This post originally appeared at the Main Street Alliance of Oregon blog.
Portland, OR — This past Saturday, October 11th, Leaders with The Main Street Alliance of Oregon gathered in Portland to reflect on our past work and plan for the future of the movement. We’re confident that together we can continue to raise the voices of small business, working to change the way that we think about business.
Leaders from across the state joined together to think-big about the future of The Main Street Alliance, how we can build more support for Main Street businesses, and how we can continue to provide opportunities to lift up the real stories from Oregon small business owners who understand that they’re working families too.
Main Street leaders agree that the time has come for a paradigm shift. We’re working together to lift up the voices of small business owners across Oregon and the U.S., and reclaim our voices from the Big Business spacial interest groups who stole them years ago.
There is a groundswell of support for common sense work place protections like access to paid sick days, affordable health care, and secure retirement savings options. Main Street business owners know that when we provide basic standards like these, pay living wages to our working families, and ensure that the women working in our businesses are earning equal pay for equal work, our communities and small businesses thrive.
Here at The Main Street Alliance of Oregon, we’re looking forward to the growing number of supportive businesses in Oregon and across the country. We’re looking forward to reclaiming our small business voice! Join us!
Main Street Alliance, a national network of state and locally based small business coalitions, announced this week that they are affiliating a state project in Vermont under the leadership of Lindsay DesLauriers.
“We are thrilled to begin working with businesses in Vermont where so many exciting things are on the horizon,” said Main Street Alliance’s national Director, Amanda Ballantyne. “We worked with businesses in support of the Affordable Care Act and we are looking forward to helping elevate the strong support among small business owners in Vermont for Universal Health Care, among other issues.”
The group’s founding members include Liza Cain and Randy George, co-owners of Red Hen Bakery; Melinda Moulton, CEO of Main Street Landing; Trudy Trombley, owner of the Boutique at Stowe Mercantile; Stephanie Hainley, COO at White and Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors and former President of the Burlington Chapter of Business and Professional Women (BPW), and Wayne Nelson, partner at L.N. Consulting. They issued a joint statement saying, “We are excited to welcome Main Street Alliance to Vermont and to help elevate the voice of Vermont’s small businesses. We know that when we support our communities, we support our community businesses and we’re looking forward to making it easier for small businesses to join in these conversations in Montpelier.”
DesLauriers, comes to this role fresh from the 2014 Paid Sick Days Campaign, where she was the Campaign’s Director, employed by Voices for Vermont’s Children. “I’m so happy that I’ll be able to continue to work with the Earned Sick Days Coalition and local business owners to advocate for a standard of paid time in Vermont,” DesLauriers said. “As the Campaign Director for Paid Sick Days, it was my goal to address Vermonters’ real need for a standard of paid time in a way that makes sense for businesses and honors their leadership in policy development. We made a lot of progress last year and we’ll continue to work toward this goal in 2015.”
Main Street Alliance small business members have helped develop, support, and implement economy-boosting paid sick days laws in Seattle, Washington; Portland and Eugene, Oregon; Newark and Jersey City, New Jersey; and New York City.
Personally, DesLauriers grew up working and skiing at Bolton Valley Resort, which was owned and operated by her family until 1997. With both family and professional ties to the business community and the hospitality industry, DesLauriers describes herself as uniquely sympathetic to the challenges and responsibilities borne by small and mid-size businesses in Vermont. “Main Street Alliance is a great fit because both I and the organization as a whole are committed to the core values that will that will support and grow local businesses by supporting and building a robust economy for all Vermonters.”
Main Street Alliance creates opportunities for small business owners to speak for themselves to advance public policies that are good for small businesses, their employees, and the communities they serve. Vermont will be the 12th state affiliate.
As part of our founding work, the Vermont Main Street Alliance Outreach Team has been traveling across the state this summer speaking to hundreds of small business owners about a variety of statewide policies. The small business owners we’ve met have helped us to understand their concerns, they’ve shared their ideas, and they've shown tremendous support for a number of issues that we know will be addressed in the upcoming legislative session – including overwhelming support for the implementation of a universal, publicly-financed healthcare system in Vermont.
The owners we spoke to have shared that a universal healthcare system would remove a cost-burden from employers that many of them simply cannot afford. Even those who are providing insurance still struggle with the knowledge that, under the current system, many of their employees often can’t afford the co-pays and high premiums.
