At about 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning at the Cooper-Young Community Farmer's Market, the line for homemade tamales and fruit-flavored aqua fresca at the Mujeres Trabajando Juntas booth was by far the longest line for any vendor.
In an attempt to give immigrant women workers a larger role in the local economy, the Workers Interfaith Network (WIN) recently launched the Mujeres Trabajando Juntas (or the Women Worker Collective).
After noticing that fewer women were coming to the meetings at the WIN Workers' Center, Fabiola Cervantes, a workers' rights organizer for WIN, said the organization began planning the new program designed specifically for low-income, immigrant women workers.
"We decided we needed to make a program specifically for women as the attendance numbers kept declining," Cervantes said. "We created the Women Worker Collective to give women a place to go where they can talk to female leaders in the community about injustice at their jobs and get valuable advice."
WIN teamed up with First Congo Church to secure a booth at the farmer's market, and on July 19th, the women showed up at the market for the first time to sell their tamales, salsas, agua fresca, chocoflan, and other Mexican food.
WIN offers loans to women who join the Women Worker Collective. After being a member for three months, women are eligible for a $250 loan, and after six months, they may receive a $500 loan. The collective provides economic advice, tips on marketing and communication, and advice on launching a new business.
Cervantes said the Cooper-Young market was a good place to begin getting the word out about the new program.
"A place like the farmers market values the hard work that these women put in to making food and also shows the women that they have the ability to create something valued by the community," Cervantes said. "The farmers market allows these women to benefit from something they actually like doing, which is exactly what we want to happen.
"The women pay for the ingredients themselves, make whatever they want, and then set their own prices. Last week, we had a woman make more than $300 selling tamales."
WIN also helps Memphis workers fight against wage theft and fight for the right to organize, for workers' safety, and the right to a living wage. WIN helped organize recent walk-outs of many Memphis fast-food restaurants earlier this year, and the group has also helped countless employees fight for a living wage.
The organization is one of the only sources immigrant workers can turn to for help and education in Memphis. WIN Executive Director Sheena Foster said, in the future, she hopes that the Women Worker Collective will grow into something bigger than a booth at the farmers market.
"We want to expand, and we have big visions for this collective," Foster said. "We want the Women Worker Collective to grow its own wings and become its own nonprofit to support immigrant women who aren't a part of the traditional work force."