Read the report here: Paid Sick Time in Oregon, March 2015
I have a lot of titles in my life. I am a husband, father, college graduate, former corporate and small business employee, and retired small business owner. The list is long, and I am proud of it. In Florida, I am also called a “felon.” The title has stayed with me in the years since I served my sentence, and won’t go away.
I am not alone. There are 70 million adults with arrest or conviction records in the United States - or about one in three adults, according the National Employment Law Project. And men with criminal records account for about 34% of all nonworking men of prime working age. That’s a serious problem for our national economy and my local community in central Florida. Though every stratum of society is affected, communities of color are particularly hard hit. People of color are more likely to be arrested and to receive harsher punishments compared to their white counterparts. With little choice, the accused often take a plea deal, unaware of the life-long consequences of having a conviction.
When I tried to re-enter the workplace at the end of my sentence, I spoke with managers who would gladly have hired me. But the job application had “the box” asking “have you ever been convicted?” The managers couldn’t do much about it. I was rejected each time I responded with “yes.” I started my own business largely as a way to get around that barrier.
My business was primarily a painting and handyman service. Most of my customers were homeowners or small business owners themselves. I was very frank with all of them about my felony record. But my reputation for quality work, honesty, and my ability to connect with people helped me to overcome the stigma of having been incarcerated.
I’m grateful that I had the ability to set-up my own company, but that’s not possible for everyone with a record. I was fortunate enough to have the necessary skills to provide a service and I had access to the capital necessary to get my business started.
I joined Main Street Alliance of Florida, a network of local small business owners, to help change that. Along with nearly 200 civil and workers’ rights groups around the nation, we are calling on President Obama to take executive action to ensure that qualified job-seekers with past arrests or convictions are not automatically shut out of employment opportunities with federal agencies and federal contractors.
Although there are currently federal hiring requirements aligned with fair hiring principles, in practice federal agencies have broad discretion to adopt their own hiring policies, often with limited transparency. Executive action would ensure that the federal government fully embraces fair chance hiring in both policy and practice.
We are fighting to remove “the box” from job applications. Not only is it unfair to qualified job-seekers who have made amends for their past mistakes, but the box does a tremendous disservice to employers as well. By blindly screening out a significant portion of the applicant pool, employers may be missing out on some of the best and brightest candidates - people who may turn out to be among the most grateful and hard-working employees.
“Ban the box” and other “fair chance” hiring policies have been adopted with bipartisan support in 14 states, Washington DC, and 100 cities and counties so far. Georgia just became the latest state to ban the box. Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed an executive order on 23 February doing so because the policy will, in his words: “improve public safety, enhance workforce development, and provide increased state employment opportunities”.
These policies are gaining momentum around the country because people are realizing how persistent joblessness translates into economic losses with far-reaching consequences. In 2008, the reduced job prospects of people with felony convictions cost the US economy between $57 and $65 bn in lost output. At the individual level, serving time reduces annual earnings for men by 40%, meaning families too often fall into a poverty trap.
With the labor market gaining strength every month, the Obama administration should waste no time in ensuring that job applicants with past convictions can fairly compete for jobs and help contribute to a stronger economy. The federal initiative will translate into real opportunities, as nearly one in four US workers is employed either by a federal contractor, a subcontractor, or the federal government.
Expanding job opportunities for workers with prior records is fair for our society and smart for our economy. Making sure the path to employment is not blocked for people with records will restore dignity and hope to our communities. I should know. It made all the difference in the world to me.
The auditorium was packed with over 1500 residents of Volusia and neighboring counties to discuss three key issues the group plans to work on in 2015. County and City level law enforcement were in attendance to hear a plan to increase use of civil citations in response to non-violent crimes to spare first time offenders the lifelong burden of a criminal conviction, a plea was made to Volusia County officials to secure funding for a homeless shelter, and Daytona Beach City Commissioners were urged to vote in favor of ‘Ban the box’ legislation.
Alliance leader Paul Heroux was asked to give testimony before members of the City Commission and guests in attendance to share his position on ‘ban the box’ as a small business owner who was previously incarcerated. Paul gave a passionate speech, telling the audience that he started his own business because he was the only one who wouldn’t judge him based on how he answered the question on his applications.
