Santa Ana has become the first city in Orange County to adopt a resolution supporting worker cooperatives – businesses owned and operated solely by their workers, who also share profits.
The resolution to support the development and growth of the cooperatives passed on a 5-0 vote at the Santa Ana City Council on Tuesday night, Aug. 1, with David Benavides and Sal Tinajero absent.
Several worker cooperatives already exist in Santa Ana, and provide local goods and services, stable jobs and new economic opportunities for lower-income workers, according to a staff report.
“I always tell people, ‘If you’re not on the table, you’re going to be on the menu,’” Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez said, “So it’s important that we have our residents who are willing to move to upward mobility and look at ways to do worker cooperatives.”
Cooperatives allow lower-wage workers who typically cannot afford to become small-business entrepreneurs to do so collectively, a city staff report states. The report cites Environmental Systems Research Institute data revealing Santa Ana’s median income is $54,640, compared to Orange County’s median of $81,194.
Esther Hernandez, a member of Manos Unidas Creando Arte, which sells crafts handmade from recycled materials, said the cooperative has allowed her to help her husband — who works three jobs to provide for their family.
“This is an opportunity for me as a homemaker because I have no other way to help,” Hernandez said in Spanish during public comment Tuesday. “I am asking you to support us to succeed as a cooperative so we can make this a better city, so we can contribute to the city, so we’re not one of those displaced families or not as they say, a burden to the public.”
Councilman Jose Solorio said many residents are looking to work legally and that the cooperatives can be an avenue for that and can “hopefully one day be an avenue for comprehensive immigration reform.”
Martinez asked city staff if they wanted 60 or 90 days to meet with cooperative and community members to gather feedback for possible measures like incentives, funding and reduced business license fees for cooperatives.
“We prefer 90,” Acting City Manager Cynthia Kurtz said. “This is new territory for us.”
Councilman Vicente Sarmiento urged cooperative members to spread the word.
“Please, the success of this depends on you talking to colleagues,” he said in Spanish. “We need this message to get out to…