Forty years ago Main Street Alliance of Florida member Charles McKinney made a mistake. A mistake he was reminded of every time he had to answer 'yes' on the criminal conviction question on job applications.
Now the owner of Trinity Laundry in Eatonville, Charles supports local efforts to remove the criminal conviction question from applications. He is calling on the President to take executive action on fair-chance hiring; expanding employment opportunities with federal agencies and contractors.
Breaking down barriers to employment with the federal government, the nation's largest employer, will reduce unemployment and increase consumer spending. The President has the opportunity to create a culture of fair-chance hiring that would support businesses, like Charles's, that are trying to do the right thing for their community.
Read Charles's full story featured in the Huffington Post.
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.
This ruling came as no surprise to local community pharmacy owners who have been dealing with low Medicaid reimbursements for years and have been losing money by providing services to Medicaid patients.
Carmen Cintron, owner of the South Orange Pharmacy in Orlando said, “Medicaid has been underpaying for prescription drugs for as long as I have been in business. I try to make sure that my Medicaid patients pay the same amount out of pocket for their drugs as privately insured patients, and often that means I take a loss.”
Medication costs are always on the rise, and local pharmacy owners have seen the greatest increases in the cost of generic drugs. Generics used to be a way that low income folks could afford prescription drugs, but now local pharmacies are even losing money on generic medications.
“Medicaid takes 3-6 months to update their reimbursement rates, while prescription costs rise on a weekly basis. A drug that is profitable for me to dispense one week may lose me money the next week,” said Al Sheikh, owner of Good Homes Pharmacy in Ocoee. “I have a patient whose medication costs me $305 a month, but their Medicaid coverage only reimburses $281. Every time they fill that prescription I lose about $25. I’ve tried passing that cost on to the patient, but they just can’t afford it.”
While business owners and community members across Florida are ready for the state to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid it is clear that in addition to adding more folks to the coverage plan the state must address low reimbursements that are causing children, families, and small businesses to suffer.
Recent Florida election results have relied on three things; turnout, turnout, and turnout. Engaging low propensity voters is essential in carrying the momentum built during the 2012 Presidential election, and achieving progress in areas important to small business owners. Minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, Medicaid expansion, and corporate tax reform are some of the most important reasons that small business owners paid close attention to this election.
The Florida Main Street Alliance focused their efforts engaging existing members by phone and email and reaching out to over 100 new business owners. Shop owners shared their window and counter space to place posters and flyers stating “This small business votes, and we want you to vote too.” Business owners are trusted members of their community and they can reach hundreds of people throughout the day without leaving their shop.
Placing a sign in their window and a flyer on their counter shows that business owners are involved in the elections and understand how the outcome weighs on their business. Some owners took it a step further though, and engaged their customers individually. Like Abraham Gordon, owner of Gordon’s Be Back Fish House. Abraham said, “If one of my customers comes in on Sunday and tells me they haven’t voted I’ll tell them to eat their lunch, and then go to the polls. If they come in Tuesday and they still haven’t voted I’ll tell them to go to the polls. Your lunch will be here when you get back.” Gordon also committed to drive several friends with him to Souls to the Polls on Sunday, the last day of early voting.
Small business owners also have a personal relationship with their employees and can do their part in encouraging their staff to take part in the election. Ricardo McQueen, owner of Food Health and Environmental Safety said, “If any of my employees haven’t voted by Tuesday I’ll call them into my office and we will talk about how important their right to vote is. I don’t care who they vote for, I just want them to exercise their right as an American.” Ricardo is an immigrant from the Bahamas who recently gained citizenship, and the right to vote.