Paul explained, “Checking that box takes away your identity. You are unable to explain who you are, and what you can bring to the company before you are deemed unfit for the position. Everyone has an idea in their head of who a felon is or what they look like, and it probably doesn’t look like me. Ban the box is a chance for my face to replace the movie gangster the hiring manager pictured when they saw I checked yes.”
All 4 of the Commissioners in attendance agreed to meet with members of the ‘ban the box’ coalition in the next 30 days to discuss the legislation before it is brought to a vote next month. Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry took is a step further and said, “I whole heartedly believe that banning the box is good for our city and I will vote yes on the measure.”
Main Street leaders will remain engaged in the debate throughout the process and will continue to set an example for private employers who have not yet adopted fair hiring practices. In addition to the work being done in Daytona Beach legislation is being prepared for the Orlando City Commission, and Main Street Florida is among the first organizations to join the fight for fair hiring in Orlando.
Main Street Alliance of Florida members travelled to Daytona Beach Wednesday night to join in a presentation to the Daytona City Commission on ‘ban the box’ legislation. The legislation would remove the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony,” from job applications allowing applicants to be considered based on their experience and qualifications. The legislation was presented by our allies at the Vincentian Re-Entry Organizing Project and small business owners from across Florida voiced their support for the measure. Our members and leaders seek the most talented and hardest working candidates to fill their positions, regardless of criminal background. They are committed to giving all applicants a fair shot at employment and allowing them to interview for open positions without discrimination or pre-judgment. ‘Ban the box’ would not eliminate background checks, but it would allow an applicant to address their previous convictions in person during the interview process.
Leader Paul Heroux told the commission, “I’ve heard people say that ‘ban the box’ is an attempt by people like me to hide our criminal records. I am not interested in hiding my record, I just want the chance to have that conversation.” Heroux is a veteran of the Florida prison system and started his own construction business after he was unable to find employment upon his release.
Members who were unable to attend the meeting provided comments to be read to the commission including Ricardo McQueen who said, “When a prisoner is released into a society that won’t allow them a fair chance at employment it is like they were never set free. They paid their debt to society, they served their time, now they deserve a chance to provide for their families and better their lives. Denying employment opportunities is a life-long sentence that the judge or jury never ordered.” Ricardo owns Food Health and Environmental Safety, and volunteers his time to help new entrepreneurs get started in business. Many of the aspiring business owners Ricardo works with have previous felony convictions or are from neighborhoods such as Pine Hills, and Parramore that are disproportionately affected by discriminatory hiring practices. Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry told the overflowing room in the Daytona City Hall that ‘ban the box’ was legislation that he personally supported, and he called on the Commissioners to come to an agreement on this issue soon. Alliance members will continue to speak out in favor of the legislation in Daytona Beach and plan to turn their efforts towards fair hiring legislation in Orlando in the coming months.
On Monday December 15th, Main Street Alliance of Vermont held a press conference and reception to announce their 2015 legislative platform and to release a report of survey findings from a statewide small business survey conducted this past summer and fall.
Dozens of Main Street Alliance coalition members and several legislators were present at the event. Speakers included former Governor Madeline Kunin; Trudy Trombley, MSA member and owner of Truly Trudy's Cosmetics in Stowe and The Boutique at Stowe Mercantile; Stephanie Hainley, MSA member and COO of White and Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors; Representative Jill Krowsinki and Senator Philip Baruth, lead sponsors of this year's Earned Leave bill; Peter Sterling, Director of Vermont Leads, and Andrew Savage, Chief Strategy Office at All Earth Renewables.
Trombley and Hainley reported key findings from the survey, highlighting that out of all businesses surveyed, 49% support establishing a minimum standard of earned leave and just under 60% support moving forward with a universal, publicly financed healthcare system in Vermont.
See the links below for media coverage from the event:
VT Digger (Article) My Champlain Valley (Article & Video) Times Argus (Article) WPTZ (Article & Video)
Vermont has long been a leader in providing quality health care coverage, and now we have an opportunity as a state to demonstrate how to deliver an affordable and comprehensive universal healthcare system. This system could potentially save Vermonters half a billion dollars a year in overall healthcare costs, which is great news for small businesses.
