Do politicians really care about people like me — a small business owner, a woman, and a mother of three — and my employees? Or will they put the interests of giant corporations and their donors first?
This election, I’m paying closer attention than I ever have before. For too long, politicians have used Main Street businesses like mine for photo ops and soundbites, when they’re really using us to usher in an agenda for big corporations.
In the Governor’s race, one issue, in particular, will be my yardstick. Will this candidate for governor support legislation to allow Minnesotans to take time away from work to care for oneself or a sick family member, or to welcome a new child?
Paid family and medical leave is the kind of policy small business owners want and need.
Two years ago, I was excited when Minneapolis passed earned sick and safe time. I supported it and implemented it in both my store in Excelsior and Minneapolis.
But a few days of earned sick time provided by the businesses -- it’s simply not enough. When an employee gets sick, or falls, or has a baby, they need to take more than a few days off. And small businesses like mine who want to live our values, often bear a heavy burden of doing what’s right.
Last year, one of our most valued long-term employees, Linda, fell. She is a 66-year-old widow, lifelong employee of the telephone company, and her pension was too small to cover her basics. If she went without her paycheck from us while she was out recovering, she was going to have to choose between food and rent.
We shouldn’t be accepting that as Minnesotans. We knew we couldn’t accept that as employers.
We decided to cover Linda’s full pay for the time she was out, six weeks total. When I delivered her paycheck, she was besides herself, she was in tears. I told her that she deserved to take the time she needed to heal.
Ultimately, paying Linda for six weeks totaled $2,000. I was happy we did it, but it greatly impacted our family — having to cover these extra shifts, and on top of that trying to make sure Linda received her pay. Our family was late on on our home mortgage and late on our commercial rent.
This shouldn’t be such a struggle for any of us. Minnesota should create a system, just as nine other states have done, where everyone pays in a little, and everyone benefits. Small payroll deductions of $1.50 a week fund a social insurance program that allows employees up to 12 weeks leave (with up to 6 paid) to take the time off they need care for a new baby, or a family member who has a serious health condition.
I support this policy and the majority of small businesses agree. A 2017 survey of 1700 small businesses by Main Street Alliance showed overwhelming support for national and state paid leave policies. The survey also showed that like me, that vast majority of small business owners are not able to provide Paid Leave on their own, and said a social insurance program would help them the most to offer paid leave to their employees.
But only one candidate for governor supports a paid family and medical leave policy. Main Street Alliance of Minnesota reached out to both candidates for governor and asked them where they stood.
On paid family and medical leave, Jeff Johnson told us “no.” He’s also opposed to the Minnesota Care Buy-In, which would help small business owners like me with health care costs (and help Minnesotans get the health care we all need). On funding for child care, Johnson said “maybe.”
We need better than no and maybe. Small business owners and our employees alike — as well as Minnesotans of all races and backgrounds — need to know that our politicians support the policies that support us, and that they’ll work to make sure those policies are adopted.
When asked about what he would support, Tim Walz had different answers. He told us that he believes paid family and medical leave is a right, that he supports the Minnesota Care Buy-in and funding child care assistance.
That sounds a lot stronger, and a lot clearer, to me.
One of the best things I learned early on in business is that our store is only as good as the people who work for us. This election cycle, I’ll be looking for candidates who deliver for those of us who work and live on Main Street.