By Guy Page
Sen. Bernie Sanders says his Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act would force billionaires like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to repay in federal taxes every dollar their employees receive in federally-funded benefits like food stamps, school lunches, Medicaid and housing assistance.
It would also significantly increase the cost of employing Vermonters working for many for-profit and not-for-profit corporations.
The bill is hailed by some as a politically-astute shout-out by a likely 2020 presidential candidate to blue collar workers at Amazon’s 75 U.S. “Fulfillment Centers”, the warehouses located mostly in Indiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Nevada, Utah and other “fly over” states. These jobs offer comprehensive, innovative benefits, but pay the average warehouse worker just $27,000 per year, according to glassdoor.com.
The closest Fulfillment Center to Vermont is Nashua, New Hampshire. So if Vermonters are not paying attention to their senator-who-would-be-president’s bill, it’s understandable. But Stop BEZOS as written applies to every existing or planned corporation or family of corporations with 500 or more employees in the United States. So if like many Vermonters you work for:
- a big, 500+ employee company like Global Foundries;
- a Vermont outpost of any size in a national corporation of 500 or more employees;
- a company in a family of corporations of which total employment is 500 or more;
- a contractor that does most of its business with one of these 500+ employee corporations;
….the Stop BEZOS Bill, if passed, would apply to you. The bill does not even explicitly make an exception for not-for-profit corporations.
A Stop BEZOS law would hit your company, whether successful or struggling, with a huge, new, hard-to-predict federal tax with zero operational benefit. Just 50 employees receiving a modest, average $10,000 in combined federal benefits would require your company to send the IRS an extra half-million dollars a year. Vermont employers already pay above the national average in energy, health care insurance, and taxation.
An employer who is both enlightened and flush with cash might possibly absorb the added expense. This would bring employees a sigh of relief — but no extra pay. Many employers, already practicing “lean” management to survive, would simply shake their heads and cut jobs. They might start with those who are suddenly the most expensive employees under Sen. Sanders’ new law — single moms most reliant on federal benefits.
For decades, Washington has been building benefits for working people. Welfare isn’t just for the indigent unemployed anymore. Housing and health care costs continue to grow, as do the number of single-parent families. More and more working Americans have turned to federal benefits. Getting employers to discuss their role in solving the “benefits cliff” problem is essential. Stop BEZOS is a conversation stopper. As a bill it may have a certain class-struggle appeal in Tennessee, but as a law it would stop all real benefits cliff progress and very possibly toss many Vermonters out of good-paying jobs.
This November, Sanders is running for re-election by the voters of Vermont. At least one other candidate for U.S. Senator, Lawrence Zupan of Manchester, is running on a simple message: “Zupan Vs. Sanders: It’s About Vermont.” Unlike Sen. Sanders, he’s available to talk to the Vermont press (I met with him earlier this week).
According to the 9/19 Seven Days, Sanders’ re-election campaign recently pledged $150,000 to the Vermont Democratic Party. There will be no criticism for that quarter. It’s up to candidates like Zupan to demonstrate why a U.S. Senator should care more about jobs in Vermont (population 623,657) than in Memphis, Tennessee (population 656,861).
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.