Currently, it’s estimated that Vermonters spend about $2.7 billion annually on health care premiums and out of pocket costs, and although it seems like a big price tag, the $2-$2.2 billion anticipated cost for Green Mountain Care will be an overall decrease. In addition, taking employers out of the health insurance provision system means we'll no longer need to administer health insurance, reducing our overhead. The implementation of universal healthcare presents us with a unique opportunity to benefit the entire state.
In order to achieve these benefits for small businesses and our employees, however, it’s critical that we find the right balance in the financing plan - one that won’t hurt small businesses like ours or hard working Vermonters.
According to the December 5th VT Digger article that reported a leak from the Governor’s Advisory Council, an 8% payroll tax could be a part of the financing package for Green Mountain Care. While 8% sounds like a reasonable starting point for the conversation about payroll tax contributions, we’re eager to learn more about the details. Specifically, how will the payroll tax be phased in for small businesses that aren’t currently offering a healthcare benefit to their employees? And, given that currently the average employee premium contribution covers about 80% of the cost, we would have serious concerns about any plan that shifted that balance too quickly, hurting working Vermonters. Any eventual cost shift needs to allow time for the benefits of universal healthcare and the cost savings we will see from improved health outcomes to flow to everyone.
These will be important details to clarify and to work on with the legislature once the administration’s proposal is released and no matter what the standard payroll tax rate ends up being.
Just as important as the balance of the financing plan is the coverage it provides. As founding members of Main Street Alliance, we support a plan that restores Vermonters to at least the coverage that was available under our Catamount Health Plan and Dr. Dynasaur and that includes dental and vision. We should not roll back the progress that Vermont has already made on this point and we support those who are calling for a higher Actuarial Value -– the better the policy, the better it is for Vermont.
As small business owners in Vermont, we're excited about the opportunity to stay engaged in this process. We are looking forward to the release of the Administration’s full plan later this month and to working with the legislature next year. We know that in the long run and done right, universal healthcare will save everybody money. When everybody saves money, they have more to circulate back into the local economy, and that's good for Vermont Main Street businesses and our employees.
This article was submitted by four of Main Street Alliance of Vermont's founding members: Wayne Nelson, L.N. Consulting in Winooski, Melinda Moulton, CEO of Main Street Landing in Burlington, Trudy Trombley, The Boutique at Stowe Mercantile and Truly Trudy’s Cosmetics in Stowe, and Eliza Cain, Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex
The Main Street Alliance is committed to elevating the voices of small business owners to advance public policies that are good for small businesses, our employees, and the communities we serve.
Historic practices and policies perpetuate poverty pay in jobs typically worked by women and people of color
Seattle, WA - During this season of abundance, many full-time workers don’t earn enough for a single person to survive, much less to support a family. The staggeringly low percentage of women and people of color earning a living wage in the US is especially distressing.
“Equity in the Balance,” a new report by The Alliance for a Just Society, was released today by The Main Street Alliance. The report details just how few women and people of color in the US make a living wage – enough income to cover basic expenses of a full time worker and their family, with some money left over for savings.
Only 61% of all full-time workers in the US earn a wage that will allow them to make ends meet. Even more troubling, only 57% of women, and just 52% of the latino community make this living wage.
“It is a fundamental American value, if you work full-time you should be able to support yourself and your family,” said Stephen Michael, Campaigns Manager of The Main Street Alliance. “Small business owners agree that if you’re working full-time, you shouldn't be living in poverty. We know that when our employees are earning more, they have more to spend in our local businesses, which boosts our entire economy."
For more than 200 years, policies and practices in the U.S. have perpetuated low wages in jobs and industries primarily worked by women and people of color. Women of color particularly struggle, making difficult choices to provide for their children.
“A system that unjustly and persistently leaves people of color overrepresented in low wage work is tantamount to economic racism,” said Jill Reese, associate director for Alliance for a Just Society. “And, policies that keep women over-represented among low-wage workers is gender discrimination.”
It’s time that lawmakers change history, raise the minimum wage and ensure that all have access to paid sick days to assure that all full time work pays enough for a family to do more than barely survive – that workers earn an actual living wage that helps families thrive.
