For a number of Central Americans in the Washington, DC area, EMPLEO workers cooperative provides an opportunity to take charge of their own lives. In addition to matching workers with employers, EMPLEO offers members skill-building sessions, materials and tools, and literacy classes in both Spanish and English. The cooperative provides emergency financial support and seeks to ease the transition for recent arrivals into the U.S. job market.
EMPLEO began as a job bank in 1989, when La Casa Mission Group of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC recognized that the most urgent need of the refugees they were serving was employment. John Mohr, founder and volunteer director of EMPLEO, told Sojourners that from the beginning La Casa envisioned the development of a worker-run cooperative that would "help people become empowered." Currently, La Casa and the cooperative members share decision making, but in the near future La Casa hopes to move into the final phase of a plan that would grant members full control.
Last year, the 30 or so members of EMPLEO formed themselves into three work teams -- gardening, cleaning, and painting -- in order to better facilitate job distribution and training and to develop their collective skills. Said cooperative administrator Euclides Lozano, "We saw these permanent work teams as the beginning of a process that would carry us to our dream of eventual self-sufficiency."
Brigitte Kerpsack was news assistant of Sojourners when this article appeared.