Small Business view: Elected leaders should get in the act of helping businesses do better by being better

Editors Note: The Florida Squeeze encourages a vibrant debate on issues. We invite guest columns from people of all political persuasions and policy perspectives. 

Guest Column By Ricardo McQueen

Mr. McQueen is a member-leader in Florida Main Street Alliance

I have more than a decade of experience running a small business that provides health and safety audits, training, food industry certifications, and compliance assistance for hospitality, medical and environmental businesses. You could say I’m in the business of helping other businesses be better, and do better. And I believe when it comes to economic security issues for working families, like a higher minimum wage and Earned Sick Time, we all need to do better.

Small business owners want our elected leaders need to support consumer demand in the community. This is why I support economic security policies for working families, like a standard for Earned Sick Time. Working in my field, it’s easy to see the positive value proposition here: eliminating the spread of infection to co-workers and customers, cutting down on “presenteeism” (when people show up to work sick), and reducing turnover costs all promise significant savings to businesses and the community.

I also support raising the minimum wage. Like sick time, a minimum wage increase will set fair rules of the road, incentivize a race to the top with competition based on quality and service, and create economy-boosting jobs…instead of a race to the bottom that encourages cutting corners and under-paying employees, regardless of the costs to the economy and community.

And it turns out a hefty majority of small business owners agree with me. According to a scientific poll by the American Sustainable Business Council and Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, 61 percent of small business owners favor raising the minimum wage gradually to $10.10 and then adjusting it annually to keep pace with the cost of living.These policies will raise families up, boost consumer spending, and bolster our local economy. I can’t understand why some of our local elected officials seem determined to block them.

From county-level efforts to strip voters of our right to petition for local health and safety standards to the move by the state legislature last year to strip Florida cities and counties of our local authority to set sick time standards, I can’t understand these positions.

Business lobbyists routinely argue their case against Earned Sick Time and the minimum wage in the name of small business. But when I hear that claim, I have to say it just doesn’t pass inspection.

The business groups opposing a wage increase and sick time – like the National Association of Manufacturers, National Restaurant Association, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce – represent Fortune 500 companies like General Electric, McDonald’s, and Wal-Mart… not local, independent small businesses.

Small business owners recognize our interests are not the same as those of Fortune 500 companies and, instead, they’re often in direct competition: one survey of nearly 4,000 small business owners found competition from big businesses ranked much higher on their list of concerns than either the minimum wage or Earned Sick Time.

Small businesses have good reason to be concerned about competition from big businesses. Small businesses can compete on a level playing field, but big businesses often are too willing to use their market power and political clout in anti-competitive ways to stack the deck against us.

Big businesses are also all too willing to adopt low-road workforce policies (like low pay and poor benefits) that shift labor costs off their books and onto local economies, local governments, and charities. Small businesses don’t want to do this. When you know your employees by name and work shoulder to shoulder with them every day, you want to treat them like family.

This includes offering good pay for a good day’s work and benefits like Earned Sick Time. But often small businesses get pushed into a race to the bottom by chains and big box stores that undercut local businesses by cutting corners.

It should be up to us – local voters, local business owners, and our local leaders – to decide the rules of the road for our local economy. We should be able to give local, independent small business owners the freedom to pay their workers well and offer benefits like sick time without having to lie awake at night worrying about low-road competitors.

That’s why I, as a business owner and health inspector, give Earned Sick Time and raising the minimum wage this mark: my stamp of approval.

Ricardo McQueen is owner and president of Food, Health & Environmental Safety in Orlando. He is a leader with the Main Street Alliance of Florida.

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