Latina women’s co-op works to improve the lives of Virginia immigrants in service industry

The Magic Broom in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is looking to improve the lives of cleaning service workers in the state by doing a lot more than just discussing money.

“The idea is that we would all be equal,” said Magic Broom president and founder Dilcia Molina, speaking through her interpreter Maria Margarita. “That no one should exploit anybody. We are all owners in the cooperative.”

Molina said her mission is to make this new co-op, which has almost 100 members, a refuge for Hispanic women workers coming to America after fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.

Their workers are cleaners, working primarily in homes and businesses, looking to transform the system for more equitable wages and fairer workplace treatment.

“We’re creating our own workplace. And our own safe spaces for women,” Molina said.

The co-op is attempting to form its own legal structure, alongside lawyers in Richmond.

“Right now, the system allows owners to take advantage,” she explained. “Owners pay themselves a lot of money and don’t leave very much for our workers.”

Molina proudly told WTOP that the group just recently signed their first ever contract as a co-op to make sure they aren’t taken advantage of again. She hopes it’s the first of many, though equity in wages is only part of the equation.

Magic Broom is just one arm, the newest subsidiary, of a larger organization that’s been around since 2004. Also founded by Molina, the organization Madre Tierra, or Mother Earth, has an even broader mission.

“Women live in fear of immigration,” Molina explained. “They don’t speak the language and can often face abuses when they first arrive in the country.”

Madre Tierra, and by extension Magic Broom, also offers access to professional help for women who experience abuse in the form of gender-based violence or sexual assault and trafficking when they arrive in the US. These are phenomena Molina says are sadly all too common.

“Sometimes, owners will pick out the youngest girl in a cleaning group and wait to drive her home last. She ends up being sexually assaulted.”

This is just one frightening and sad example of many, she says, but she adds that the Latina women of Madre Tierra and Magic Broom are resilient. She says she’s constantly inspired by that resilience every day, and it fuels her in her mission to make the co-op a model for other organizations across the country.

“To recoup the power that we lost,” she said. “The empowerment. We aren’t just victims waiting for the handout.”

Molina said The If Project, A Foundation for a Radical Possibility and the National Resource Center for Domestic Violence have been a huge help to her and her staff as they deal with issues that could comprise their group.

She also remains in touch with a North Carolina group seeking to emulate what they’re doing in Fredericksburg. Molina said that’s what it’s all about — what she calls “cross pollination” of ideas — to create a lived-in experience for their women.

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Matt Kaufax

A Northern Virginia native who grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, Matt is thrilled to be back home in the D.C. metro area covering news for a station he grew up listening to. Keeping the community he calls home informed about the day's events is something he considers an honor and privilege.

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