In Orange County, the 2014 election brought out 34,700 more voters than the 2010 midterm election, which shows an 8% increase in voter participation from just four years ago. Main Street businesses helped get the word out and encouraged their customers and employees to vote. Many will stay engaged by hosting member meetings, attending town halls, and writing letters to the editor and articles for publication. Small business owners vote and they will make sure their elected officials have the best interests of small business at heart.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made a stop in Orlando on her way to Puerto Rico joining Congressman Alan Grayson and several community leaders for the Working Women Town Hall. The town hall was co-sponsored by the Main Street Alliance of Florida and focused on the principles of When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families. During opening statements, the Alliance for a Just Society’s Women’s Health Report Card was discussed, and the Representatives were ashamed to hear that Florida received a D overall and an F when it comes to health coverage for women. Several community members had an opportunity to address the Representatives and the panel of leaders, including two local small business owners.Pictured from left; Orlando City Councilwoman Regina Hill, Main Street Florida Leader Ricardo McQueen, Orange County Commissioner Tiffany Moore Russell
Martin Heroux, of Armando y Jorge’s Orlandonan Hot Sauce, asked the panel what could be done about the sub-minimum wage provided for tipped food service employees, a field dominated by women. As a business owner, Martin is committed to never paying low wages to his employees, or forcing them to rely on the generosity of customers to make ends meet, but wanted to know what could be done to level the playing field for companies like his. Several members of the panel responded, agreeing that the fight to raise the minimum wage must include efforts to raise tipped wages and level the playing field for small businesses that know their employees are worth more than $4.91 an hour. Their vision for Florida is for the state to join seven other states in abolishing tipped wages and requiring employers to pay at least the federal minimum wage to all employees.
Ricardo McQueen, President and Owner of Food Health and Environmental Safety discussed Earned Sick Time, and the need to incentivize businesses to offer paid sick leave. As a leader in the food safety industry Ricardo discussed the health concerns surrounding sick employees being forced to work, and the economic impact of having to lose a day or more of pay, particularly for low wage workers. While Orange County achieved the daunting task of getting Earned Sick Time placed on the ballot and voters in the August primary overwhelmingly supported the measure, citizens are still left without the measure due to preemptive measures taken by the big business backed State Legislature. Pressure from large corporations headquartered in Central Florida, such as Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants, led to a controversial decision to nullify the work done by the Florida Main Street Alliance and other local organizations to secure paid sick leave.
Orange County Commission Tiffany Moore Russell responded directly to Ricardo’s testimony saying that we must continue the dialogue surrounding earned sick time, and ensuring that low wage workers in particular are afforded the right to call off to care for a sick child without losing pay. She suggested forming community based support groups for new and young mothers who can rely on each other for childcare assistance to help reduce the financial impact of a child getting sick. She went on to discuss the need to secure maternity leave for new mothers, and shared her personal story of having a baby while in office and only being able to take off for six weeks. Orlando City Councilwoman Regina Hill addressed Ricardo’s comments by saying that she supports measures that would force companies contracted by the city of Orlando to offer paid sick leave and maternity leave. Councilwoman Hill said we need to reward companies that are committed to their employees and incentivize high road business practices.
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.
While corporate CEOs are pressuring Congress to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of a so-called "Grand Bargain" to reduce the debt, small business owners say that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be devastating to small businesses across the country.
A new series of reports from the Main Street Alliance and Social Security Works, Business is (Baby) Booming, analyze the important role Social Security and Medicare play in both strengthening the retirement security of small business owners themselves, and fueling consumer demand on Main Street in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Instead of cutting Social Security and Medicare, small business owners say Congress should crack down on offshore tax abuse that allows the wealthy and corporations to avoid more than $100 billion in U.S. taxes per year by sheltering their income offshore.
State "Business is (Baby) Booming" Reports
- Washington, D.C.
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Small business leaders from the Main Street Alliance and our state affiliates weighed in and framed the debate in press coverage of the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act. MSA small business leaders shared concrete, personal stories of how the law is helping their businesses and what small businesses can look forward to now that the law has been upheld and will keep moving forward. A compilation of links and excerpts from the coverage follows!
The decision was embraced at Palm Beach Groves in Lantana, where the business relied on a tax credit to offer health insurance to its employees, all of whom are older and have preexisting conditions, said General Manager and CFO Louisa McQueeney.
