May 12, 2017

'An Idea Whose Time Has Come': Lawmakers Roll Out Plan to Expand Worker Ownership

'Giving workers a seat at the table and their fair share of the profits they help produce is one way to even up the playing field and give hardworking Americans a chance to create an economy that works for everyone'
By Lauren McCauley /

Amid increasing corporate power and dwindling worker profits, a coalition of lawmakers on Thursday put forth one solution that just may take off.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) teamed up to put together two bills that would make it easier to form and operate employee-owned businesses, which have been "proven to increase employment, productivity, sales, and wages in the United States," according to a statement from Sanders' office.

With nearly 10,000 such businesses already in the U.S. and studies showing that employee ownership boosts productivity and profit, there is ground for support.

"And believe it or not," remarked Jessica Bonanno, chief financial officer and director of employee ownership programs at The Democracy Collaborative, "this is a policy idea that might actually have a chance, since prominent Republicans like Ronald Reagan have long favored employee ownership, which leverages firm structure, rather than social programs, to improve family economic outcomes." 

"In an era of hunger for solutions to inequality," Bonanno wrote in an op-ed published at Common Dreams, "this may be an idea whose time has finally come."

"Simply put," said Sanders, "when employees have an ownership stake in their company, they will not ship their own jobs to China to increase their profits, they will be more productive, and they will earn a better living."

The WORK Act, which was also introduced in the House by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), "would provide more than $45 million in funding to states to establish and expand employee ownership centers, which provide training and technical support for programs promoting employee ownership," according to a press statement. The proposal is modeled on the success of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center.

The second piece of legislation would establish "a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to provide $500 million in low-interest rate loans and other financial assistance to help workers purchase businesses through an employee stock ownership plan or a worker-owned cooperative." A companion bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

"Since about 1980, our economy has grown, but the top 10 percent of Americans have taken all the gains, leaving nothing for anyone else," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is a co-sponsor of the WORK Act. "That's not a level playing field—it's a rigged system. Giving workers a seat at the table and their fair share of the profits they help produce is one way to even up the playing field and give hardworking Americans a chance to create an economy that works for everyone."

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