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News :: Labor : Organizing : Race
Boston Workers Alliance Defends Jobless Workers by Trying to Establish Cooperative Temp Agency
10 Feb 2007
Just over a year after the Boston Workers Alliance (BWA) was founded at a convergence of “jobless workers,” from Boston ’s Dorchester , Roxbury neighborhoods members of their job creation committee were at the Second Annual National Federation of Worker Cooperatives Conference (NFWCC) discussing plans to establish at temp agency cooperative in the Greater Boston area.
BWA1.jpg
Committed to, “uplifting [the] community by building powerful collective challenges to the crisis unemployment,” the BWA envisions creating a network of employers who would work in cooperation to aide ex-offenders being released from prison and other individuals unable to find work because of discriminatory hiring practices in the state of Massachusetts under the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) act. Attending the NFWCC gave them the opportunity to network with people willing to assist them in their efforts.

The BWA currently has 300 members who pay $2.00 a month in dues. Fifty of those 300 members attend regular meetings and participate in projects. They work in partnership with local residents to address concerns surrounding the idea that many in these communities have a strong desire to work but are unable to access the job market. Projects they are involved in include everything from community outreach and CORI reform advocacy, to developing and implementing job creation strategies as well as legislative lobbying and media work.

Aaron Tinaka, an organizer for the BWA is working with their job creation committee to gain support from local employers and the community for the temp agency project. “The temp agency is our first economic development project. The reason we decided to do this is because we want to use worker co-ops as a job creation strategy,” he said.

Tinaka believes that if successful the temp agency could serve as powerful mechanism to leverage existing jobs. “The temp agency will allow us to place people into places of employment where they might not ordinarily get hired,” he said.

He admits it may be difficult run a cooperative temp agency due to the high rate of employee turnover but feels it is not impossible. The BWA is working in partnership with the Industrial Cooperative Association (ICA) which has set up three successful temp agencies. He pointed to a temp agency in Baltimore, M.D. created by the ICA as a working model for the BWA’s vision.

“The structure of the temp agency is different than other temp agencies because it is a non–profit temp agency,” Tinaka said. Though it may not be a worker owned cooperative by textbook definition, he explained that being a non-profit “will allow workers to have full control over their wages.” Unlike for-profit temp agencies that take a certain percentage of each of their clients earnings the BWA’s temp agency intends to develop a method to cover it’s overhead costs but will, “take nothing away from its workers,” at the end of each pay period.

“The temp agency will be geared towards negotiating positions for people with criminal records, by breaking down barriers that may exist for such people in their search for employment,” Tinaka explained.

He says the BWA, “is trying to figure out ways to make the temp situation a beneficial as possible. If we have somebody who is working for a while at the temp agency and they have not been placed in full time employment we will work to provide them with health insurance. Allot people don’t have much work experience. The agency could be used as a place to give them that experience.”

In order for BWA to be successful in establishing worker cooperatives, Tinaka feels the group must first meet peoples, “immediate financial needs.” The goal of the temp agency is to provide those in need with a greater sense of economic mobility. Creating a stable environment by working with the residents of Greater Boston’s marginal communities to meet their needs will allow those in the neighborhoods who wish to devote time to organizing for social change the opportunity to do so without having to worry about how they are going to pay their rent or feed their families.

David Ludlow, a volunteer and support member with the BWA is optimistic about the future of the temp agency. Foreshadow its success he said, “What we are doing is trying to start an alternative economy for communities of color in the greater Boston area. By creating worker cooperatives in which people can sell their services to each other rather than relying on large corporations.”

According to the BWA, "Blacks with [criminal] records applying for entry level positions have a 5 percent chance of being called back for interview and blacks without [criminal] records have a 14 percent chance. While whites with [criminal] records have a 17 percent chance and whites without [criminal] records have a 34 percent chance. Ludlow hopes the creation of a temp agency and other worker cooperatives would afford all in the area with a desire to work the opportunity to do so.

Twenty-six year old Greg Young is an active member of the Boston Workers Alliance to whom the temp agency project would be beneficial. Following his release from a Massachusetts State Correctional facility after serving a two year sentence Young became frustrated with the fact that he was repeatedly turned away from or terminated from employment because of the status of his CORI.

Standing for Criminal Offender Record Information, a CORI is a record of a person’s criminal history in Mass. It includes any time an individual was in court on a criminal charge, no matter what the final outcome of the charge was. Many employers in the sate are required to do a CORI check on all job applicants. CORI documents are full of acronyms other legal jargon which makes them very difficult for the untrained reader to understand. The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute put together a "how to," document called The CORI Reader available at MLRI.org to assist employers in interpreting CORI documents, however Mass. state law does not require businesses to use the document at this time.

Anyone who is arraigned in the state generates a CORI even for something as minor as traffic violation. There are over 2.3 million CORIs on file in Mass. , and over 10,000 organizations in the state have access to these records. They are frequently used as a tool for denying people housing, employment and access to student loans. CORIs from misdemeanors remain open for 10 years and felonies for 15 years, even if the individual is found not guilty. It is possible for an individual access their own CORI and have it sealed however it requires time and processing fees which are often hard to come by in low income communities. According to the BWA, "many businesses will not hire anyone with a CORI regardless of their qualifications or commitment."

A to familiar reality for Young who says that during the two years that he was in prison he, “sat back and meditated.” He believes that the majority of people who are incarcerated are good people who, “deserve a second change.” For himself and most people he explained, “time in prison is lonely. Guys are in a cell all by themselves with nothing but walls and guards. All we ever think about is freedom and how we want to work because we screwed up.” Upon his release he felt he, “already been corrupted by all the violence,” he witnessed in jail and was, “looking for some peace and humbleness,” along with the opportunity to, “have a job to take care of [his] kids and be a good role model.”

Young feels, “The CORI situation is killing families left and right.” His involvement with the BWA has been an uplifting experience that has given him hope for his future. He said, “getting in touch with this organization really touches me because though I am not working temporarily I feel as if it is really going to take me to a different place. What we need to do is focus on the CORI situation. Guys just want to turn their lives around and do the right things”

For more information about the Boston Workers Alliance visit: Bostonworkersalliance.org or call (617) 427-8100
See also:
http://bostonworkersalliance.org/

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