Additionally, many of the small business owners we’ve met have shared that the lack of affordable, high-quality childcare in Vermont has made it difficult to retain employees. They are keenly aware of how hard it is for Vermonters - owners and employees alike – to manage the demands of work with small children to care for. In some areas of our state, it is just plain hard to find reliable, high-quality childcare; where it is available, it’s hard to afford. We are learning that this is much more than an issue impacting low-income working families: the challenges posed by accessing childcare and the need to improve quality impact all of our families – owners and employees alike. Many of the businesses have even signed a statement of support for the efforts of Let’s Grow Kids, a public education campaign focused on the importance of early childhood.
But one of the most interesting and validating themes that has come up unsolicited again and again is that our main street business owners aren’t feeling represented by the larger business chambers – often both at the regional and state level. There is a feeling shared by many that the traditional chambers prioritize the interests of larger businesses, not always understanding the implications of how truly tied to the community locally owned small businesses are. The Vermont Main Street Alliance outreach team has been working hard to make these connections with real Vermont small business owners to help ensure that the voices and interests of small businesses are heard and represented.
The National Labor Relations Board has issued a ruling that the McDonald’s Corporation can be listed as a “joint employer” for workers in franchise-owned stores. It’s a ruling that could have a major impact in the growing movement to raise wages and working conditions in the fast-food industry.
Whether franchise locations like McDonald’s should be treated as part of an intertwined corporate structure, or as separate locally-owned small business, has been a hot topic in recent minimum wage debates prompted by fast-food worker strikes. The city of Seattle passed a $15 minimum wage law this year, under which corporate franchises and other large businesses have a shorter implementation schedule to raise wages than smaller locally-owned businesses; this has prompted the International Franchise Association to file a lawsuit claiming discrimination.
On MSNBC's Your Business, Main Street Alliance leader Makini Howell, owner of Plum Restaurants in Seattle, debated the CEO of the Washington DC-based International Franchise Association on Seattle's $15/hour minimum wage law, and on whether corporate franchises are really small businesses.
Howell called the $15 minimum wage an "economy-boosting policy," noting that low-wage consumers will have nearly $3 billion more to spend in the local economy in the law's first decade.
Responding to IFA's claims of 'discrimination,' Howell had the last word.
"A lot of the money that the franchisees could use to pay their workers increased wages is being sucked away to the larger corporations. And it's not fair for McDonald's to hide behind them in order to pay poverty wages."
On July 28, 2014 the Mayor and City Councilors of Eugene, Oregon voted 5 to 3 to implement a paid sick days policy that will enable people who work in the city to earn sick time while they work, making Eugene the second city in Oregon, and the 9th U.S. city, to adopt such a policy.
Small business owners with the Main Street Alliance of Oregon cheered the ordinance passage as an important step to create more economy-boosting jobs.
“Eugene’s paid sick days policy will benefit everyone. It will boost the local economy and help small businesses succeed,” said Catherine Reinhart, co-owner of Sweet Life Patisserie. “It’s simple economics: we sell more sweets when working families have more money in their pockets to take their kids out for a treat. Now, Eugeneans won’t have to choose between taking care of their families and missing a day of work.”
“This is a big forward step for Eugene’s economy that will help employees better manage their work and personal responsibilities simultaneously,” said Rob Cohen, co-owner of Falling Sky Brewery. “Our employees are the heart of our business. We’re proud to provide them with paid sick leave, so they can pay their bills even when they get sick. Now all employees will have that protection too!”
“When you do your best by your employees, they stick around and give you their best, so it really works for everyone,” noted Gavin McComas, owner of Sundance Natural Foods. “It feels great to be part of a solution that will directly benefit so many people and that positions Eugene as a leader in our country when it comes to a triple-bottom line economy. It’s a great day for the city of Eugene, and for Eugene business owners and their employees!”
The Main Street Alliance of Oregon business owners applaud the Eugene City Council for taking action on this important issue. Despite the backdoor political dealings of the Lane County Commission — whom last week attempted to stall or block the City Council from taking action by passing three rushed ordinances — the Council and Mayor supported the 25,000 workers in the city who need this basic protection.
Bipartisan legislation designed to renew emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed passed the Senate in April, but was called 'unworkable' by Speaker Boehner and has not been heard from since in the House.
Over 3 million unemployed individuals have lost benefits.
Beginning June 7th, advocates for the unemployed and sympathetic members of Congress have gathered for 'Witness Wednesdays,' to bring attention to inaction on this issue and to share stories from those who are suffering personal economic problems because of evaporating family incomes.
On Wednesday, June 23rd, Main Street Alliance D.C. lobbyist Bill Daley represented the Alliance for a Just Society and the Main Street Alliance, speaking out on the importance of unemployment insurance to the economy and to small businesses; he shared a story from a New Jersey man named Dermott.