“I think it’s great news. It means that we can move forward, the gains we made this year, the premiums being flat and we applied for the tax credit which is $7,400, which is great.”
McQueeney is pleased with the Supreme Court's decision. She took advantage of a tax credit of about $7500 this year and believes other businesses could benefit too.
"You are a business person. There is money sitting there on the table, right there, take it. And provide people with health care," she said.
Louisa McQueeney interviewed on importance of ACA for her business and employees.
MAINE: MAINE SMALL BUSINESS COALITION
Quotes MSBC leader John Costin:
“Provisions of the Affordable Care Act – from rate review to the value for premiums rule to the guarantee that there’s somewhere to go for coverage even if you have a pre-existing condition – are already making a difference for small businesses, and there’s more to look forward to.”
Small business groups that supported health care reform were elated by the decision.
“Small business owners knew we couldn’t afford to go back to the nightmare scenario that health care was for us before reform,” said John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebuck, Maine, and a leader of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “The Supreme Court’s decision means we won’t have to. Instead, we can keep looking forward.”
“Now that the court case is behind us, it's time to put politics aside and get down to implementing the law to maximize the benefits for small businesses,” Costin said.
Gov. Martin O'Malley is highlighting a Columbia businessman's support for the Affordable Care Act as an example of why the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the law matters in Maryland.
At the end of the op-ed, England said feared these savings would be taken away by a Supreme Court decision, but after today's ruling, he can rest easier.
"It's unbelievable," said England in an interview with Patch on Thursday. "I'm walking on air."
NEW JERSEY: NEW JERSEY MAIN STREET ALLIANCE
NJ MSA’s Odette Cohen quoted:
Willingboro physician Odette Cohen, a vocal supporter of the reform law, said she was “elated” by the court’s decision, claiming it will ensure that millions of uninsured residents will have an avenue for obtaining coverage. She also said small businesses like her practice will be able to get more affordable plans for employees.
“This is really good news; the law is in place. There’s hope,” Cohen said Thursday.
Popular components of the law that already have been implemented, such as provisions permitting young adults to remain on their parents’ plans until they turn 26 and preventing insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions, also will be maintained, Cohen said.
NJ MSA small business leaders Kelly Conklin, Henry Passapera, and Odette Cohen quoted in online story; Kelly Conklin featured on radio segment.
Anita Thomas, owner and chief executive officer of AM Thomas and Associates in Plainfield, finds much to like in the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Thomas, who is also executive director of the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company, was more than happy with the decision — especially since she had just come from a procedure at a doctor’s office after the long-awaited ruling was released.
Opinion piece by NJ MSA’s Kelly Conklin.
NJ MSA’s Kelly Conklin interviewed for BBC World News.
OREGON: MAIN STREET ALLIANCE OF OREGON
Interview with MSA-Oregon co-chair Jim Houser at Hawthorne Auto Clinic.
From Jim Houser, Hawthorne Auto Clinic, Portland, co-chair Main Street Alliance of Oregon: "I joined the fight for health care reform because I knew from painful experience that the insurance companies weren't meeting the needs of small businesses. After nearly 10 years of double-digit premium increases, the ACA provided my small business over $12,000 a year in tax credits and an over 3% drop in premiums. (And my two children were able to rejoin our health plan.) I saw the campaign to reform health care in this country as an investment in the success of my small business.”
The Main Street Alliance of Oregon represents business owners favoring the law. “This is a good day for small businesses in Oregon and across America,” said Jose Gonzalez of Tu Casa Real Estate in Salem.
“We’ve been working hard to make health care reform work for small businesses. Today, we should take a minute to celebrate – and then get back to the work of implementing the law.”
"We're spending over $70,000 a year to cover insurance for our employees," Gilbert, 68, said. "As rates go up, we pay more, then employees pay more for insurance."
But now that Gilbert knows that his business will benefit from a tax credit due to the Affordable Care Act, which was upheld today by the U.S. Supreme Court, he no longer worries as much.
