Employee ownership gaining popular and political support

By Neal St. Anthony, 4 Aug, Star Tribune

A poll conducted several weeks ago by Public Policy Polling showed that two thirds of Americans “support the concept of companies being owned by their employees so that all workers share in their success.” Only 13 percent oppose the idea; 19 percent are unsure.

The poll also found that 58 percent of Americans would support legislation that makes it easier for employees to own a part of the business, and 50 percent think the government should do more to encourage the growth of employee-owned companies. Generally, support is highest among Democrats and those identifying as liberal. Younger people are somewhat more supportive than older people.

Loren Rodgers, executive director of the National Center for Employee Ownership, said in a statement: “Employee ownership has gained such wide support because it addresses issues of economic inequality through the market system. Congress has provided tax incentives for employee ownership because it has a proven record of generating more jobs, more assets for employees, and more profits for companies.”  The center, a nonprofit research organization, said there are about 7,000 U.S. companies with ESOPs, which range in employment from 10 to hundreds of thousands. The plans cover 14 million participants.

In addition, there are 10 million-plus employees who own stock in broad-based partial ESOPs through employers, mainly through stock option and restricted stock grants. ESOP companies tend to lay off more slowly, and less pigging out at the top.

In this year’s presidential race, the Republican platform strongly endorses employee ownership. And Hillary Clinton has proposed additional tax incentives for employers to set up the plans.If constructed and financed properly at well-run companies, ESOPs are get-rich-slow and share-the-wealth plans for smart owners and engaged workforces.

A growing number of employees in Minnesota also are owners through Employee Stock Ownership plans, including long-term “ESOPs” such as Windings of New Ulm, Padilla CRT of Minneapolis and Christensen Insurance Group of Minnetonka.