Document Type


Publication Date



Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law






This article advocates for cooperatives as a vehicle for protecting and empowering vulnerable workers, like those in New York’s nail salons. Some may argue that worker cooperatives are unnecessary and that advocacy groups and legislation would be just as effective. California has a nonprofit, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (CHNSC), which is dedicated to advocating for healthy working conditions for nail workers. The organization is composed of key stakeholders in the nail salon industry, including individual manicurists, environmental organizations, researchers, reproductive justice groups, and government agencies. CHNSC created a “healthy nail salon” certification as an incentive for owners to create and maintain safe and healthy workspaces. The certification is a marketing tool, indicating to customers that the business operates ethically. While currently effective and certainly commendable, there are shortcomings to this approach. The certification primarily addresses primarily health and safety, not wage or employment, issues. Additionally, the certification is dependent on the continued interest and commitment of the salon owner in order to be successful.

Worker-owned nail salons would be a more permanent solution and provide greater protection for workers. A worker cooperative nail salon not only has a vested interest in providing the highest standards in health and safety, but also in wages and wealth retention. The worker cooperative nail salon goes beyond certification and becomes a true social enterprise, positively impacting workers and reinvesting in the community. A business like that could join the ranks of social ventures like Tom’s shoes and Manicube.

Social enterprises are gaining in popularity among consumers and investors because they produce attractive products and services that also appeal to the values of consumers. This type of socially conscious business does not need to have an international focus; it can thrive and create change in our own backyards. Stable, wealth building employment opportunities are vital to help vulnerable workers and their communities. Worker cooperatives can play an important role in creating these jobs and rebuilding economically distressed localities.

Despite their rich history both in the United States and internationally, worker cooperatives are now starting to gain momentum with local power players as a legitimate local economic development strategy. New York City, Austin, and Madison have all passed municipal efforts to explore and even fund the development of cooperatives as a means to reinvest in the community and build broad-based wealth. These beginnings may seem small and humble, but have the potential for creating a ripple effect as cities often look to their peers when exploring new policies and strategies for growth. As municipalities and states begin to look to worker cooperatives as vehicles for growth, they can continue building networks of cooperatives that foster local and even regional growth. The worker cooperative is in a prime place to prove there is nothing more contagious than a good idea.



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