US co-ops welcome new Emergency Economic Workforce Resiliency Act

The bill allocates funding to assist firms in transitioning to employee ownership or worker co-operative models

US co-operative apexes have welcomed the reintroduction of the Emergency Economic and Workforce System Resiliency Act on 16 July by Representative Adam Smith (D-Washington)

The Bill will provide new funding to state and local workforce agencies to prevent layoffs, support displaced workers, and collaborate with employers to develop strategies to preserve the existing workforce and creating new jobs.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted our workforce and left many workers experiencing joblessness or employment instability,” said Congressman Smith. “These disruptions have underscored the need for an updated workforce training system that better prepares our workers for changing job markets and supports them in times of disruption. Current economic development programs, workforce training programs, and unemployment benefits programs are often siloed and focus on workers already out of work.

“The Emergency Economic and Workforce System Resiliency Act will provide critical funding to state and local workforce agencies to prevent layoffs and support workers and firms as jobs and industries encounter transitions. Through increased resources for training, upskilling, and piloting innovative incumbent worker training models, this bill will help workers develop and stay current on the skills and credentials necessary to maintain high-quality jobs with good wages and benefits.” 

Senator Amy Klobucha (D-Minnesota) added that the legislation would “provide resources to states and localities to help prevent layoffs, retrain employees, and protect against market disruptions […] By meeting the needs of our workforce, we are investing in our economy and future generations”.

The Act would focus on prevention by promoting a model of investing in workers and firms prior to layoffs and sector-wide changes in workforce needs, unlike the current workforce system, which focuses heavily on helping those already out of work. As part of this, the bill creates a five-year funding stream to state and local workforce boards, which can be used for investing in new programs to prevent layoffs, assist displaced workers, assist firms in transitioning to employee ownership or worker co-operative models, and support employers in preserving existing jobs and creating new ones. Additional funding would also be allocated for five-year pilot programmes for states to implement innovative workforce system-wide layoff aversion models. 

The bill has the backing of a number of co-operative apexes, including the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA-CLUSA).

Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA said: “The National Cooperative Business Association is proud to endorse the Emergency Economic and Workforce Resiliency Act and appreciates the leadership from Congressman Smith and Senator Klobuchar. Co-operatives are an important tool toward sustainable and stable workforce development and economic growth, and we commend Rep. Smith for recognising the value for workers, businesses and communities.

“By increasing financing and technical assistance resources for co-operatives through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), this legislation will not only help reduce or avert layoffs, but also give more people the opportunity to own and control the businesses where they work and use, and we look forward to working with Sen Klobuchar and Rep Smith to advance this legislation.”

The US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) also welcomed the Bill. It said in a statement: “The USFWC is proud to support this legislation, which prioritises workers who have been deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic by supporting at-risk workers, employers, and industry through strengthening state workforce systems and industry-sector supports.”

The Democracy at Work Institute, which was created by the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) to ensure that worker co-operative development in economically and socially marginalised communities is adequately supported, effective, and strategically directed, also supports the legislation.

Melissa Hoover, executive director at the Institute, said: “The Emergency Economic and Workforce Resiliency Act can play a critical part in reducing unemployment and creating a stronger and more equitable foundation for the American worker by making the tool of worker ownership a more widely used strategy for job quality and retention.”

The Bill is due to be introduced in the Senate by Sen Amy Klobuchar.

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