Worker-Led Benefits

Fund Worker-Led Benefits and Training Providers

Establish parameters for voluntary, non-political, worker-controlled organizations that can receive employer and government funds and administer benefits and training programs. Allow state and local governments to work with such organizations in delivering joint federal-state programs like unemployment insurance.

Americans take for granted that employers and government programs in some combination will provide the basic supports and benefits needed by workers in a modern labor market. But this system works poorly. Government administration of public benefits like unemployment insurance is bureaucratic, ineffective, and unaccountable. The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing shutdowns strained state unemployment systems beyond the breaking point. Private insurance struggled to adapt. Employer-sponsored benefits such as health insurance, meanwhile, lock workers into jobs and limit their options.

Organizations of, by, and for workers are a far more sensible institution in which to locate responsibility for providing these kinds of benefits and services. Many other countries use systems like this, which have been proven to improve benefits provision because they are more accountable and transparent than either government or employers. When worker organizations don’t do their job, members can fire leadership or join a different one. Conversely, when a worker loses or leaves a job, he can remain attached to his organization.

The United States should establish parameters for creation, governance, and composition of worker benefit organizations and make them eligible to receive government funds for administration of public programs. As recipients of public funds, such organizations should be prohibited from engaging in partisan politics. This is what American workers want. When asked which activities are most important for a labor organization to perform, they rank providing benefits and training nearly as high as collective bargaining, and far above political activism. By a 3-to-1 margin, workers favor a tradeoff in which worker organizations can manage benefits with public and private money but cannot spend on politics.