The Main Street Alliance of Florida is proud to announce we’ve reached the 100-member mark on the Vote Local campaign.
Over 100 small business owners in Orange County, Florida have placed posters in their shop encouraging customers to take part in the local elections on August 26. Owners want to bring attention to the less-discussed election that has a greater impact on the community. The label of “Primary” has voters confused, and many are unaware the August election decides several races, including County Mayor and County Commissioner.
The two principal issues expressed by the small business community are quality jobs for their customer base and comprehensive immigration reform to strengthen their communities. Keeping corporate money out of local politics is another big issue, as several local candidates in Orange County have been linked to campaign contributions from large corporations, which puts their loyalty to the small business community in question.
When asked why he put a Vote Local poster in his window, Angelo Rodriguez, owner of MasterKutz Barber Shop, said “If you really want to see some change where you live, you have to do your part. If we come together and believe in our system, we have the power to change things. Change all starts with local government; we need to bring back local government by educating people and getting them involved.”
Small business owners are often too busy to take part in the election process, so many opt to receive an absentee ballot sent directly to their home or business. This way, they can look over the ballot on their own time, then mailing the completed ballot to the Supervisor of Elections. Many shop owners have placed extra absentee ballot request forms and information cards in their shop, so their customers can take advantage of this time-saving process.
The Main Street Alliance of Florida is engaging small business owners to take actions in their community, and to make changes which not only help their business thrive, but which help the community that supports them. Several in-district town halls are being held in the weeks leading up to the election, and they are a great opportunity to voice the concerns of the business community. More information on the Vote Local campaign, and the town hall meetings, can be found at VoteLocal2014.org.
This morning, Catherine and Cheryl Reinhart, owners of Eugene's Sweet Life Patisserie and leaders with the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, hosted a coffee meeting with Congressman Peter DeFazio. The Reinharts, as well as Rob Cohen of Falling Sky Brewing and Gavin McComas of Sundance Natural Foods, spoke about the state of small business in Eugene; the conversation focused on issues of tax fairness, the ever-expanding corporatocracy, immigration reform, women's economic equality, and a variety of local issues.
Working with The Main Street Alliance, neighborhood business owners like these leaders are working hard to change the way the business sector is perceived, both in Oregon and nationally. We know that the US Chamber of Commerce and other 'small' business groups are really representing the voices of the big guys. We're happy to have a champion for small business who understands that important distinction, like Congressman Peter DeFazio, fighting for small businesses and our communities.
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.
Last week, Reuters reported on a new study detailing how a majority of Fortune 500 companies use offshore tax havens to avoid their full U.S. tax responsibility.
Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz tells Bill Moyers that these lucrative tax loopholes are contributing to widening income inequality and hurting economic growth in the U.S.
Yet, the response from some in Congress appears to be doubling down on offshore tax avoidance – pushing to renew offshore tax loopholes as part of an unpaid for “tax extenders” package, and giving full-throated endorsement to the notion of a so-called “repatriation tax holiday,” a patriotic sounding name for what amounts to a “get-out-of-taxes-free” card on profits booked offshore.
Corporate tax dodgers’ apologists often claim that returning offshore profits to the U.S. – even at a severely discounted tax rate – would bring with it new revenue for economy-boosting investments in America.
This week, a new report from the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’ non-partisan scorekeeper, threw cold water on that claim. Bloomberg reports that, while a repatriation tax holiday would temporarily return some new revenue to American soil, the Joint Committee on Taxation has concluded that such a move would ultimately cost the U.S. treasury $95.8 billion over the next decade.
For small businesses, corporate offshore tax dodging is a two-headed beast. The first devours resources necessary for economy-boosting investments, while the second breathes fire onto small business competitors who pay their fair share of taxes, unfairly exacerbating the competitive advantage large corporations already enjoy.
Main Street Alliance leader Deb Field, co-owner of Paperjam Press in Portland, Ore., writes in a guest column in the Oregonian:
“I'm proud to pay my fair share of taxes. Most of us realize that it's the price of sustaining our public infrastructure, schools, legal system and other things essential to making America an excellent place to do business. Corporations that take advantage of all America has to offer and then refuse to pay their fair share in taxes are shirking their civic responsibilities.”
Tim Foster, owner of Patriotic Motors in Spokane, WA, sums it up in the Spokesman Review: “Corporations making record profits shouldn’t need tax breaks that are paid for on the backs of hard-working Americans and small businesses.”
If Congress wants to boost the economy, combat widening income inequality, and support small business success, it’s time to cut offshore corporate tax dodging beast off at the head(s).