A dragon entering the midst of the employee ownership field—that’s how Jim Bonham, head of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) Association, described the splashy April announcement of a new nonprofit, Ownership Works, which says it aims to create $20 billion in worker wealth through employee ownership over the next decade. Spearheaded by Pete Stavros of KKR, the nonprofit is a collaboration between 60 organizations, including private equity firms, philanthropic leaders, banks, pension funds, and worker advocates.
“This effort is about providing entry and mid-level workers with access to a wealth creation tool—equity ownership—without a trade-off for wages or other benefits,” said Stavros. “At scale, this movement has the potential to build billions of dollars of wealth for millions of working families.”
Bonham is not so sure. He describes the project, in an ESOP Association publication, as “a cheap way to diffuse heat” on the private equity field and “very dangerous for those already providing true employee ownership.” We too are skeptical, like many others we’ve spoken to who have worked years to expand worker ownership through Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) and worker cooperatives.