Vermont Main Street Alliance Members Play Key Role in Paid Sick Days Senate Approval

Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes
Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes

The member businesses of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont achieved a tremendous victory this month that was over ten years in the making. The Vermont State Senate approved the Healthy Workplaces bill (H.187) with a strong bi-partisan vote of 21-8.

The approval came after several amendments were made by the Senate Committee on Economic Development that had jurisdiction of the bill and five successful floor amendments that received signals of support from the Economic Development Committee.

Key changes in the paid sick days legislation

included a one-year grace period for new businesses, an exclusion for part-time workers that work fewer than 18 hours per week, and one year delayed implementation for companies that employ five or fewer employees working 30 hours or more per week. The bill also excludes any persons under the age of 18.

Other floor amendments not supported by the committee met defeat, including an attempt to exempt businesses with five and fewer employees that failed by a single vote – providing universal adoption of the law to businesses of all sizes. Due to a narrow vote on this amendment the Senate reconvened to address this item specifically and for the second time in one week they voted to defeat the amendment.

The Main Street Alliance of Vermont members were vocal in opposition to any modification that would carve-out and exempt businesses for any purpose. If the exemption had passed, roughly 25,000 workers would not have the same protections as the rest of Vermont workers.

“We appreciate all the work that the Senate did on this bill – and feel that a reasonable compromise has been struck,” says Lindsay DesLauriers, state director of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont. “We were particularly pleased that the Senate did not adopt an exclusion by business size as we hear again and again from business owners around the state that a standard of earned leave should apply to all businesses equally.

“Paid leave should be a workplace standard like the minimum wage and this bill accomplishes that,” she said.

“This bill represents years of work and compromise to achieve a balanced bill. I’m pleased with the result and proud of the work that so many business owners on our coalitions did to ensure such a positive outcome,” said Stephanie Hainley, Main Street Alliance of Vermont board chair and COO at White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors.

“I think this bill is one of the best examples I’ve seen of really working hard to figure out how to find the right balance between employers and employees,” says Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Café in Vergennes. “I applaud all the work that has gone into this.”

Walmart’s Offshore Tax Havens Hurt Small Businesses That Support Communities

A recent report released by Americans for Tax Fairness exposed Walmart for their evasive tax practices and revealed that the retail giant is holding over 78 billion dollars in offshore subsidiaries. Our members were quick to speak out against these practices and took to the media to make their voices heard.

Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Café (a cute and comfortable spot in Vergennes, VT) and member of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont, compared the high road business practices of his company to the extractive economic policies of Walmart and other multinational corporations in his article, featured in The Hill.

“Small businesses like mine are being squeezed by tax policies written for the upper echelon. Even though our revenue sheets look much different than those of the retail giant, we are forced to supplement the income of their employees and absorb a larger share of the tax responsibility,” said Birong.

Kelly Conklin, a member of the Main Street Alliance national executive committee, owner of Foley-Waite cabinets in New Jersey, also weighed in on the issue and spoke about growing his business while supporting his community in his article, featured in the Augusta Free Press.

“Small businesses can’t afford an army of accountants and tax lawyers like Walmart can to create offshore tax-avoidance strategies,” said Conklin. “None of us have shell corporations in Luxembourg. Even if we could pull off such financial shenanigans, I honestly believe most of us wouldn’t want to.”

“We’d rather contribute what we should to the public good and see our communities thrive right alongside our businesses,” said Conklin.

Small business owners already face stiff competition from large corporations, like Walmart, that can execute bulk purchases and drive down prices. The latest tax evasion revelation demonstrates just how far the scales are tipped in favor of big businesses.

Congress can act to rein-in these practices – and our leaders will continue to work to make sure their voices are heard on this issue.

Ban the Box: Two Big Wins for the Fair Hiring Campaign in Florida

Last week, small business owners, activists, and faith leaders gathered on the steps of the Daytona Beach City Hall to announce the City of Daytona’s plan to “ban the box” and open up opportunities to all applicants by removing the criminal conviction question from city job applications.

The effort, commonly known as “ban the box” because of the box that job applicants are routinely asked to check if they have ever been convicted of a crime, was more than six months in the works.

In January members of the Main Street Alliance of Florida began meeting with city leaders, providing testimony at City Commission meetings, and placing several editorials in local and national newspapers to promote adoption of the fair chance policy.

Several City Commissioners and City officials attended the press event June 1, and voiced their commitment to a fair chance for all job applicants. They echoed the concerns of Main Street Alliance leaders, discussing the economic impact of locking previously convicted applicants out of the job market.

Jim Sexton, human resources manager for the City of Daytona Beach, told reporters that background checks would still be conducted, but they would only be done when a position had been offered.

“When the application goes to the hiring department they won’t know the applicant’s record. They will view that person the way a new-born baby views the world, without bias,” said Sexton.

Daytona Beach was the second city to ban the box in what turned out to be a huge month for supporters of fair hiring. Two weeks prior to Daytona’s announcement small business owners and faith leaders sent a letter to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer letting him know about their plan to bring the “ban the box” campaign to Orlando following the decision in Daytona Beach.

Before leaders could shift their full attention to Orlando, the mayor there announced his executive order to remove the criminal conviction from applications for city jobs.

Orlando’s decision now means that four of the five most populated cities in Florida have passed policies that reduce barriers to employment for people with prior convictions.

Miami is the only remaining major city that does not have a policy in place, providing an ideal next step for the Main Street Alliance of Florida leaders and their allies.