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Workers on Corporate Boards? Germany’s Had Them for Decades

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Workers on Corporate Boards? Germany’s Had Them for Decades

Elizabeth Warren’s plan to give workers a voice on corporate boards isn’t radical. “Co-determination” has a long history, and America should embrace it.

By Susan R. Holmberg

Dr. Holmberg is a political economist and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

Jan. 6, 2019

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In the late 1970s, the United Aut­­­­­omobile Workers union had a brazen idea. During negotiations for a new contract, members asked Chrysler to give workers representation on its board, a practice called “co-determination” that had been germinating all over Europe.

The proposal was far outside the bounds of management-labor relations in America at the time, and Chrysler was initially immovable. But the union had helped secure a federal loan for the company, which shielded it from bankruptcy, and management eventually relented. In 1980, Chrysler’s chief executive, Lee Iacocca, nominated the U.A.W. leader Douglas Fraser to the board as a reward.

But the presence of a single labor representative on a 17-member board did not translate into meaningful results for workers. At one point, Mr. Fraser did vote against a plush executive pay package, but he was the only nay. He stepped down in 1984, and Chrysler eliminated the union seat altogether in 1991. Only a handful of other companies tried worker representation, the unions didn’t fight for it, and the American experiment in co-determination was over before it began.

In today’s Gilded Age — when chief executives are making well over 300 times what the typical worker brings home in pay — the idea is getting new life. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who recently announced her bid for president, introduced a bill last year to give workers the right to vote for two-fifths of all corporate board seats, with a companion bill in the House by Representatives introduced by Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico. A similar bill by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin would entitle workers to elect one-third of the seats.

more at

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/06/opinion/warren-workers-boards.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=4&pgtype=sectionfront

 

Edited by prettylight

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