Sanders hails Chroma as 'model' for other businesses

Apr 2 2005
Howard Weiss-Tisman

An employee-owned, high-tech company could be a model for helping the country bridge the gap between the rich and poor, U.S. Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., told a crowd of the company's workers on Friday.

Sanders traveled to Rockingham to meet with some of the employees of Chroma Technology, a company that produces optical filters for microscopes. Earlier this year, Sanders gave a speech that went into the Congressional Record on the success of Chroma.

On Friday, Sanders spoke before a group of about 20 employees. He said he wanted to come out to show his support and let the workers there know that their business model proved that a company could treat its workers right, and be successful.

Every worker at Chroma is a part-owner of the company, explained company CEO Paul Millman. When someone is hired, they are given shares in the business. After the first year, the employee accumulates 200 shares and collects another 200 each year.

"It works. It really works," Millman said.

He said having the employees own a part of the company fosters respect and pride in the organization.

The Congressman's talk covered a broad range of topics, from foreign trade to media ownership and the distance between the very rich in this country and the poor.

"There is no longer a middle class in America," Sanders said.

But as he discussed the many issues that appear to be plaguing the nation, and world, Sanders kept reminding the workers at Chroma how important it was to continue doing what they were doing.

"Your model is great," he told the crowd. "You need to keep this democratic institution going and keep this spirit alive."

After the talk, Sanders said he had heard about Chroma through the Vermont Employee Ownership Center, a nonprofit that encourages companies to move to employee ownership or to start businesses with such a model.

"Chroma shows that a democratic business can be successful. I think they should be a model for other businesses around the state," Sanders said.

In his speech before Congress, Sanders talked about the pay scale at Chroma, and how the company competes in a global marketplace without outsourcing its work. "So amazing is its story, and so important is its lesson to how American companies can not only survive but thrive in the international marketplace, that I want to tell that story to the American nation."

Sanders said that Vermont and Ohio lead the nation in employee-owned companies.

Millman said it was an honor to have a visit from Sanders.

"We need to know we're doing the right thing," Millman said. "It is a different way to define capitalism, by making it more humane and friendly to the workers. This is amazingly important."