On June 20th, women small business leaders in Maine gathered together to talk about their experiences as women in the small business field and about the issues that matter most to them. The roundtable was organized by the Maine Small Business Coalition, a Main Street Alliance affiliate, and hosted by Dory Waxman, owner of Old Port Wool and Textile Company in Portland, Maine. Participants were joined by staff for Congressman Michaud.
Each woman shared their story of deciding to open a small business and some of the considerations that went into that decision. For many of them it was about feeling undervalued and underpaid in corporate environments, and having a vision not just for a better future for themselves and for their families, but also for their employees.
Adele Ngoy shared her story as an immigrant business owner. “Back home I had 30 people working for me but I had to leave all of that behind. When I left the Congo because of ethnic war, I began to work at David’s Bridal as a seamstress. I was so miserable because I knew it was below my level of work, so I left after 6 years. Then I went and found a job at another bridal boutique. One afternoon I charged a woman $400 for the alternations work I did on her dress. Later when I received my check, I saw that I was paid $300 for all the work I did that week. This was when I realized I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.”l-r, foreground facing camera: Heather Sanborn, Anne Verrill, Cathy Walsh
The roundtable focused attention on the issue of providing employees with a livable wage. All of those in attendance currently pay their employees well above the current minimum wage and noted that raising the minimum wage would create a level playing field with larger chains.
Business owners also discussed the need for a better healthcare system. They agreed that the Affordable Care Act has done many good things, but that more needs to be done to guarantee quality, affordable health insurance for everyone. “I personally like the idea of the single payer system because you care not beholden to your employer to pay your health insurance,” said Cathy Walsh, owner of Arabica Coffee House. “I feel so responsible for my employees as it is. Like them being able to make their rent. So not having to worry about their health insurance would be great.”
Other topics included scrapping the cap on Social Security, protecting our natural resources, addressing student loan debt, ending the outsourcing of jobs, and ending offshore tax loopholes that give large corporations an unfair advantage.