WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 – First introduced in 2009, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday announced his Worker Ownership, Readiness, and Knowledge (WORK) Act, essential legislation to help workers expand employee ownership across the country, was included in the $1.7 trillion omnibus that passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday ahead of the Friday deadline.
“Workers deserve an ownership stake in the companies they work for, a say in the decisions that impact their lives, and a fair share of the profits that their work makes possible,” said Sen. Sanders. “This modest but effective legislation will go a long way to ensuring workers have the tools they need to have a seat at the table they worked to build. By making sure workers have their seat and their voices are heard, we can start to create an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.”
Study after study has shown that employee ownership creates higher wages, better benefits, and a more secure retirement; as well as increasing employment, sales, and savings, and decreasing gender and racial wealth disparities. This is in large part because employee-owned businesses boost employee morale, dedication, creativity, and productivity, as workers share in profits and have more control over their own work lives. Studies have also shown employee-owned companies are less likely to outsource U.S. jobs and are more likely to see boosts in shareholder returns and profits. A recent study confirmed that expanding employee ownership could quadruple the share of wealth held by the bottom 50 percent of Americans.
In 2019, about 25 million workers already owned some stock in the company where they worked. Today, more than 10,000 companies representing millions of workers across the country use an employee-ownership model, including more than 50 employee-owned companies headquartered in Vermont.
“On behalf of the more then 10 million American households that already benefit from an ESOP, we are deeply grateful to Sen. Sanders for his dedication to include the WORK Act in the omnibus,” said Jim Bonham, President and CEO of The ESOP Association. “Starting years ago with the Vermont Employee Ownership Center that he helped create, we have learned that increased education, awareness, and feasibility grants directly results in more employee owned businesses and now those lessons can be applied across the nation. More employee owned businesses mean more stable local jobs, higher incomes, increased retirement savings, better work environments, and more productivity for our economy. This is how American capitalism is supposed to work – by including everyone.”
Modeled on the success of the Ohio and Vermont employee ownership centers, the WORK Act authorizes a $50 million grant program to help establish and expand employee ownership centers across the country. These centers provide workers with the tools they need to own their own businesses through employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) or eligible worker owned cooperatives. This act will authorize the Department of Labor to provide education and outreach, training, and technical support for local and state programs dedicated to the promotion of employee ownership and participation. Sanders helped establish the Vermont Employee Ownership Center in 2001 and first introduced the WORK Act in 2009. Sanders also secured $158,000 for the Vermont Employee Ownership Center as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 earlier this year.
The funding package now heads to the House of Representatives and then to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The funding package also included the first increase in funding for the National Labor Relations Board in a decade.