May 11, 2017

Sanders, Gillibrand, Polis, Delaney, and Pocan Introduce Legislation To Address Income Inequality

WORK Act establishes a grant program to support employee-ownership starting in 2018

Washington: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Rep. John Delaney, D-Md.; and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.; introduced legislation to address income inequality by encouraging the expansion of employee ownership business models. 

The Worker Ownership, Readiness, and Knowledge (WORK) Act establishes the grant program in the U.S. Dept. of Labor to assist employee ownership programs nationwide.

Income inequality is a growing and persistent problem.  According to CNN Money, in the 1970s, 10 percent of all U.S. income went to the top one-percent, but today it is 20 percent of all income. Employee ownership business structures enable both the employer and employees to benefit from economic growth and can create more productive work environments with greater corporate transparency.

For example, under a Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which is a specific employee ownership business model, participants have more than double the retirement accountant balance as average, helping lessen the gap. 

“By expanding employee ownership and participation, we can create stronger companies in Vermont and throughout this country, prevent job losses 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, they will be more productive, and they will earn a better living.”

“I'm proud to help lead the introduction of the Worker Ownership, Readiness, and Knowledge Act which would help give more hardworking New Yorkers an ownership stake in the companies where they work,” said Gillibrand. “We need to start rewarding work again in this country, and employee ownership is a good way to help make that happen. I will continue doing everything I can in the Senate to fight for more good-paying jobs that actually reward our workers.”

“Workers were left behind in the recovery after the Great Recession with their wages at a standstill.  For our economy to be at its best, CEOs shouldn’t be the only ones who benefit from economic growth, employees should have a stake in it too.  As a founder of many businesses, I know that employees are the ones who play a major role in the productivity and success of a company,” Polis said.  

“Employee ownership is good for workers and good for companies,” said Delaney.  “As a former entrepreneur, I know firsthand how important it is for employees to be invested in the success and productivity of a company. Encouraging more employee ownership programs is a smart response to a number of negative economic trends that are hurting middle class families, from rising inequality to the decline of middle-class jobs to the retirement crisis, and I am proud to support this legislation to encourage more employee ownership models.”

“Dane County in my district is home to more cooperative businesses per capital than any other county in the country,” Pocan said. “With 29 years of experience as a small business owner, I've seen firsthand how both businesses and workers benefit when growth is shared between labor and management. Employee stock ownership plans are an excellent way to promote shared prosperity. I'm proud to be an original cosponsor of the WORK Act in order to help the Department of Labor promote employee-ownership while also ensuring that workers' rights are protected.”

The Employee Ownership and Participation Initiative grants could be used for education and outreach; participation training; technical assistance, like feasibility studies; and activities facilitating cooperation between employee ownership firms. 

In the first year, states may apply for the grants on behalf of qualified programs with the maximum grant being $300,000 in 2018.   

Earlier today on Capitol Hill, Sen. Sanders, Sen. Gillibrand, and Rep. Polis hosted a briefing on the benefits of employee ownership, and how it supports long-term economic growth.