Hacking the American Dream: Progressive Senators Go Big for Worker Ownership
Two common-sense pieces of federal support for employee business ownership on the table
The best-kept business model secret of our age is about to get the spotlight it has long deserved. It’s employee ownership—a proven, common-sense pathway to reduce inequality, anchor jobs at home, and rebuild a strong and stable economy, using a vehicle that’s as American as apple pie: making entrepreneurs out of regular, working folks.
Two progressive champions—Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)—are teaming up to put their weight behind a pair of federal bills to make employee ownership more accessible. And—believe it or not—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, this may be an idea whose time has finally come.
“In an era of hunger for solutions to inequality, [employee ownership] may be an idea whose time has finally come.”
Employee ownership works: for the workers who get a direct share in the economy, for the companies whose performance is demonstrably improved by a workforce invested in their jobs, and for the communities that need jobs anchored locally, in America, and not racing around the globe chasing the lowest wages. And crucially, it’s a strategy for greater equality and shared prosperity with a proven track record: there are more than ten million employee owners in the United States today who work and own a stake in companies like Publix Supermarkets, Wawa Convenience Stores, or New Belgium Brewing. And while there are a wide range of social enterprise approaches being piloted in communities across the United States, none can match employee ownership for proven, scalable impact, with models that are nationally-vetted and that have been successfully deployed for decades.
The two bills introduced today by Sanders—the Worker Ownership, Readiness and Knowledge (WORK) Act and the U.S. Employee Ownership Bank Act—are critically important tools in the effort to scale employee ownership in the U.S.. (The initial research we carried out here at The Democracy Collaborative, through our Fifty by Fifty Initiative, a collaborative partnership between leading employee ownership advocates like the National Center for Employee Ownership, the Democracy at Work Institute, the ICA Group, and Certified Employee-Owned, has suggested that a target of fifty million employee owners in the US workforce by 2050—or roughly 25% of the projected future workforce—is an attainable goal, if key barriers are addressed.)