Sanders and Warren take aim at abuses by U.S. corporations
Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren | AP

WASHINGTON – Two of the Senate’s top supporters of workers, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, have gone on the attack against corporate subsidies and irresponsibility.

And though their legislation will go nowhere in the GOP-run 115th Congress, the two lawmakers are laying down markers for future legislative action to help workers.

Sanders’ bill is a direct attack on corporations – with Walmart and Amazon in the lead – whose wages are so low their workers must also use federal subsidies to survive. It would impose a 100 percent federal tax on the firms for the amounts the government shells out to aid the affected workers.

Warren would mandate federal charters, not lax state ones, for large firms. The federal charters would come with tough requirements for corporate accountability to communities and workers and ban corporate political contributions unless 75 percent of both shareholders and directors OK them. She’d also reinstate the ban – dead for 35 years – on corporate stock buybacks.

Both measures aim at the largest corporations, especially those like Walmart and Amazon, worth at least $1 billion, which also pay workers starvation wages, in Sanders’ words, and count on taxpayers to pick up the tab.

Sanders cited a new non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) report about firms and poverty wages. His bill would order the companies to repay the government the money it shells out to help the hurting workers.

“About 20 percent of families with a worker earning up to the federal minimum wage — currently $7.25 per hour — 13 percent of families with a worker earning above the federal minimum to $12 per hour, and 5 percent of families with a worker earning $12.01 to $16 per hour were in poverty” between 1995-2016, his GAO summary said.

Amazon and Walmart are among the prime offenders, Sanders added.

“All over this country, many Amazon employees, who work for the wealthiest person on earth, are paid wages so low they can’t make ends meet. Thousands of Amazon employees are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing because their wages are too low, including 1 out of 3 of its workers in Arizona and 2,400 in Pennsylvania and Ohio, according to The New Food Economy.”

“Bottom line: The taxpayers of this country should not have to subsidize employees at a company owned by Mr. Bezos who is worth $155 billion. That is absurd,” he said. His bill would force Amazon to repay those subsidies.

“Amazon has been less than forthcoming with information about their employment practices. What we do know is Amazon’s median employee pay is only $28,446 — 9 percent less than the industry average and well below what constitutes a living wage in the United States. Further, we believe many of Amazon’s workers are employed by temporary staffing agencies and contractors and make even less than the median Amazon employee.”

Warren said her Corporate Accountability Act would bring runaway executives to heel.

“There’s a fundamental problem with our economy. For decades, workers helped create record corporate profits but have seen their wages hardly budge.”

“To fix this, we need to end the harmful corporate obsession with maximizing shareholder returns at all costs, which sucked trillions of dollars away from workers and necessary long-term investments. My bill will help the American economy return to the era when American companies and American workers did well together.”

CredoAction, the progressive petition site, is already circulating one supporting Warren’s measure. “The hate from right-wing Republicans and their Wall Street allies for this plan betrays their loyalty to the super-wealthy over widespread economic growth and raising wages. We need to stand with Sen. Warren and demand corporate reform now,” it urges.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.