Once a month, the workers at Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) review the company’s financial statement. They examine income and expenses, then decide where the balance should go. “The majority rules here. If the workers don’t like something, it doesn’t happen,” says Lillian Torres, who has been there for five years.

Like most workers here, Torres is also an owner of the company. Since City Limits first wrote about CHCA in 1995, the South Bronx company has grown from a $5.6 million to a $13 million-a-year enterprise. The staff has more than doubled, to 630 African-American and Latino women. More than two-thirds were on welfare before they came here; Torres, for one, had been on public assistance for 10 years.

Eighty percent of employees at CHCA are worker-owners and share in annual dividends, which have ranged from $100 to $800. With a down payment of $50, an employee can buy a share in the company, worth $1,000, paid in weekly installments of $3.65. Workers tend to stick around: The company has a 24 percent turnover rate, compared with the industry norm of 60 percent. Recently, CHCA celebrated the careers of 14 worker-owners who have been at the company since it began in 1985.

Worker-owners make an average of $8 an hour–a dollar higher than the industry average, but still a far cry from a living wage. The women at CHCA often think about giving themselves substantial raises, but have repeatedly opted instead for a comprehensive benefits package and small wage hikes. The co-op is dependent on public funding from Medicare and Medicaid and money for a raise just isn’t there.

Because it contracts with private agencies–80 percent of its contracts come from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York–CHCA has to sit on the sidelines of the union-run living wage campaign seeking $10 an hour, plus benefits, for home care workers under city contracts. Instead, its aides are doing their own advocacy. In May, 20 of them lobbied in Albany for higher Medicaid reimbursements and for a way to ensure that higher wages will follow. The group is also working to spread some of CHCA’s practices–including training that emphasizes empowerment, critical thinking, problem solving and team building–to the rest of the industry.

Yet CHCA is still one of a kind, and job applicants crowd the reception area. When they arrive, they see a sign: “We believe that when people have interesting jobs, a real voice in how their company operates, and are fairly paid, they will give their very best.”

Back to the Old Neighborhood
By Alyssa Katz

December 1996
Empowerment Zones Out
By Gillian Andrews

October 1996
A Teen in Trouble Finds a New Hang
By Megan Costello

August/September 1996
In The East Village, Rehab Is a Family Affair
By Megan Costello

June/July 1996
The Founder of a Needle Exchange Dies from a Dose
By Julia Lyon

November 1991
The Grandmother of Loisaida Fights to Keep Her Title
By Hilary Russ

February 1990
A Homeless Mother Wrangles with the City
By Megan Costello

April 1989
People with AIDS Suffer a Second Epidemic: Homelessness
By Daniel Hendrick

June/July 1988
Wronged Residents Form Their Own Salvation Army
By Hilary Russ

November 1987
City Condemns Concourse Apartments
By Seth Solomonow

November 1986
A Union for the Homeless Takes Hold
By Hilary Russ

March 1985
Job Training Opens Doors for the Homeless
By Daniel Hendrick

March 1980
Tenants Turn a Dump Into a Dream
By Larry Schwartztol

December 1979
Dilapidation and Death on Avenue C
By Seth Solomonow

February 1975
Adding the Final Touch: A Windmill and Solar Panels
By Abigail Rao