By Rev. Joseph Santos Lyons and Jeff Klatke
The new year is a time to reflect on what's come before us — and politics is no exception. In a look-back at 2015 — "Big challenges for small businesses," (Dec. 26) — The Oregonian/OregonLive's editorial board claims that policies passed last session will stifle the growth of business. But Oregon knows better.
Fair Shot For All coalition members agree: You can't build strong businesses on the back of weak communities.
It's a mistake to position progress for workers and progress for business as mutually exclusive. The vast majority of Oregon's working families have seen no increase to their income for over a decade. That hurts small businesses counting on them as customers and stable employees.
The reality is: Wins for workers translate into gains for businesses. When workers have more to spend, money goes back into our local economies and builds small businesses.
Last session, we worked hand-in-hand with dozens of small business owners from across the state to advocate for policy solutions that fix our broken economy so it works for all of us. The old economic rules have too often left behind women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ communities and working families. Oregon can — and did — do better. 2015 was a good year for workers and small businesses. Here's why.
Sick days: Workers no longer have to choose between going to work sick or staying home, risking their job or losing pay. Business owners will see the benefits, too, through higher productivity and retention, less absenteeism and lower turnover.
Ban the box: People have a better chance at getting back to work and rebuilding their lives, becoming productive members of society who pay taxes and support other local businesses. The alternative is a losing proposition: unnecessary unemployment and higher risk of landing back in prison, which costs taxpayers millions.
Retirement security: Oregon will roll out a simple, straightforward retirement plan in 2017 that allows every Oregonian to put away a small amount each month from their paycheck, making it incredibly easy for small business owners to offer retirement plans. No business is required to contribute — they only add a line item to the monthly pay stub.
With new proposals on the table, 2016 promises to be another important year for workers and businesses. In addition to addressing the statewide call for a higher minimum wage, our legislators will have a new opportunity to tackle wage theft, an under-the-radar issue. It seems basic: Everyone should get paid for their work. But every day, some dishonest employers deny workers hard-earned wages.
Wage theft isn't limited to a few industries — and it isn't rare. No one benefits when we let businesses steal from their workers — particularly small business owners who face an unfair advantage from competitors who boost profits at the expense of employees.
The tide is turning, across the country and here in Oregon — a growing majority of leaders and community members alike are recognizing that we don't have to pit businesses against workers.
It's time to make 2016 the year of the business and the worker.
Rev. Joseph Santos Lyons is the executive director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO). Jeff Klatke is the president of Oregon AFSCME Council 75. These organizations are part of the Fair Shot For All Coalition, a group of 30 Oregon labor unions, community groups and racial justice organizations.