- Invest in state and federal safety net programs, such as childcare assistance. Until there are enough living wage jobs to go around for all household types, families will continue to face tough choices.
- Strengthen and enforce equal opportunity statutes, including affirmative action: Equal opportunity statutes were designed to help ensure that women and people of color are not discriminated against. However, enforcement of these policies isn’t consistent, leaving the statutes weak and ineffective.
- Guarantee paid leave that includes maternity leave and parental leave to care for sick children. Many workers risk losing their jobs or income, if they are too sick to come to work or if they need to care for a sick child
- Expand and Strengthen Social Security: Because women and people of color earn less, they are less able to save for retirement and forced to depend solely on Social Security.
“Equity in the Balance” is the second in the 2014 Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series. Alliance for a Just Society has produced a Job Gap Study on jobs and wages since 1999.
Data from the Alliance’s Job Gap Study has figured prominently in debates on minimum wage, paid sick days, payday lending, Medicaid and other family economic issues.
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.
Turnover is costly. Despite the harm it can cause to the bottom line, many businesses do not actually know how much turnover costs them. Policies that support workers, such as paid sick days, a fair minimum wage, investments in workforce training, and work sharing, can help decrease turnover and reduce these costs.
The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) have developed a handy online turnover calculator to estimate how much turnover actually costs a business.
The House of Representatives is expected to consider a bill shortly that would bring about a major overhaul of rule-making processes that set rules for the financial sector, public health and environmental standards, workplace healthy and safety, and other public safeguards.
The Regulatory Accountability Act (or RAA) is being promoted on the pretext of helping small businesses. But real small business owners aren’t buying the anti-regulatory hype. Indeed, in poll after poll and interview after interview, small business owners say what they need to grow and create jobs is more customers, not deregulation.
We asked leaders in the Main Street Alliance network to share their take on the Regulatory Accountability Act and the broader debate about cutting regulations in the name of small business. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Kelly Conklin co-owns Foley-Waite Associates, a custom woodworking business in Bloomfield, New Jersey:
“The Regulatory Accountability Act is just the next example of attempting to shift risk and shift costs from big businesses to small businesses. This bill would gut rules and standards that protect small businesses, the communities where we live and work, and the customers we rely on for our livelihoods.
“I’d like to know, how will rolling back financial standards and allowing another financial crisis help small businesses? How will rolling back environmental rules and allowing another BP spill help small businesses? To hear these proposals being marketed in the name of helping small businesses, it’s just infuriating. This is small business identity theft – using our good name to push an agenda that benefits narrow special interests at our expense.
“Once again the political ambitions of a few are being placed above economic recovery, environmental common sense and the health and safety of small business owners, our employees, and the communities we serve.”
Jim Houser owns Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, Oregon:
“These attacks on basic regulatory standards are misguided at best. They completely miss – or ignore – the fact that standards and regulations create jobs and support innovation.
“Just look at my industry, auto repair. In our sector, smart, focused automobile emission standards protect the air we breathe, provide needed employment for the nation’s repair technicians who keep our vehicles running clean, and promote innovations that help U.S. companies be on the cutting edge of new automotive technologies.”
Garry Ault owns All Makes Vacuum in Boise, Idaho:
“I’ve been trying to sell my small business and retire for over a year. I had to cut the selling price back to the point where I would make only $1,500 more than I paid for my business in 1980. Why? Because of the policies of the last 20 years that deregulated our financial sector, encouraged reckless gambling on Wall Street, and precipitated the 2008 financial crisis and this Second Great Depression small businesses are struggling to pull through today.
“Deregulation is a scam – it helps the big guys at the little guy’s expense. Our politicians have got to know that by now, and if they do then there’s just no excuse for pushing this agenda that’s going to hurt small businesses even more.”
Melanie Collins owns Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth, Maine:
“Deregulation that helps narrow, big business interests – like banks, insurers, and oil companies – has the reverse effect on small businesses, who are the majority of our job creators. Compromising environmental protections and the ability to maintain healthy communities with a healthy customer base is counterproductive to small business job creation and an economically vibrant future.
“What small businesses need are customers – Americans with spending money in their pockets – not deregulation that gives big corporations free reign to cut corners, use their market power at our expense, and force even more small businesses to lay people off and close up shop.”