"It's a huge decision for a small business like mine," he said. "We're on the front line to provide insurance to our employees and we will continue to do that now. As long as I am in business, I am dedicated to help my employees. "
On the other hand, the Main Street Alliance of Oregon group gushed over the news. The Alliance represents small businesses that, group officials said, are already benefitting from tax credits and cost controls imposed by the law.
"After nearly 10 years of double-digit premium increases, the (Act) provided my small business with more than $12,000 a year in tax credits and a 3 percent drop in premiums," said Jim Houser, owner of Portland's Hawthorne Auto Clinic and the Main Street Alliance's co-chairman, in a statement.
But another small-business group, the Main Street Alliance, celebrated the court’s decision on its blog. Jim Houser, owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland and a leader of the state affiliate, wrote: “I joined the fight for health care reform because I knew from painful experience that the insurance companies weren’t meeting the needs of small businesses… The court’s decision to affirm the ACA makes this a great day for America and for America’s small businesses.”
880 AM RADIO MEDFORD :: Southern Oregon live talk show, MSA-Oregon co-chair Mark Kellenbeck spoke on ACA as the decision came out.
VIRGINIA: VIRGINIA MAIN STREET ALLIANCE
The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the health care reform law left Tammy Rostov jumping for joy.
"We're very excited; we jumped up and down and hugged when the news was announced," the owner of Rostov's Coffee and Tea in Richmond said Thursday.
"I provide full coverage for employees, and we were close to being priced out of the market," she said, adding that the new law will help prevent that.
WASHINGTON: MAIN STREET ALLIANCE OF WASHINGTON
Commentary by MSA of Washington’s Makini Howell (Plum Bistro, Seattle):
Then, President Obama’s health care reform law came along. When I crunched the numbers, I found out that the law’s health care tax credit for small businesses would immediately cut 20 percent off the cost of insuring my employees. And in 2014, when the law’s fully in effect, that tax credit goes up to about one-third of my costs.
Suddenly, providing health insurance wasn’t just something I dreamed of doing – it was something I actually could do. About three months ago, right around the two-year anniversary of the law, I began enrolling my employees in a health insurance plan for the first time. Let me tell you – that felt good!
Features Main Street Alliance member Jody Hall (Cupcake Royale).
Story of Main Street Alliance of Washington member Laura Waite (Jay's Professional Automotive).
Spokane business and real estate developer Ron Wells called the court ruling a victory for people and business. He applauded the requirement of forcing insurance companies to spend 80 percent of their premium collections on paying medical bills rather than fighting claims, paying exorbitant executive salaries, building rich reserves and hiring lobbyists.
Features MSA of Washington leader Makini Howell.
For Hall, the decision means it will become more affordable for her to continue offering healthcare for her 72 workers. Before the Affordable Care Act, she was subject to annual rate hikes of 20 percent—in 2009 it climbed as high as 40 percent—and in 2011, she paid over $67,000 to cover her workers. But this year, Hill said her premium only went up five percent, an increase she called “unheard of.”
KVI 570 AM RADIO :: Interviews with Main Street Alliance members (Molly Moon Neitzel and Laura McDowell Waite)
KOMO RADIO :: Interview with Main Street Alliance member Jody Hall (Cupcake Royale)
KOMO 4 & KOMO RADIO :: Interview with Laura Waite (small business owner who has a pre-existing condition & relies on the Pre-Existing Condition Plan for coverage)
Q13 FOX :: In-studio interviews with Main Street Alliance members Makini Howell (Plum Bistro) and Jody Hall (Cupcake Royale)
KOMO TV :: Interview with Main Street Alliance member Laura Waite (Jay’s Pro Auto)
KIRO TV :: Interview with Main Street Alliance member Makini Howell (Plum Bistro)
KPLU :: Interview with Main Street Alliance member Molly Moon Neitzel (Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream)
“Some small businesses are actually getting tax breaks. Molly Moon Neitzel is the owner of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seattle. She says since the health law was passed, she’s been able to get tax credits the past two years because she offers health insurance for her employees.”