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Senator proposes 'worker dividend' of $1 for every $1 million spent on buybacks

Jessica Smith

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) unveiled a bill on Wednesday that would create a “worker dividend,” in order to give workers a piece of their employers’ profits.

Under the plan, workers would receive a dividend of $1 for every $1 million spent on stock buybacks, dividend increases and special dividends. Companies that don’t comply with the “worker dividend” requirement would face a moratorium on stock buybacks for five years.

Brown’s office issued a calculator that would allow people to figure out how much they would receive in their worker dividend.

According to Brown’s office, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) would owe each of its workers a dividend of about $20,000 — after buying back nearly $20 billion of its own stock in 2018.

In prepared remarks, Brown said if executives get a piece of company profits, workers should too.

“Now I know what the C-Suite crowd is going to say – companies like Walmart have more than 2 million employees, it can’t afford to pay a worker dividend to all of its workers, they’ll lay people off, prices will go up. Funny…or not so funny, I didn’t hear anyone complaining that prices might go up when Walmart (WMT) spent $8 billion on stock buybacks that line executives’ pockets. And you expect Americans to believe that asking corporations to share just $1 with workers for every $1 million they spent on themselves is too much?,” said Brown.

Brown also hopes the Stock Buyback Reform and Worker Dividend Act would ultimately curb stock buybacks.

“Wall Street’s obsession with accumulating wealth for the people who already have it is by their explicit design – and it comes at the direct expense of American workers. We need to reorient our economy from Wall Street greed to the dignity of work,” said Brown.

Brown’s bill would put a mandatory prohibition on “excessive” stock buyback activities. The plan would lower the permissible amount of stock buybacks a company can make and impose reporting requirements to ensure more transparency.

Recent criticism of buybacks

This is the latest in a series of efforts in Washington to crack down on buybacks. Critics argue companies misuse buybacks to return money to shareholders, instead of investing in workers.

Supporters of buybacks insist they are good for the economy because shareholders can put the money to use, when a company cannot.

“Attempts to limit stock buybacks would undermine economic security for American families and seniors. Buybacks do not displace investments that firms make in their workers, innovation and long-term growth. Money returned to shareholders helps fuel the economy. It is often reinvested in start-ups or loaned to businesses that are growing and hiring. Data show companies electing to return money to shareholders are also making the largest investments in research and development and expanded operations, creating more opportunity for American workers,” the Business Roundtable said in a statement to Yahoo Finance.

Earlier this year, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon defended buybacks, calling them an “essential part of capital allocation.”

“I have already noted that stock buybacks, though sometimes misused, are an important tool that businesses must have to reallocate excess capital,” Dimon wrote in his annual shareholder letter. “To reiterate, this should be done only after proper investments for the future have been considered.”

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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