Legislation to help workers who want to form their own businesses or to set up worker-owned cooperatives was introduced on Monday by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Employee ownership increases employment, productivity, sales and wages. The two-bill package was filed in the Senate on the same day Sanders held a news conference in Burlington, Vermont, with representatives of worker-owned businesses.
“At a time when corporate America is outsourcing millions of decent-paying jobs overseas and with the economy continuing to struggle to create jobs that pay a livable wage, we need to expand economic models that help the middle-class,” Sanders said. “I strongly believe that employee ownership is one of those models.” He said the federal government, however, has not done enough for employee ownership to realize its full potential.
Under one bill in Sanders' package, the U.S. Department of Labor would provide funding to states to establish and expand employee ownership centers. These centers would provide training and technical support for programs promoting employee ownership and participation throughout the country. This legislation is modeled on the success of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center which has done an excellent job in educating workers, retiring business owners, and others about the benefits of worker ownership.
A second bill would create a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to provide loans to help workers purchase businesses through an employee stock ownership plan or a worker-owned cooperative. Sen. Patrick Leahy is a cosponsor of Sanders’ legislative package.
Vermont is a national leader on employee ownership. Today, there are more than 30 ESOPs in Vermont and about a half dozen worker cooperatives. Nationally, there are more than 10,000 employee owned businesses throughout the country with about 10 million employees.
At the news conference in his Senate office, Sanders was joined by Mary Steiger, president and founder of Williston-based PT360; Jim Feinson, president of Burlington-based Gardener’s Supply; and Nicole LaBrecque, an employee owner and corporate director of business development at South Burlington-based PC Construction Co .
Joseph Blasi, a professor at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, also joined Sanders to speak about the merits of employee ownership. Blasi has written 13 books, including one titled “Employee Ownership.”
“By expanding employee ownership and participation, we can create stronger companies in Vermont and throughout this country, prevent job loss, and improve working conditions for struggling employees,” Sanders said.
“Simply put, when employees have an ownership stake in their company, they will not ship their own jobs to China to increase their profits,” Sanders said. “They will be more productive. And, they will earn a better living.”