A couple of weeks ago, I expressed support for the notion of employees’ becoming owners of their workplaces, suggesting that the best way forward was to remove government barriers to their doing so. As WPRI’s Ted Nesi notes on Twitter, progressive Democrat Representative Aaron Regunberg of Providence has a hearing today on his legislation to, as Nesi puts it with reference to Benny’s, give employees “the right to buy the retailer and turn it into a worker-owned co-op, rather than let it shut down.”
Reading the bill, however, I can’t see that it really does much of anything. When employers are about to take an action that requires them to notify the federal government about a substantial layoff, the state Department of Labor and Training (DLT) would remind the employees that buying their workplace is an option.
The employees would then take a vote on whether to buy the company. If the vote succeeds, then any employees who are interested would form an entity in order to buy it. If the vote fails… well… I guess any employees who are interested in buying the company would do exactly the same thing. In either case, the employer can decline to sell. In other words, the bill does nothing but give a politician another talking point about supporting “working Rhode Islanders.”
Of course, because it is so ineffectual, one suspects that this legislation would be the foundation for an incremental change that activists think wouldn’t have chance if pushed into law all at once. In a few years, progressives might argue that too many owners are unwilling to sell for the price that employees are able to pay and remove their ability to say “no thanks.” Or maybe a state bank would come along, and these sorts of buy-outs would explicitly be given preferential treatment for loans.
Considering the origin of the bill, the safest bet for Rhode Island would be for the General Assembly simply to let it fade away. In the meantime, we should reinforce a simple truth that progressives seem to want people to forget: We already have inalienable rights that come from a higher place than the State House, and we don’t need government to step in and claim to be creating them for us, as if from nothing.
After all, if government can grant a group the right to buy a company, it can remove another group’s right to do the same.