Andrea Dehlendorf is one of the members of the Ownership Works Labor Advocacy Leadership Council; she is executive director of United for Respect (UFR, a national nonprofit fighting to improve the jobs and lives of people who work in retail). As part of our series concerning private equity’s impact on employee ownership, Employee Ownership News spoke to her about UFR’s decision to join the board.
Making jobs better
Our purpose is to expand quality jobs in retail and to enhance worker voice. Historically, we worked with workers who lost their jobs as a result of private equity bankruptcies. We fought for workers to receive severance, and to develop public policies that would establish guardrails to protect workers from the fallout of private equity buyouts. But more recently we have been trying to intervene before dissolution. For example, we are working with Pet Smart, which is owned by the private equity firm BC Partners. We want to see if we can work with the decision makers, who are the private equity partners and the management team they put into place, to make jobs better at this national chain.
We want to push for better jobs along three dimensions: improving job quality; meaningful, long-term employee ownership; and worker voice in governance.
A place at the table
Joining Ownership Works is a similar strategy. We hope that our being at the table will be an opportunity to move the conversation about job quality and worker voice across multiple industries. We want to push for better jobs along three dimensions: improving job quality (equity doesn’t replace a fair wage); meaningful, long-term employee ownership; and worker voice in governance. Are private equity partners ready to do that now? No. But we think there is an opening created in part by the pandemic. There is a change in how Americans see essential workers, the sacrifices they made. There is pressure to make jobs better, and if we can make this effort real and deep, then it will make a difference.
Americans need to better understand the role of Wall Street and private equity in our economy.
Americans need to better understand the role of Wall Street and private equity in our economy. Most people don’t know who owns the brands they are buying. By supporting campaigns for better jobs and worker empowerment, we can all pressure the decision makers on Wall Street to do better. Right now, we are hearing the right talk from the Business Roundtable and from Ownership Works; now we have to hold them accountable to follow through, to make real change that brings workers into governance and changes the distribution of wealth dramatically.
Read our entire series on Ownership Works and the impact of private equity on the employee ownership field.
What the launch of the nonprofit Ownership Works could mean to the employee ownership movement.
Part 1: Can private equity be trusted to prioritize worker benefit?
It seems they’re doing what big capital does: take over a concept like employee ownership and make it their own in order to make more money.
Making modest investments to a non-profit in order to take shelter from the negative public sentiment resulting from the massive and growing wealth inequality in America is a cheap way to diffuse heat.
Part 2: If equity shares increase workers’ productivity, who benefits?
As long as the wealth of GPs grows exponentially faster than that of everyone else, economic inequality will continue to grow.
Offering equity to workers is a good thing, and we can argue later about what share of the pie is most appropriate.
Part 3: Is this real employee ownership?
I see this as an opening, an opportunity for the idea of worker ownership to become more mainstream.
Ownership Works can be a conversation starter and spur conversations about who is creating the value and who should capture it.
This seems like a time of messy growth for employee ownership.