Gillibrand touts women at Rotterdam steel plant

Senator promotes employee stock ownership plan companies
Claudio Zullo, president of Schenectady Steel Company, speaks alongside Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Claudio Zullo, president of Schenectady Steel Company, speaks alongside Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

ROTTERDAM — Concern about President Donald J. Trump and some of his policies is bringing thousands of new female candidates into politics this year, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said Monday.

New York’s junior senator, who has so vocally opposed Trump’s policies that many people see her as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said women will bring strong legislating skills to the table if they are elected.

“We have over 400 women running for Congress alone,” Gillibrand said during a visit to Schenectady Steel Company, where she promoted legislation to encourage employee stock ownership plans. “It’s changing, the people who want to serve, who are willing to put themselves out there is changing, and I think with new people will come better, bolder ideas that can help working families, like the one we talked about today.”

There are currently 85 women serving in the House of Representatives, and 20 serving in the U.S. Senate. In each house, about 20 percent of the members are women. Gillibrand, who is up for re-election to a second full six-year term this year, appears likely to face another woman, Republican Chele Chiavacci Farley.

Gillibrand indicated she would welcome more women being elected, saying they bring different life experiences to the table than men.

“We all have our own life experience to draw on, and when you have more diverse people at the table, you will have different experiences, different problems and different solutions being offered,” she said. “Women are also very often good listeners and often very good consensus builders, and so they’re good at legislating, to foster more bipartisan bills and actually pass more bipartisan bills.”

Gillibrand came to Schenectady Steel because it has been entirely employee-owned since 1986, after John Phelps, the son of the man who founded the company in 1924, chose to sell the company to its employees when he decided to retire. The company, which makes steel building construction components, has about 45 employees.

“Production, efficiency and craftsmanship are improved by the fact that all employees have a vested interest in the well-being of the company,” said Schenectady Steel President Claudio Zullo.

Gillibrand’s proposed legislation, the Main Street Employee Ownership Act, would offer Small Business Administration loans and technical assistance to companies that convert to employee stock ownership plans or become cooperatives. She said an owner selling the company to its employees when the owner wants to retire is a positive way to keep a company in business.

“Employee-owned businesses have a strong track record of better pay and retirement benefits for workers and a commitment to creating local jobs,” Gillibrand said. “I will continue to fight as hard as I can in the Senate to pass my bipartisan legislation that rewards work and supports employee ownership around New York and the country.”

U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said he also supports the legislation, which has cleared a House committee vote but is yet to be considered by the full House. “If there’s a way for ESOPs to be stronger, we should do that,” he said. “Put purchasing power in the hands of workers, and we’ll have a stronger economy.”

Gillibrand also talked about legislation she proposed last week that would authorize the U.S. Postal Service to cash checks and make small low-interest loans — in effect, challenging the payday loan industry, which has often been accused of charging exorbitant interest rates to people whose finances are so limited that in many cases they don’t have a banking relationship.

“We want to create an alternative so you don’t have to be taken advantage of by payday lenders,” she said. “What our bills does is, every post office in America, and there are 30,000 of them, can do basic banking.”

Gillibrand said there are 1,506 postal locations in New York state, including many in rural and urban low-income communities where other access to banks is limited.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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