it rises. The need for domestic care services is projected to explode with the “silver tsunami,” the impending retirement of the baby boomer generation. Still, caregivers continue to operate in the shadows, with few workplace protections.

Why Worker Cooperatives?

Worker cooperatives, businesses owned by its workers, offer the industry an alternative solution that leads to the creation of dignified jobs for caregivers. Worker cooperatives can alleviate social isolation, secure fair compensation, and improve working conditions. Cooperatives prevent labor exploitation because they are owned and democratically governed by the employees themselves. They also reduce poverty because the employees share in the business’ profits. Cooperatives have been shown to improve the quality of domestic services by providing training and education for their members.

Worker cooperatives offer an abundance of advantages over traditional businesses and corporations. In particular, cooperatives are more likely to create stable fair-paying jobs, adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, provide higher levels of job satisfaction, and invest in the local community. When efficiently organized and managed, worker cooperatives provide the following benefits:

  • Wealth creation and economic self determination: In a worker cooperative, workers share directly in the business profits, giving groups of people an opportunity to become economically independent in a mutually-beneficial way. For example, worker-owners in the Bay Area’s Prospera cooperatives (formerly Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security) saw an increase of 158% in their incomes and an average return of 22 times their initial investments. The largest cooperative Prospera-incubated, Natural Home Cleaning Professionals, pays its members twice the average starting wage for commercial cleaners in the county.

  • Increased job security in economic downturns: In economic downturns, most corporations are narrowly focused on maintaining value for their shareholders, rather than maintaining employment for their workers. This typically means that corporations will lay employees off during economic downturns. By contrast, because worker-owners call the shots in their cooperative, they value preserving jobs foremost, rather than maintaining shareholder value. The result is that the workers have increased job security as owners of the business.

  • Control over the way their work is organized, performed, and managed: In a worker cooperative, workers take part in the governance of the business. This means workers have control over how their work is valued and organized. They have a say in how much they work and how they are compensated. Worker cooperatives also create opportunities for continued professional development and training of the worker-members.

How We Can Work Together

At the Sustainable Economies Law Center, we are available to provide a wide variety of tools and resources to assist workers and economic development specialists in the creation of worker cooperatives. Please reach out if you are interested in collaborating with us on any of the following:

  • Teach-ins: short but practical, participatory, and action oriented discussions!

  • Educational workshops: participatory trainings meant to provide deeper insights and understanding into the nuts and bolts of starting and operating a worker cooperative.

  • Referrals to technical assistance: Our Law Center not only trains attorneys and cooperative development professionals, we also are connected to a network of economic democracy practitioners who provide consulting, training, and support for new and existing worker cooperatives.

  • Legal information and advice: Through our Law Center’s Resilient Communities Legal Cafe, we provide one-time legal advice and consultations thrice monthly across the Bay Area. We also provide long term representation to a limited number of clients.For those building worker cooperatives in the homecare industry interested in longer term representation from our Law Center, please contact Charlotte Tsui.

Charlotte Tsui!!! Skadden Legal Fellow

Contact Us

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Charlotte Tsui at



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