Honey, We Bought the Company
Twenty-seven-year-old Theresa Gladden never imagined she would own a successful business. Two years ago -- jobless, penniless, living in the roughest part of Harlem -- Theresa responded to a newspaper ad placed by Cooperative Health Care Associates (CHCA). Four weeks of vigorous training later, she not only had a full-time job as a home health aide, but a unique stake in her job. CHCA doesn't just employ its home nurses -- it's owned by them. Offering a benefits package and wages 20 percent higher than most home-health-care jobs, and boasting a retention rate three times better than the industry average, CHCA now employs 45 dedicated women - all of whom once received welfare checks.Theresa's story is one of eight true tales captured in the latest episode of "Livelyhood," a PBS miniseries hosted by political comic Will Durst. Hailed by critics as "a stroke of television genius," (San Francisco Examiner) and "one of the most inspiring hours of television this year" (Kansas City Star), this third episode of Livelyhood, "Honey, We Bought the Company," will air on PBS stations across the country beginning Friday, September 4. With a brilliant combination of clever dialogue, snappy camera work and intelligent research, the series is sure to please everyone from the casual channel surfer to the trained economist.Five episodes in all, the Livelyhood series focuses on American workers and the issues they confront as the century draws to a close. These aren't the kind of workers we're used to seeing on TV -- the undercover cops making drug busts, the FBI agents searching for aliens, the glamorous doctors performing emergency heart surgeries. Rather, Livelyhood aims its cameras at real workers -- real factory operators, real car washers and, like Theresa, real health aides. Contrary to TV's usual message, these "average workers" are far from boring.In Livelyhood's latest episode, the hilarious Durst brings together a diverse collection of characters who have one thing in common -- they own their jobs. The hour-long program introduces us to Debby Tewa, a successful electrician who returned to her native Hopi reservation to run a non-profit business that provides solar power to remote Hopi and Navajo villages. "I gave up all that success that most people seek," says Debby, "but I think I'm a lot more successful than most people. I have a great job, and I still have my culture."Viewers will also meet a band of daring, resourceful cab drivers who put everything on the line to start their own cooperative company. Every driver - 250 in total - has an equal say in the company's policy. Despite "inefficient" board meetings, the cabbies wouldn't have it any other way. "I don't make as much money here as I would in a different place of employment," says Nan Mortensen, the fleet's mechanic, "but I have a say in my work environment. I believe what we do here is good. It's good for workers, good for families - it's just good."Livelyhood's producers, a non-profit organization called the Working Group, say that they hope to spark a national dialogue about work and its relationship to family and community. "The American Dream is being reinvented right under our noses," said Patrice O'Neill, the series' executive producer. "We want to chronicle that in a human way that engages the community."If engaging viewers and sparking debate is Livelyhood's goal, Will Durst is the perfect choice for host. With humor, grace and a playfulness unusual on PBS, Durst guides his audience deep into his subject's lives. "What I love about the show is that you get to meet ordinary humans," Durst confessed. "Every one of us wants to be that ordinary human who's growing the extra gills we need to confront our problems."Although the show is upbeat and fun, those problems are quite real. One community suddenly finds itself out of work when "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap of the Sunbeam corporation decides to eliminate their textile factory. Another town, robbed of its pay-sharing benefits by greedy and powerful CEOs, is forced to rely on pitifully low wages with no assurance that their town will even survive.These real-life disasters might seem hopeless at first. How can small collectives of working people face off against some of the richest men in America? But in the end, through combinations of smarts and sweat, Livelyhood's spirited characters overcome these great odds, proving to us that the American Dream - at least a little piece of it - can still be true.